Advocacy: 5 Steps to Speaking Up For Your Students

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January 13, 2015

Every mother wants to believe her angel is special: the smartest, the quickest, full of the most potential. Then again, some moms feel that other children don’t have to focus/think/listen quite as hard as their baby. She might even be right! But at what point does your little sweetie need specific help from the school? Sometimes it’s hard to know. There are definitely times when I wonder if I’ve done the right thing with my kids. Conversations with other moms around the school tell that I’m not the only one. Knowing when to speak up for help for your children or to let things slide can be quite difficult. Pulling on my experiences on both sides of the classroom, teacher and parent, I thought through the steps one might take in the face of this question and arrived at these 5 steps.

Observe, Observe, Observe

Gather as much information about what and how your children are doing. Make a point of going into the classroom or keeping tabs on a play date. Any gut instinct you have will be more meaningful if you are accustomed to seeing them in their environment with others in their same age range. Is there something they do really well? Do they struggle with one thing in particular? How does this affect their education? Write down any specific examples of behavior that worries you. Be honest with yourself about how critical the issue really is. Yes, you notice that Jane takes an unusual amount of time to say “hippopotamus,” but does it indicate a significant red flag? Chances are, her future does not hang in the balance. However, if you notice Jane freezing every time she is approached to express an opinion, it could be more detrimental.

Go to Your Teachers

In general, your children’s teachers work hard to know and understand every one of their students. There’s a good chance they have already noted any specific struggles. Approach them in a positive manner to ask for advice and you should find a helpful ally. If they can discuss your children in a knowledgeable way, with insight and examples, give them the benefit of the doubt. They have seen many children and might have a bigger picture than you. However, if your teachers try to brush off your concerns without any consideration or discussion, you might need to push harder.

Stop to Consider

One thing I’ve seen on both sides of the classroom is parents so anxious to support their children, they go too far. Look at the big picture. Your children might very well be incredibly gifted in spelling, math, or dramatic readings but maybe there are other aspects of their education, subject-wise or socially, that present more of a challenge and balance things out. Being pulled out of class, given an aide, or more homework is not always the most helpful solution.

On the other hand, school districts are required by law to offer specific services to all students in need. If your gut is telling you your child needs help, you might need to dig into those rights and stand up to advocate for your children. With all of the input you have at this point, from your own observations and those of your teachers, you should have plenty of documentation to prove a need.

Make Arrangements at the Lowest Possible Level

The closer to home your interventions stay, the more control you can exercise over them. If you can meet the need at home or within the classroom, you will maintain a high degree of involvement. You can adjust as needed. Work with your teachers to create simple and manageable solutions, be it a change of seating, a modified work load, attending a different class for a subject, or using an additional learning aide such as notes or outlines. If outside specialist help is needed, be sure to make arrangements for communication and progress reports.

If You Have To, Go Higher

While in general, I’ve experienced school faculty that is excited to do what is best for their students, it’s possible to encounter teachers or administrators that refuse to help. You should take your concerns to the next authority level, from teacher to principal then to the school district, if necessary. Remember, though, to keep your expectations realistic. If you want to fly in an expert from Europe to design a specialized curriculum for only your children, that’s not going to happen. A district will be restricted by funds and resources.

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