Teaching students to self-advocate

Self-advocacy for a student with an exceptionality is essential to their success both during and after school. Students must be aware of their needs and how to get them met. One such strategy is to teach them where their struggles lie and involve them in creating strategies. I teach a personal development class at my school and one of the first things I cover is IEP awareness. I take each student’s IEP and we go over it together. I explain each part and what they mean. I ask questions about how a student feels about what is written in the Present Level of Performance, transition plan, and goals. I answer their questions, most commonly, “what does it mean that I have ________?”

From there, I role-play with them on how to ask for help. It may be partnering with their English teacher to devise a plan for how the student can ask for help that isn’t embarrassing. Or, I may teach a short math lesson one day, and have those students who struggle in math practice asking questions and then we talk about how that felt.

I believe that the most critical part of self-advocacy is knowing what you need and having the skills and confidence to ask for it. In order to teach self-advocacy, students must feel comfortable and trust their teachers. My principal always tells us that the first month isn’t about academics, but about relationships. If you don’t have a good relationship with your students, they won’t self-advocate.

As we approach the middle of summer break—for some the end―start thinking of creative ways to teach self-advocacy. Maybe you don’t have the opportunity I have in my personal development class, but there are creative ways to incorporate self-advocacy into every day lessons. You could make a homework assignment that spans the week to have the student talk with their parents about certain sections of their IEP and come back and write in a journal. You could also make a project out of it.

Teaching self-advocacy doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Get creative and have fun! Share how you teach your students how to self-advocate with @CECmembership on Twitter.

CEC member, Richard Williams, contributed this content. 

Richard Williams is a special education teacher, who teaches students with emotional/behavioral disorders. Williams has worked in general education schools in self-contained EBD classrooms and two special education centers for students with severe EBD. He has a master’s in special education from Clark Atlanta University and is currently working towards a doctorate in special education from The George Washington University with a focus on students with EBD and transition plans and preparations for post-secondary life. In additions to his studies, he is working on two projects, one on the neurological and continuities ability for adolescents to effectively participate in their transition plans, and the quality of life outcomes for students with EBD in post-secondary school. An active CEC member, Williams has been a Reality 101 blogger as well as a member of the Yes I Can and Diversity Committees. Outside of the classroom, he is a plant-based lifestyle and animal rights advocate and runs a blog of book reviews and current events. In his spare time, he loves to read and go on hikes with his dog.

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