Self-advocacy is an easily forgotten key to academic success. In our experience, students who meet regularly with their teachers understand material better, study smarter not harder, and feel more invested in the class, their grades, and learning in general. They often also get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to mistakes; for example, teachers may be more willing to cut them some slack on a (rare) late assignment, or round up on a grade.
But kids don’t necessarily realize all of those perks or understand how to start the conversation with their teacher. Here’s how you can help your child—at any age!—learn how to ask for the support they need at school.
What do they need support with?
Is it a one-time issue, like checking in with teachers after an absence? Or is there an ongoing challenge, like struggling with the class’s tests? It’s important to “problem-find” before problem-solving. You and your child will also want to consider what they have control over and what they don’t. All of this info will help you decide on next best steps for self-advocacy.
What are the top two obstacles related to this need?
You and your child might not have a ready answer for this question. That’s okay! Here are some follow up questions to dig a little deeper:
- Are they resistant or afraid to approach their teacher?
- Is the instruction moving too quickly for them?
- Do they not know how to study?
- Are they not doing their homework?
- Do they need to learn how to take notes?
- Are there gaps in any foundational skills?
When encouraging your child to share, the phrase “tell me more” can be really useful!
How will they meet with the teacher?
This isn’t something that comes naturally to students, so you may need to coach your child a bit.
- Can they just drop by after school? Is there a pocket of time during the day the teacher would be available?
- Would it be better to email the teacher to schedule a time? You might need to help them write the email!
How should they prepare for the meeting?
First, talk with your child about what self-advocacy means and what they want to get out of the meeting. Then work backwards to figure out what they’ll need to do ahead of time to make that happen.
- What questions should they write down? (Do not assume they will remember. They will not remember.)
- What physical or digital materials should they have ready to pull up if needed?
- How can you help boost their confidence? We’re big fans of positive self-talk like, “Future Me will be really glad that Now Me is doing this hard thing” or “My teacher wants to help me succeed in this class.”
How can you help them reflect on the experience?
Celebrate the win—they did what they planned!
Be curious about it all. You want your child to practice self-advocacy regularly, so it’s not a time to be disappointed that they didn’t do it perfectly or to tell them all the ways they should have done it differently. Open-ended questions will keep you on track:
- “How did you feel going in? And then how about now?”
- “What advice would you give to someone else about how to do this sort of thing?”
- “What did you and your teacher decide will be most helpful for you?”
How can you find the balance between doing too much and too little?
Sure, it’s quicker, more effective, and less painful for you just to check in with the teacher, rewrite the paragraph, or keep track of due dates. But in the long run, scaffolding only as much as is necessary will benefit your child to a much greater degree. Learning from mistakes is powerful, as is being accountable to oneself.
Tune into your child’s learning style. What does it look like when they’re struggling with something that’s within reach? Give them some time to get there! On the flip side, what does it look like when they are truly lost and need a hand connecting the dots? Offer guidance, but don’t do it all for them.
Finally, cut yourself and your child some slack. Life is hard right now for a whole lot of reasons. There’s nothing wrong with choosing one area to improve, and to do it with baby steps. That’s our approach with tutoring because we find it leads to confidence and independence!
If you or your child could use some extra support, give us a call!