Self-advocacy (getting help or speaking up for oneself) is a key emphasis in our work with all our students. However, there will come times for every child when they need someone else to speak up on their behalf, and in most instances that important person is going to be a parent. Keep reading to learn how to advocate for your child.
There are a wide range of situations that might call for this kind of advocacy, including but not limited to:
- When there are any surprises, such as on your child’s report (a report should generally not be a surprise!) — you may realise that there are gaps in your understanding of what is going on at school and need further explanation.
- When there are difficulties or changes of circumstances in your child’s life that may impact them at school. Changes in family situation or a new diagnosis would be examples of this.
- Serious challenges with school such as bullying or school refusal.
- If you just have questions about your child’s schooling, such as whether your child’s work at home reflects what is expected of them.
In all likelihood, something will come up over your child’s schooling career which will require you to step forward to advocate for them.
Our role as academic life coaches frequently involves assisting parents as they communicate with their child’s school about any number of issues. Here are some of the most important take-aways we’ve learned over the years.
Firstly, as we tell our students, the school is there to help, so you should always feel free to reach out!
Occasionally you may have subject-specific communication with one of your child’s teachers, but usually your first port of call if there is a problem will be one of these roles:
- Homeroom teacher
- House leader
- Year level coordinator
- Wellbeing coordinator
- Learning support coordinator
Schools will all have some of the above roles (with varying titles). If you aren’t sure who to talk to, approach the year level or house coordinator first, and they should be able to either help you themselves or connect you with the right person.
Be mindful of the relationships
Advocacy need not be adversarial, and it certainly shouldn’t begin that way. In most circumstances, you, your child, and your child’s school support people and teachers are all going to be navigating these relationships on an ongoing basis, and that is important to keep in mind. Your child especially will be seeing their teachers nearly every day and it helps them to appreciate and respect their own teachers by seeing you value those relationships.
- Be open-minded and inquiring — approach with questions, not accusations
- Be respectful
- Be mindful of people’s time — teachers have a lot demands placed on them and deserve to have their time respected
- Assume good intent on the part of everyone involved
These qualities will help you start on the right footing and effectively work together as a team to support your child.
Remember that this is a learning opportunity
Whatever circumstances are requiring you to advocate for your child, they are probably not going to be easy ones. It will be natural to want to shelter your child from what you are doing to make difficult circumstances easier for them. However, remember that these sorts of experiences are also learning opportunities. If you can be encouraging and supporting your child to advocate for themselves at the same time (within the reasonable limits of their capacity, of course), then your child will have the chance to build resilience and important life skills for the future.
If your child is neurodiverse and has additional challenges with their learning associated with this, you are probably aware how important it is that your child’s teachers are informed and able to take into account your child’s learning style in the classroom.
The good news is that most schools these days do have systems in place for getting those conversations happening, although each school tends to be slightly different in their approach. Having a formal learning plan (it may be called an ILP, IEP, PLP) is very helpful for keeping a central record of your child’s specific needs, goals and suggested strategies for assisting them. To initiate a learning plan, the first person to talk to is once again a year level coordinator or wellbeing officer. Ideally that meeting (and subsequent ones) should include a wellbeing officer and a teacher who has close contact with the student. Classroom teachers might be invited to contribute in person or in writing.
Once the initial plan is in place, it is also important that a review occurs at least annually throughout your child’s time at school to adjust in line with their development and changing needs and priorities, and to communicate with new teachers. Sometimes it can be helpful to do each term or each semester.
If your child’s school does not do learning plans, or stops them at a certain year level, it is still worth communicating a new diagnosis and requesting a similar meeting with ongoing review.
A final point to consider is whether the school is keeping a record of which supports and accommodations are in place for your child year-to-year, especially around assessments. As we have written elsewhere, recent changes to the rules in Victoria make this record keeping essential for applications for special provisions during Year 12. If you are in a different state please check out your relevant education body for more details:
If you would like to know more about the work we do in educating and supporting our students and their families please get in touch.