Domains of potential (Tilly) - film

The value of knowing every student and recognising their specific learning needs is well understood by school leaders and teachers. This important message is demonstrated in the engaging story of Tilly and her journey as a student with multiple disabilities and high potential in the creative domain.

The film describes how Tilly's creativity and inventiveness in music was recognised by her parents, carers, high school and the Northern Rivers Conservatorium. Through careful observation and informed teacher professional judgement, Tilly's teachers and the community worked together to create a talent development and support plan for her learning and wellbeing needs. This illustration of practice also highlights the collaboration between various stakeholders that was necessary to nurture Tilly’s creative high potential and cater for her needs as a student with multiple disabilities.

Domains of potential - Tilly

Transcript of Tilly’s Story video (12 minutes 30 seconds)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this video may contain the images, voices and names of people who have passed away.

Tilly’s Story High potential and gifted education



18 Year old student - Lismore NSW

Tilly: My name's Tilly Jones, I'm 18 years old from Lismore, New South Wales. I've been going to the Northern Rivers Conservatorium for 10 years now and it's really my second home. Started out on piano and after a few years, I started to learn the violin. Then six months later, added the cello and the clarinet and then the guitar and also composition.

Tilly: I've been playing in the Northern Rivers Youth Orchestra since 2012, the Chamber Strings group since 2013 and I was a member of the Youth Jazz Orchestra for a period as well as well as the World Music Ensemble.

Tilly: I study with Southern Cross School of Distance Education, and I'm just about to finish my HSC. Studying through distance education has made school and school work a lot easier, manageable and less stressful than mainstream school.

Tilly: I have more time to focus on my interests, which are music and history and Distance Ed also accommodates my disabilities more, ADHD, Asperger’s, foetal alcohol, cerebral palsy, anxiety and a side serve of depression.


Tilly’s Foster Mother

Jenny: The greatest gift I've had is being Tilly's mother, but also being her advocate. And I think it's been such a joy to take this little baby when she arrived, being told that she would never do anything, that she would never be able to sit up or walk or talk, that she would be so profoundly handicapped. And in our family, we just don't agree with that end-of-line diagnosis. We believe that regardless of how disabled you might be, there's still things that you can achieve.


Head Teacher - Creative & Performing Arts

Sharon: Tilly came to us identified by various people that she was possibly fitting in that range of high potential and gifted. She was totally disengaged with the school system that she'd been involved with. She was fully engaged with her music and working at the community with the Northern Rivers Conservatorium, which is in Lismore. And I went out to Tilly's House to meet her in her environment. When I got there, I asked open ended questions and Tilly could just answer them. She just kept going and she had more examples. She had tangible products of the composition.

Sharon: She had ideas that just kept coming and coming and no question was hard enough. She had, Tilly has so many ideas that they're often going this way, this way, this way, this way. And it was it was taking the time to listen and let her concepts were of a higher order concept of someone of her age group as well, particularly with music.

Sharon: She also demonstrated inventiveness. So when I'd asked her where did she get the ideas from, how did she develop the projects that she was showing me at that first meeting, she had very clear concepts and she knew the journey, her own creative journey. She had a high level of self-reflection as well.

Jenny: She seems to endlessly find ways to be inventive. They're not always socially appropriate. She'll jump up from the table and say, I'll be back in a minute. I've got to write this down. And an hour later, you've heard cello for an hour, but no dinner’s been eaten. She's completely forgotten that. When she was younger, one of the most interesting things I watched her do was that she was learning a lot about computers at the time and she started learning about Makey Makeys. I didn't have a clue what that was. But anyway, she came home and said, can I have bananas and different fruits and vegetables? And she put them all that, connected them with wires and played music through bananas.

Jenny: I just couldn't believe such a thing could happen, but Tilly made it happen.

Tilly: Composition is my main passion in life, and I've been composing for about eight years now. I started out writing with a solo piano pieces because that's what I played the best. And then when I started high school, I progressed to writing for other instruments. Um, like the cello, I wrote a cello duet, then two larger ensembles, like I wrote The Chase for the Northern Rivers Youth Orchestra. And I've written some string quartets, some of which were performed by the ACO - Australian Chamber Orchestra - in their twenty seventeen move program.

Sharon: She was already using, going beyond the bounds of structures in music, beyond what you would see in, say, pop music.

Sharon: She was already exploring art music in Year 9 even. Mini ensembles of different instruments, combining different instruments that might not usually go together. But that came about in inventiveness, in her compositions and her ideas and her creativity had no bounds. And one of the biggest challenges that she faced in her inventiveness was bringing it into boundaries of, for the HSC, a two minute composition.

Sharon: Tilly's imagination is endless. She takes things in from her environment, she takes in things from all different sound sources, all different styles of music.

