Author Q&A: Kathryn Fishman-Weaver Talks Wholehearted Teaching
Author Q&A: Kathryn Fishman-Weaver Talks Wholehearted Teaching
PUBLISHED: Thursday, June 13, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

High-achieving young women are the focus of Kathryn Fishman-Weaver’s recent book, Wholehearted Teaching of Gifted Young Women, in which 20 student researchers are followed from high school through college. Fishman-Weaver explores the experiences of these young women and the “Wholehearted Teaching” framework that follows, which cultivates courage, connection, and self-care in schools. Learn more about the book and how it came to be in this Q&A with the author:

Q: How are the social-emotional needs of gifted young women unique?

A: I want to be careful about not overgeneralizing. This study took an intersectional approach to understanding identity and student needs. We explored the nuances of being in the intersections of womanhood, giftedness, and high achievement. Here, we found both varied experiences (e.g., different cultures, talents, and interests) and similar experiences (e.g., feeling alone, experiencing imposter syndrome, and feeling that our gendered identities were sometimes at odds with our academic or extracurricular identities). These lived experiences, coupled with the well-documented social-emotional needs of gifted learners, led to complex conversations around gender, giftedness, and affective development.  

Q: How can teachers meet the needs of these high-achieving young women?

A: We must create space for affective development. High-achieving young women have found “success” in the academic arenas at school, hence their achievement. What many administrators, teachers, and students miss, is that academic achievement (1) is not everything, and (2) does not translate to social-emotional growth, success, or well-being. In fact, the opposite is often true. Many high-achieving young women achieve at the expense of their social-emotional well-being.  If we are not careful, the ways we celebrate “success” can exacerbate this issue. Therefore, we must bring these pressures and tensions to light. Addressing the needs of high-achieving young women starts with active listening, which sounds deceptively simple until you try to implement it in the busy rush of high school and academics. One of the most important supports I talk about in the book is the power of pulling high-achieving young women together to talk openly and candidly about health, stress, relationships, hopes, and fears. We must create new spaces in our schools to honor students as complex human beings who are infinitely more than GPAs and test scores.

Q: How did you develop your book?

A: Well, I had a lot of narrative content to work with. The quantity of journal pages the students and I amassed during this project is pretty impressive. I wanted to write this book in a way that honored youth voices and felt congruent with early morning or late afternoon classroom chats. In short, I wanted to use story to drive the content forward. Meanwhile, I was also very aware that this is a research study and an academic publication. Therefore, I had to employ a lesson that I teach my students: to use writing as inquiry. The work of merging academic and creative content throughout these chapters taught me new lessons about both the importance of democratizing research and the power of personal storytelling. Hopefully, readers see this book as an invitation to join in on conversations that happened in my gifted education program and then to take those themes back to their own school communities.

Q: Why is the relationship between strength and vulnerability so important as students build courage?

A: These concepts draw on Brené Brown’s work on courage, vulnerability, and wholehearted living, and extend them to our school communities. This book is a call to step out of our guarded practices and into more courageous spaces. When students (and teachers) mask their social-emotional challenges (and triumphs), they miss critical moments of connection and processing. We want to show students that their personal stories matter. We can build stronger school communities and enact positive change by helping students claim their stories and truths, including those that feel vulnerable to share. Yes, it can be scary. That is why we need courage to find our way through. The good news is that we can teach for courage. Our classrooms can nurture authorship and agency and speaking truth. Not only can we, but our students also need us to practice strength and do exactly that.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: When we quiet the whirlwind of academic pressure enough to truly listen and notice, and when we give young people the space to share their stories boldly, the results are profound. Unfortunately, we tend not to do this affective work enough in schools, and as a consequence, we are missing some of the things that matter most. (See the book sections on the “masked affective crisis.”) Young people have big important things to say. They also have small important things to say. I hope readers will leave this book with a new commitment to creating spaces that honor personal storytelling in their classrooms and gifted programs. I also hope readers will leave this book inspired by the young people with whom they work and learn.

Note: Although I thought that most of my readers would be teachers and gifted program coordinators, I am finding that gifted students in high school and college are also drawn to this text. They tell me they see themselves in these pages and that these stories show them that they are not alone and that they can use their talents to make a positive difference in their own communities. I can’t imagine a greater compliment than that.


Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Ph.D., serves as the Director of Academic Affairs for Mizzou K–12. As the principal of the global middle and high school programs, she works with students and teachers around the world. Dr. Fishman-Weaver writes and presents frequently on student support, teacher leadership, and gender and education.