February 14, 2018

6 Tips to Help You Advocate for Your Child’s Education

By Latoya Reid

As a parent, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is how hard, and important, it is to advocate for my child’s education. Getting your child what they need in school, and providing what they can’t get there at home, can be challenging. The actual logistics (meetings, tutoring, etc.) can be grueling; thinking about the fact that it shouldn’t be this way can be frustrating and exhausting. But, at the end of the day, our children need us. When we advocate for our childrens’ education, we are advocating for their future—and this is the most important thing we can do as parents.

My son is an intelligent fourth-grader, but struggles in academics. Throughout his school-age years, it’s been an uphill battle trying to ensure that he has the skills and foundations to be successful in life. Like many children, when it comes to new information or challenges, he tends to disengage. Sometimes, he displays behaviors that affect his learning.

Over the years, as I’ve pushed to get my son’s needs met and his gifts recognized in school, and to provide him with support at home, I’ve learned that being an advocate for your child is like starting a business. There will be times when you get frustrated. There will be times when you have to research and brainstorm new ideas. There will be sleepless nights, when you question your decisions or can’t stop trying to figure something out. It will take a lot of energy, and you’re going to experience trial and error. But, as with a business, if you put in the hard work, it will pay off. I’ve seen this again and again with my son: a concept finally clicks for him, or a teacher finally understands how to keep him engaged in learning.

Advocating for my son is an ongoing journey, and I know I still have much to learn. As he advances through school, there will be new challenges. Below are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far that I know will help me get through whatever comes next, and, I hope, will help other parents on their advocacy journey.

1. Get to know your child academically.

Zoom in on their strengths and weaknesses. Find out what they enjoy in school, where they’re struggling, which teachers they like most, etc. The more you know, the more effective you’ll be when it’s time to get involved.

2. Get to know your child’s educators.

Have meetings with their teachers, and even school leaders. Make sure all the adults who influence your child’s learning are all on the same page. The more your child struggles, the more important this is.

3. Seek out tutors.

If your child is having trouble with a particular subject, look for tutors to help. Sometimes all it takes is a tutor’s new approach to get your child on track.

4. Talk to your child.

It’s not enough to zoom in on your child only once a school year. Instead, check in with them regularly (I mean every day!), and not just about their current subjects or teachers. Ask them the big questions, too. How do they feel about their education? What would they like to be different? You’ll be surprised by your child’s insights and ideas.

5. Follow your gut.

As a parent, the thought of making a big decision or change, like pulling your child out of a classroom or a school, can be daunting. I’ve been there, and over time, learned to follow my gut. Sometimes, even if it’s temporarily disruptive, changing a situation that you know is not working for your child is ultimately the right call.

6. Get support for you.

Having what you need is absolutely necessary as you work to get the same for your child. Connect with other parents at your school, or join empowerment groups with other parents in your community. To be the best advocate, you need to take care of yourself, and have a network of other parent advocates who can help you brainstorm, share ideas, and sometimes, just listen.

This isn’t easy. But, I’ve found that being actively engaged in my son’s education has not only improved his experience in school, it’s brought us closer together, as parent and child. I’ve also met people—educators and other parents—who have had a profound impact on my life. Most importantly, I know that my efforts have taught my child to never give up, to keep pushing for change no matter what we might be up against.

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