In a previous post, I touched on the importance of self-advocacy and how to support students with developing this skill. By “self-advocacy,” I’m referring to a student’s ability to speak up for him/herself to get a need met or problem solved at school (versus promoting personal, personal, or religious ideas or beliefs to others). In terms of school and life success, self-advocacy is inseparable from personal responsibility.
Here are five simple steps for helping students develop self-advocacy skills for school:
- Discuss and define what it is. Make self-advocacy a regular part of classroom and home conversation. Adults can share ways they have (or have not) self-advocated in their education, jobs, and everyday lives.
- Validate, validate, validate. Sympathy and understanding are key when responding to a self-advocating individual. Critical or belittling reactions will shut down this process.
- Make a plan. How can a student ask for help, explanation, or permission? Is there a particularly “safe” teacher with which to begin practicing this skill? If so, communicate with them in advance. Rehearse the process at home. Then give it a try.
- Reinforce and review. How did the self-advocacy experience go? What worked and what didn’t? How did it feel before, during, and after? Compare notes with the teacher. Also, what positive reinforcement can teachers and parents implement to help sustain this behavior in the student?
- Return to step 1. Self-advocacy never stops. Successful individuals are continually evaluating their own strengths and weaknesses and responsibly communicating (not demanding or imposing) their needs to others.
Remember, self-advocacy is a skill. For mastery, it must be learned, practiced, and repeated!
©2022 Individual Matters, LLC. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.
Self-advocacy is a highly useful skill. For this conversation, advocacy refers specifically to a student’s ability to speak up in order to get a need met or a problem solved at school. (I am not referring to expressing ideas or imposing viewpoints on others. This is a different skill set and a different type of advocacy).
“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” – Stephen Covey
So… how exactly do we help students develop effective strategies for representing themselves and gaining access to what they need?
Step one: Create a safe space for the student to speak up and share thoughts, needs, and desires. Students will make requests for help when they feel supported, heard, and safe.
Step two: Help the student identify and clarify what specifically is needed.
Step three: Explicitly teach self-advocacy skills, such as by exploring different formats for speaking up, what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. You might roleplay conversations, identify specific opportunities or times of day, or help compose emails. Effective self-advocacy comes in many forms – and the form chosen must suit the advocator!
Step four: Process through any barriers. This may involve simply validating how difficult it can be, identifying shame triggers, or using concrete solution-focused problem solving/brainstorming.
Step five: Reinforce and celebrate even the smallest of victories. For example, maybe the student didn’t speak up today and ask that question in class, but they thought about it!
Step six: If student continues to avoid speaking up, dig a little deeper and circle back through steps 1-5. What is really preventing them from communicating their needs and wants?
Try out these tips… see what works… and have fun! Join us for the next podcast, where we’ll continue to “learn about learning” and share ways to help your student (and yourself) live a more positive and fulfilling life.
©2021 Individual Matters, LLC. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.