Inclusive Education Perspective: 8 Steps To Becoming An Effective Advocate
Parents are often the best educational advocates for their children. If you are feeling less than confident, here are 8 tips to help you become a champion for your child.
Know your child’s rights. All schools in Saskatchewan abide by policies, procedures, and legislation. Take time to review your school division’s policies and procedures, the Education Act, the Education Regulations, and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Get to know the people who make decisions about your child’s education. Connect with educators and administrators in both casual and formal settings. Talk with your child’s teacher on a regular basis. If you have concerns or problems that a teacher cannot or will not address, be willing to follow the chain of command through the school, and if necessary to the division office.
Keep Records. Stay organized by creating an organized file of educational records, assessment information, emails and other correspondence with the school. Take notes during telephone and face-to-face meetings, and ask for people’s full names and contact information when communicating by phone or email. In addition, keep less formal examples of your child’s academic progress, such as homework papers, artwork, and writings which may be useful in establishing patterns and documenting both abilities and challenges.
Gather Information. Read books and articles about your child’s needs, join parent groups. Get comfortable with education acronyms and jargon. Ask professionals lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if the answers you receive are confusing or complicated.
Communicate Effectively. Come to school meetings prepared. Know the specific outcomes that you want. Be clear, calm and direct when speaking and put things in writing whenever possible. Listen and take time to think about pertinent information. Consider when documentation or data might help your case, and present it in an orderly and readable format. While assertiveness and persistence are crucial, anger, and aggressiveness can work again you and damage relationships.
Emphasize Strengths and Solutions. Always start by highlighting strengths and positives. From there, be part of the process to help identify ways to improve your child’s experience. Once decisions have been made, make every effort to encourage follow through and keep lines of communication open.
Focus on the Big Picture. Simply put, don't sweat the small stuff. Knowing the specifics of a law may be important on one level but constantly arguing technicalities can ultimately waste time and inhibit rapport. Try not to take things personally, and always consider both sides of the story. Details are important, but don't let them get in the way of advocating for the best educational experience for your child.
Involve your child in decision-making as early as you can. Mastering self-advocacy is one of the keys to becoming a successful adult. Resist the natural urge to pave every road for your child and respect and support your child to take informed risks.
About Elaine Caswell
At Elaine’s core, she is a teacher. Throughout her diverse roles as a classroom teacher, school principal, guidance counselor, superintendent, Director of Education and Director of Children’s Services at the Ministry of Education, Elaine has taught, mentored, built strong relationships with families and facilitated individual, group and systemic change.
About Louise Burridge
Louise is an occupational therapist. As one of the first occupational therapists to work in Saskatchewan schools, Louise has worked with numerous families to foster growth and development, facilitate accessibility and support inclusive education. Louise has continued this work as a Student Services Coordinator, at the Ministry of Education, and Director of Professional Practice with the Saskatchewan Society of Occupational Therapists. She now owns and operates OuTcomes Therapy in Regina.