By Carolyn Hollowell
As a parent of three children, my mission has been to prepare them for a wonderful and successful adult life. Just one of my many tasks while raising them is to teach self-advocacy skills that they’ll need to make the most of their education. Parents see developments in their children even before they go to school, and can show them the power of speaking up. This is a difficult skill for children to learn. Here are three ways that I have seen parents use self-advocacy to set their children on a path to a better educational experience, and teach them a skill that they’ll use throughout their lives.
1. Let your children know that it’s okay to speak up.
Because parents can’t be in the classroom every day, they rely on their children to tell them about any struggles or accomplishments they’re dealing with on a daily basis. When students speak up to their parents about these situations, it can lead to changes being implemented that help everyone in the classroom.
One such story of self-advocacy comes from a recent Getting Smart article and involves a little girl named Aislinn. At birth, Aislinn was considered profoundly deaf in her left ear. She was born with microtia, a condition where the outer ear is underdeveloped; and atresia, a condition where the ear canal is completely closed. As she grew, her doctors said she had reached a point where her hearing would probably not improve any further naturally. She did have a personal FM system when she entered kindergarten, but as the years went on, she didn’t want to use it anymore. Her parents eventually found out the reason was that having special equipment made her feel different than the other students.
When Aislinn spoke up, her parents were thrilled that she had let others know her needs, and they started researching other options. Which leads to the second point:
2. Show them that there is always more than one solution to a problem.
Children need to know early on that if one plan doesn't work, you'll try another one. A number of solutions are available to help students hear in the classroom, from a whole-classroom speaker like the Redcat System to the handheld microphones that teachers in the Hear to Learn project give to students who are presenting their solutions to math problems. With either one of these solutions, students come home and tell their parents that they're having the best days ever in school because they can finally hear more of what is being shared. What parent doesn't like to hear that?
3. Listen to the whole story.
Let’s go back to the story with Aislinn. Yes, she felt different from her classmates, but she was also frustrated because she couldn’t hear them. If the teacher was talking during a small-group project, Aislinn had no idea what her classmates were saying.
It would have been easy for Aislinn’s parents to stop listening after her first point about appearance and try to give a spirited pitch about how she was special no matter what she looked like. Instead, her mother listened to everything Aislinn had to say and then discussed the benefits of classroom audio systems with the school’s administrators, who decided that every classroom should have the audio technology. After all, students learn not only from the teacher but from each other. This sort of reciprocal teaching isn’t possible unless every student in the class can hear each other. So, by listening to Aislinn’s words from start to finish, both her parents and the administration were able to aid the entire school’s educational process.
Parents want the best for their child. Students want and need the best they can have in order to be successful in their educational journey and in life’s challenges. Now that my children are off to college, I continue to encourage them to use their voice to benefit not just themselves, but their classmates. If you have ideas you would like to share please post your comments here so we can all learn.
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