The Role of the Educator

Two teachers in an elementary classroomAlthough the end game of advocacy is for the student to take the lead, advocacy begins with YOU, the educator! The primary role of the educator teaching self-advocacy is one of support and guidance. Very few adolescents with LDs acquire self-advocacy skills without instruction[1]. Schools, therefore, are an ideal venue to teach and practice these important skills[2].

Self-advocacy necessarily involves the transition from passivity and dependence to activity and autonomy. The building blocks of this transition can be incorporated into all classrooms by providing students with opportunities to become actively engaged and interested in their learning. This requires the creation of learning situations that give students an active, central role. For example, educators can ensure that their students have opportunities to make decisions, make choices, and act autonomously with the resources they use during learning. Educators can also create situations where the students work with their peers, have opportunities to comment on the tasks and strategies of other students, and have opportunities to ask others to look at their tasks and strategies and provide them with feedback.

Educators must also support students in the acts of responsibility taking that this process of self-advocacy involves. Students are less likely to take the risk of showing initiative or acting autonomously in environments in which support for these behaviours is not a sure thing. By fostering an emotionally safe and trusting learning environment and building mutual trust between the students and educators students will feel like self-advocacy is a risk worth taking.

These steps will help students to feel competent and safe, which in turn makes it more likely that they will engage in self-advocacy; however, they still may not have the skills they need to be effective advocates.

“To be effective advocates for their own interests, students need an understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities. They also need self-knowledge – an understanding of their strengths, needs, and personal goals. Self-evaluation and reflection are important components of self-knowledge.”

- Shared Solutions[3]

Explicit Instruction of Self-Advocacy Skills

Student conferencing with 2 teachersResearch shows us that self-advocacy skills should be taught explicitly and practiced in school settings, such as during individual education plan (IEP) meetings[4] or when requesting accommodations[5].

The skills vital to self-advocacy include:

  • knowledge of academic strengths and weaknesses,
  • an awareness of required accommodations and services that are available,
  • knowledge of individual rights, and
  • the ability to request information, assistance, and accommodations when required.

[1] Michaels, 1994

[2] Mishna et al., 2011

[3] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007

[4] Van Ruesen & Bos, 1994; Kotzer & Margalit, 2007

[5] Durlak et al., 1994; Prater et al., 2014