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     All About Advocacy

As a parent, we must always fight for what is best for our children. In this way, we are their advocates, or representatives, and it is our job to see that all of their NEEDS are being met. At the same time, being an advocate does not necessarily mean that you have to put on your boxing gloves. Instead, it dictates that with a little planning and PREPARATION, your voice can go a long way toward making a difference. Here are a few tips on being a great advocate:

Information is the key to your success as an advocate. If you are well-informed, your OPINIONS will be respected. Learn all there is to know. Talk to your child’s teachers, get copies of your child’s records, etc. It is especially important to have all of the facts and figures in writing so that you have physical EVIDENCE in support of your point of view. This preparation puts power behind your perspective!

Know where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. Basically, as your child’s advocate, have a PLAN and know what you want to accomplish. Often, parents go into conferences with school staff members knowing what the problem is but not having taken the time to consider a possible SOLUTION. It is very important that as your child’s advocate you do your homework on both ends of a conflict. It is not the teacher’s job to have all of the answers. Be prepared -- it will save you, and your child’s educators, time and frustration in the long run, and hopefully enable you to work as a TEAM.

Remember the childhood saying "cheaters never prosper"? In the same way, honesty will get you far and dishonesty will get you nowhere in the field of education. Be prepared to be HONEST with yourself about your child. For example, it is very hard to come to terms with a child that has a disability, a behavior problem, or some other sort of difficulty. As hard as this type of situation is, it is even harder to handle when we try to deny the fact that the child needs help. However, if you feel that your child has been UNFAIRLY labeled as a problem student, it is your responsibility to resolve this problem with the school staff. Being an effective advocate means being honest with the school so that the scope of the problem can be realized and assistance can be provided.

As your child’s advocate, go with your gut. If you are not comfortable with the way the school is working with you, say it. Do not feel PRESSURED by the "experts" into doing something with your child that you feel is not right. Along the same lines, if you feel your child has a problem, and the school is not addressing it, say so. As a parent, you have valid insight into your child, and if you do not AGREE with the school’s strategy, chances are that it is not the correct solution for your child.

Diplomacy does not come easy for many. To be your child’s best possible advocate, put aside your anger, if you have some, and focus on the OUTCOME of the situation: your child’s well-being. Working together with the school, in a positive way, will help build a strong educational foundation for your child.

Now that you have some “tips”, who do call when you have a problem? You should always make yourself aware of your child’s school staff and their ROLES. Your child’s teacher should be the FIRST person you call when you need help. He/She is the person that spends the most time with your child throughout the school day.

The school counselor is an invaluable resource. This is especially true if your concerns are of a SENSITIVE nature (such as divorce, abuse, moving to another city or state). Keep in mind that depending on the school, the counselor may not be a full-time employee—although he/she might be available for a telephone consultation, you may need to make an APPOINTMENT in order to discuss an issue at length.

If your child’s school has an assistant principal/vice principal, this person is the one to call when you feel you need extra help with the school or the classroom teacher. In some schools, the assistant principal is also the individual who handles DISCIPLINE problems as well.

The ultimate AUTHORITY. Always try to go through any of the above school leaders before you call the principal. Directly calling the principal will get you immediate results but the teacher, counselor, or assistant principal will also most likely be involved in resolving your concerns, so they are your INITIAL contacts.

Is your child having a problem in the cafeteria or at recess? If your school has one, contact the cafeteria or playground manager to RESOLVE the issue. Be sure to follow any discussion up with a call to one of the following school leaders: the teacher, the counselor, or the assistant principal. It is important for them to be informed of any concerns so they can MONITOR activities throughout the rest of the school day for similar problems.

Does your child attend before or after care? Do you have concerns about the program? Contact the afterschool care manager DIRECTLY but again, follow up with a call to one of the following school leaders: the teacher, the counselor, or the assistant principal.


Cheli Cerra has helped thousands of children achieve school and life success. For more information on Cheli and other learning resources go to her website at www.eduville.com.

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