Parents, you love your children; you want them to be happy and successful, and you want them to do well in school. You are most certainly your child’s number one advocate. Unfortunately, in recent years, many parents have advocated for their children through the use of power versus empowerment. This post will examine the critical difference between these two standpoints.
In short, when you advocate with power you tend to:
- Question the motives and competence of the teacher
- Consider your child’s perspective as completely accurate
- Miss the opportunity to reflect on how you or your child contributed to the situation at hand
Advocating with power prompts defensiveness on the part of the teacher, and leads to an unnatural dialogue which, in the end, does not elicit the information or resolution that you seek.
To advocate with empowerment (Empowered Advocacy), you must:
- Assume good intent
- Focus your questions on instruction versus teacher motive and competence
- Consider the multiple perspectives on the issue
- Relish in the opportunity to reflect with your child as to how his or her actions contributed to the situation
- Always focus on how this learning experience will help in the future
- Ensure child-centered closure
Assume good intent
It is imperative to begin any initial conversation with a teacher assuming good intent. You would want and expect the teacher to do the same for you. In taking the stance that the teacher is a competent professional who not only knows his or her content, but who also knows your child well, you immediately set the tone that this conversation is going to be respectful and, ultimately, end with positive results.
Focus your questions on instruction versus teacher motive and competence
To further your stance of good intent, you should identify two to three key areas or questions you would like addressed during your conversation. These questions should help you to focus on learning more about the instruction of the teacher, the unit of study, and your child’s work throughout this process. These questions will help to ensure that the conversation stays clear, direct, and positive.
- Could you please tell me a little bit about what students learned during this unit of study?
- What was the process students went through to understand the concepts?
- What do you see as areas of strength and areas of growth for my child?
Consider the multiple perspectives on the issue
Each situation involves more than one person, and, therefore, contains multiple perspectives. After listening to the teacher, take a moment to reflect on the multiple perspectives that are present in the situation. Considering the process of the teacher, and the actions of your child, is there anything that you need to revise in your own understanding?
Relish in the opportunity to reflect with your child as to how his or her actions contributed to the situation
Take the time to share the conversation with your child, and help him or her understand the realities of the situation. Your child is currently learning how to understand the world and how to navigate challenging situations. As a parent, you want to guide them through this in a way that demonstrates patience, compassion, and understanding. Do not give answers and do not prescribe the “correct” solution.
Always focus on how this learning experience will help in the future
Instead of saying to your child, “Here is what you should have done…”, take time to brainstorm, with your child, possible alternative actions. Let him or her decide and explain which they think we be most effective when handling similar situations in the future. This allows your child to recognize what he or she did well; learn from any missteps; understand how people see situations differently; and develop a firm plan for the future. All of this will result in increased confidence and better outcomes in future situations as these naturally learned skills are transferable.
Ensure child-centered closure
This is the perfect chance to put positive closure on the situation by emailing the teacher to share what you have discussed with your child and to simply say thank you, but this is where your advocacy must end and and be transferred to your child so that he or she can feel ownership of the process and the final resolution. Let him or her end this process on his or her own by briefly talking with the teacher and sharing the plan to move forward in a positive way. It is possible to start this as early as kindergarten.
By considering an empowered advocacy standpoint, we believe that parents can become more effectively involved as an advocate for their child and a true partner in the educational process. We hope that this writing is helpful in beginning self-reflection on the part of parents and teachers as they consider how to best engage in an authentic dialogue. Please share and comment as you see fit.
Parents: Please share with us any times you feel you advocated for your child with empowerment. Did you use any of the above strategies, or anything different.
Teachers: What are some ways that you found to be effective in helping parents to be empowered advocates for their children.
Please note: In a future post we will address what to do if a teacher demonstrates that he or she is not working in the best interests of your child.
Empowered Education, LLC is a collaboration of professionals with a variety of experiences at all levels of education. We seek to start an educational revolution through the development of knowledge and compassion. For more information, please visit us at www.empowereded.org and follow us on Twitter (@empowered_ed)
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