Traits Of Advocating School Parents Who Get Results

Parents and teachers alike want what is best for children. American Images via Getty Images

If you are the parent of a child who is in school, one way to support your child is to be their advocate.   Being a strong and effective advocate for you school age child can lead to a variety of different activities and contacts.  What a parent does can change quickly from school year to school year, and even within a school year.  The different needs and experiences of children will also lead individual parents to do different things.

 A child could be struggling with a homework assignment, be a special needs learner, facing a recent home loss, or having difficulty behaving in school.  

While each of those problems require a different specific strategy, what they all have in common is that they will each benefit from a parent who can advocate effectively for their child.  These are traits of parents who advocate effectively for their children:

They Know The Importance of Creating Relationships

Effective  parents don't wait for problems to arise before they meet the school teachers and staff that work with their children.  They take advantage of meeting opportunities at the beginning of the school year to begin a good relationship.  They know it will be easier to begin problem-solving with the school right away, and may even prevent problems.

They Look For The Best Ways to Communicate 

Effective parents know that school staff work hard during and even after school.

 They use methods and timing of communication that they know school staff will be able to respond to easily and when they have time.  For example, don't call during the class day, but send an email.  If there is a communication platform that the school uses, be sure to use it.  Asking what the best way to get in touch with a teacher is a great question for open houses and parent-teacher conferences.


They Focus on Facts Rather Than Emotions

I am sure you know what it is like dealing with someone who is really upset or stressed out about their problem.  You know how easy it is to get caught up in their emotions and maybe add fuel to the problem without ever discussing the problem.  Effective advocates know how to step back from attitudes and focus on the actual problem.  You, the parent, may even be the one who needs to make sure they are focused on the problem rather than how you feel.  You can achieve this by restating the problem in one sentence.  

Use it with yourself to stay focused on the issue.  You can also use it to paraphrase school staff who may be getting a little testy.  Teachers and school staff have very busy, often stressful jobs and your paraphrase the focuses on the issue rather than how they feel at the moment may give them the little boost they need to keep the conversation productive instead of getting lost in on issues/

They Are Willing To Listen To Every Side

You know how it feels when you think you know all the facts, and then you find out another piece of information that changes everything?

 You have been raising your child long enough by the time they enter school to know that your child can't, or won't, give you the full story.  

Even if you do have all of the facts from your child, school policies and procedures can be quite varied and complicated.  Always staying open to what the school has to say can help you find a solution that really works for everyone.

They Know They Can Advocate For Their Child, No Matter Their Background

You know your child better than anyone else.  You don't need a fancy degree or an impressive sounding job title to be able to help your child.  

They Know Relationships Take Work

You know what it is like when you deal with someone you only hear from when they are complaining or need something from you?  Or how it feels when someone took advantage of you?  Effective parents know that they very well need to keep their relationship with the school as positive as possible because they might be back again.  

They Know That Everyone Really Has The Same Major Goal

Teachers love to see children learn and be successful in school.  It is one of the driving reasons that people become teachers to begin with.  The school staff is there to help see your child be successful in school.  Parents also want their children to be successful.  Keep this in mind to find common ground.

They Ask Questions

Effective advocates don't just stop when they don't understand what to do next.  They ask.  If you are not sure what they school does in the circumstances your child is facing, ask.  If the person you ask doesn't know, find out who does know or where your answer may be.  

They Keep Organized Records

Having documentation to support what you are trying to advocate for can help the school to understand exactly what you need, and why it is needed. Keeping records can also help to identify when a problem began and what has worked or not worked in the past.  

This is especially important for parents of children with IEPs or 504 plans.  Having copies of older plans, evaluations, and keeping track of whom you spoke with when can come in very handy.  Showing documentation that supports what you are telling the school personnel may even be necessary in order for certain accommodations to be made.  

They Understand How To Compromise

Every parent wishes they could give their child more than what they are able to give.  Remember that the schools may be in a similar situation.  Don't get so stuck on getting a particular outcome that you are unwilling to consider alternatives.  It could very well be that the school already has another effective way to address your concern, or that they can't address it in the way you have asked them to.

They Follow Up to Make Certain There is Progress

To be an effective advocate, you need to continue to monitor your child's progress continuously.  Unfortunately, sometimes school personnel do not make the changes the said they were going to.  Gentle reminders are asking when the changes will begin can be good ways to get back on track.  

It is also important to make sure that what is being tried is helpful.  Sometimes what sounds like a  great idea doesn't really solve the issue.  Which is one reason why...

They Don't Give Up

You might need to try different strategies to see what will work.  Knowing what doesn't work can provide important information about what will work.  

Schools also have their own bureaucracy and it can take time to follow the necessary steps to solve a problem.  Being persistent means that you stick it out so that you can get your child's needs met.

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