Advocating for Your Class

Categories: Resources

It’s Not In the Job Description

Advocating, just like a zillion other responsibilities of special education teachers, isn’t in the job description. That doesn’t give us an excuse not to do it, though. In fact, advocacy is one of the most important jobs we have as educators. There is nothing worse than feeling like you aren’t being heard or you have student needs that aren’t being met. Let’s break down how to advocate so your team and administration will listen.

The Dos and Don’ts

As with most things in life, there are some dos and don’ts when advocating for student needs. Here are some ground rules before we get started:

  • Do share concerns with administration and have data to back up your concerns
  • Don’t over inflate the issues at hand. Be honest about what is happening.
  • Don’t complain to your staff about the situation.
  • Do come with ideas on how to fix the problem.
  • Don’t become emotional (this is hard, but try to remain calm).
  • Do listen and be willing to compromise
  • Don’t be aggressive. There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, make sure you stay assertive.
  • Don’t fall into negativity, stay positive in the conversations around the issue
  • Do keep your focus child-centered
  • Don’t be afraid to bring the issue up. The worst that happens is that you are told no. And don’t be afraid to try again after that!

 

Fighting With Data

When we make a claim regarding the needs of a student, we need to back it up with data. Chances are from the outside, your situation looks like it’s going just fine. We special education teachers are pros at making something hard or unsustainable look easy. It’s difficult to change any given circumstance when it appears to be working from the outside. Rather than throw you hands up and declare you can’t take it anymore, track the problems, the frequency it occurs, the duration it occurs, and how intense the problem becomes. Do this for a few weeks to have some solid data to bring with you when discussing the problem. Log anything you have done to problem solve the issue at hand and how it worked out, too. (You can find the data sheets pictured here.)

Plan Ahead

Whether advocating for a personal care aid or new curriculum (check out our curriculum here!), relevant training or even try to anticipate the responses you’ll be given. Be prepared to counter them with data or ideas to fix the issue before meeting. Some of the most difficult problems to overcome are:

  • Lack of funding (I’m waiting for the day education is appropriately funded!)
  • Lack of staff (hello staff and sub shortage!)
  • Lack of flexibility (sticking to how it’s always been done)

 

10% Rule

The way most people thing is by planning for the general population and what works for them. It would seem right to plan for the largest population and what works for them, right? Wrong! When you plan for the 10% of those with unique and special needs, and you take care of those with needs first, chances are the general population’s needs will be met along the way. For example, if we put in a ramp instead of stairs, everyone can access the building. If we have flexible seating and fidgets available in the classroom, everyone can focus. By meeting the needs of the 10%, we actually meet the needs of the entire population.

Circle Back

Don’t give up if you are told no. Instead, reply with a simple ‘I can see this is a lot to think about. Is there a time we can meet again after we have time to reflect on what we’ve talked about?”. Remember – the worst that can happen is that you are told no and you rethink how to present the situation again in the future. Keep pushing for what you and your students need! It’s always worth the effort!

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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