Sharon: She has her own ideas as well, and she pushes musical boundaries, which has been a delight to see Tilly's as she's progressed through this journey. For her HSC she recently explored, ‘well, what does music technology offer me for the cello?’

Sharon: What can I do? What new sounds can I get if I use a microphone? If I use a loop pedal, if I use a distortion pedal, if I use an electronic cello and electronic viola.

Tilly: The teachers at the Con are really supportive and caring and willing to embrace my disabilities and work with me to overcome barriers to get the best out of my instruments.

Sharon: There's a lot that we put into place for Tilly as we went through this journey with her from Year 9 through to Year 12. One of the first things was acknowledging that she had the high potential and gifted and very clearly fitted in that. The second thing was meeting her need where the level she was at and finding where that entry level was to start her with her curriculum, when she was in Year 9. It was then pushing beyond that and and writing even differentiated work, new units of work for her. One thing I really did in this journey with Tilly was made sure that we brought industry standards in for Tilly. She'd been very clear that she wanted a career heading in the pathway of music in some direction. And further study was also something she was looking at. We're very fortunate here in this Northern Rivers area to have Southern Cross University and they have a great music department there, too. I contacted one of their lecturers who specialises in composition, and and had a chat with them and showed them some of Tilly's work and said, ‘Can we work with you? Can you work with us with this student to give that higher level of expertise that she needs?’ That then flowed into commissions. People were asking for her compositions and giving her opportunities, and it gave her a very rapidly developing CV, I would call it. The opportunities got bigger and they got more tailored into the specific purpose for the compositions. She then travelled internationally.

Tilly: Spent three weeks touring France with the Flowers of War and the Opera The Hills, which is by the Flowers of War and the director, Christopher Latham. And that experience really gave me a new view on music and I guess life, especially seeing all the battlefields and realising how recent it was and the mass loss of life.

Tilly: Also learning about composers from that era like Frederick Septimus Kelly.

Tilly: And in 2019, I was then awarded an internship with the Flowers of War, which will, which has already commenced, but at the end of this year I'm going to really start my proper work of typesetting, arranging music and editing it. I've already typeset one of Frederick Septimus Kelly's pieces, which had never been heard or performed or even seen before. The internship is really special because it helps me combine my two interests of music and history together really well.

Jenny: I see the joy of watching her grow and achieve the things that she has. And my message to other parents is don't give up, don't accept no. Fight for your child and work with whatever education system that you can because there are people there that do care with you and will help you because there is no two ways about it. It takes a team to raise any child.

Sharon: Oh, Tilly's creative journey. It's been a gift to watch and to be involved in. Creativity, I believe is something that everyone has, but they may not know how to express it.

Sharon: It's about giving a part of yourself to the world. And also, in doing that, you actually feel a part of yourself as well.

Tilly: Every now and then it pops back in my brain, but like when I was younger, at the Con, I remember a little girl came up to me after she saw me perform, she was like "oh god you're so cool, can you like sign this for me" I was like what!, it was like, I know, cool to see people get enjoyment out of music.


Find the potential

Develop the talent

Make the difference

End of transcript

Questions for professional learning

For school leaders:

  • Schools have a responsibility to create learning environments that support high potential and gifted students to experience efficacy, agency and ultimately achieve their educational potential. How have Tilly’s learning environments enabled efficacy, agency and allowed her to discover her educational potential in the creative domain whilst simultaneously accommodating for her disabilities?
  • By referring to Gagne’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent, identify possible catalysts that may have resulted in Tilly underachieving and disengaging in her earlier years at school. What other catalysts may have prevented this from occurring?
  • What are some of the ways your school has created learning environments that support efficacy and agency for all students? How might these be adjusted to accommodate those students who might also present with disability and high potential in one or more domains?

For teachers:

  • One definition of creativity claims that for a process to be creative, it must be original, significant and intentional. Discuss whether Tilly’s high potential in the creative domain aligns with this definition.
  • Identify the characteristics in the film that indicate Tilly may have high potential in the creative domain. Give some examples of how you have tapped into the strengths and interests of your students in the creative domain in different key learning areas. How successful were you in recognising and unlocking creative high potential in your students?
  • The Differentiation Adjustment Tool can be used to create engaging tasks for all students, including high potential students with disability. Choose an adjustment that would be suitable for Tilly from the both the Learning Environment and Creative Thinking sections. Explain how you might apply this adjustment in your teaching practice.
  • For high potential and gifted students with disability, teachers need to recognise and cater for both the high potential and the disability by meeting the different levels and types of need. This can be achieved by creating authentic partnerships, locating mentors and providing talent development opportunities. What might this look like for a high potential student with disability in the other domains of potential (physical, intellectual, and social-emotional)?


  • Teaching and learning


  • Collaborate

Business Unit:

  • Teaching, Learning and Student Wellbeing
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