When I graduated with my MA my favorite job was working in a program as an educational advocate for children who were wards of the state of Missouri. Once trained by the state I oversaw the education of 40 children for a period of three years. Half of the children were early childhood age and were enrolled in our on-site program, a local Head Start and an early intervention program run by the local school district. The other 20 were school age and attended the local public school, a magnet school, or were transferred out to the district they came from to maintain some level of consistency. As the children’s advocate I spent many days in the schools. In addition it is a favorite saying of mine is that you have not been to a Parent-Teacher Conference until you have been to 15 in a row. I want to share with you what I did that I feel made me successful as an advocate.
First I contacted school personnel before school started. This included each child’s teacher for the year and all of the other professional staff including: Principal, School Secretary, the Ancillary teachers PE, Art, Music and Title I, Nurse, School Social Worker, the Psychologist, Librarian, School Chef, and the head Janitor. I gave each of them a business card and told them the best way to reach me was via telephone; on the back of each card were the names of the children.
Secondly, I kept in touch with the teacher regularly. For me as an advocate that was weekly. However for the average parent monthly should suffice. I also let teachers know if something was happening that could cause mental, emotional, or physical distress to the child in their class. These things could include that the child was worried about something, the house pet was sick at the Vet, or they had fell down the stairs. This gives teachers a heads up that something is wrong and helps them to meet needs they otherwise may not have anticipated.
Thirdly. I helped supervise homework time. As an educator I realize that a child’s time in school is not so much about learning as it is about instruction. Learning actually takes place as children take the instruction and put it into practice on their own which is the purpose of homework. I set up with my fellow co-workers a set homework time that stayed consistent. They and I would move around the room and help children to process what the teacher had instructed them on in class. We did this by asking open ended questions such as:” What are the steps the teacher talked about in class today?”. This helped children to tie what they did in school back to what they were doing then.
Lastly, I attended Parent-Teacher Conferences. I approached these conferences as a chance for the teacher and I to get on the same page when it came to the children’s expectations. I knew what homework had be hardest for them so I sought information on how to help them to process better. I came with a list of five questions I wanted answered about that particular child’s classroom performance, peer interactions, and overall school well-being. Then I took notes regarding our discussion and used these notes to inform my co-workers of the school progress of each child. We then worked as a team to help each child with their areas of challenge and weakness. This helped both homework and school progress improve.
Educational advocacy is all about being supportive of both your child and the teacher. Teachers are your team members. It is their job to instruct the children. As parents and caregivers it is our job to ensure children are learning what the teachers are laying out for them. It is also our job to ensure the educators are doing a good job making sure their instruction is meeting the needs of the children. Parents need to work hard not to take sides between children and teachers but, instead find a way to mediate.
I loved my time as an educational advocate and I hope these steps help you to feel confident as you advocate for your children. Please let me know what you think of this article and the steps that are outlined here.