The Road to Advocation

In earlier articles, I wrote about the need to advocate for your child should you think there is a problem.  In this article we will explore the “rules of the road” when it comes to advocating for your child once you suspect a difficulty.

We have all heard the horror stories of parents who tried unsuccessfully to advocate for their child and ended up making the entire issue worse.  If you understand the process, and play by the rules, you should avoid needless frustration.

All schools abide by specific laws and regulations, which provide special services for children with learning disabilities.  The criteria for eligibility vary from province to province, but all schools must adhere to a minimum standard.  To find out the minimum standards in your province contact your local school board or search your provincial government’s education site.

Here are the rules of the road:

1. Get to know the people who make decisions about your child’s education.  Talk with your child’s teacher on a regular basis and connect with educators and administrators on a regular basis both formally and informally.  If you happen to have concerns that the teacher cannot address, be willing to follow the chain of command through the school first and if necessary on to the district office.
2. Keep records.  Parents should maintain an organized file of educational records, assessment information and documentation of meetings.  Take notes during telephone conversations and face to face meetings.  Always ask for full names and correct contact information when communicating by phone or email.  Keeping examples of your child’s academic progress through homework assignments, and writings may also prove to be helpful in establishing patterns and documenting both abilities and challenges.

3. Gather information.  Educate yourself as much as you can about education.  Read books and articles on learning. Seek out advice from experts.  If you are going to be effective in meetings with educators you will need to become familiar with educational acronyms and jargon.  Ask lots of questions (write them down beforehand if need be) and do not hesitate to ask for clarification if answers are confusing or complicated.

4. Communicate effectively.  Always come to meetings prepared, and know the specific outcomes you would like to see.  If possible it might be a good idea to bring someone else with you for moral support and it never hurts to have someone not related to the child to assist you in thinking outside of the box.  Regardless of who is in the meeting, always 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 and what documentation of data might help your case, and present it in an orderly and readable format.  Remember, while assertiveness and persistence are crucial, anger and aggressiveness can work against you and damage important relationships.  In short, losing your temper will not assist your child.

5. Know your child’s strengths and interests.  By sharing with educators your child’s talents and interests, you not only help them to see the child outside of the classroom, you help them to see the child as a whole and not just as a body in their classroom.

6. Emphasize solutions not blame.    It is important to stress the positive. The old adage that you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar certainly holds true here. Taking the high road will assist in identifying ways to improve your child’s educational experience.  Arguing technicalities and pointing fingers is not going to solve the problems your child is encountering.  Try not to take things personally and that rule goes for both sides of the table.

7. Teach your child to self-advocate.  This is especially important for those students who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia.  Developmental dyslexia is a lifelong issue and the ability to master self-advocacy at an early age is vital.  Resist the urge to smooth every road for your child.  This is not to suggest that you throw your child into the deep end of the pool but gentling moving them out of the wading pool with respect and support is imperative.

Lani Donaldson is the President and CEO of Engaged Educators Inc.