As parents of GT kids, we at FGA are thankful for the opportunity to share our experience with other parents. We're often greeted at an event with the question, "What exactly does FGA do?" Depending on which board member you chat with, the response might be a few sentences summarizing the highlights of our service to the community or an emotional monologue detailing how much of our hearts and souls we have dedicated to gifted kids, their parents, and their teachers over the last three years. (I am personally in the latter group!) One common recommendation you would hear from any of us would be "positive advocacy."
Positive advocacy forms the foundation of who we are and our goals as an organization. Every decision we make as a board revolves around positive advocacy. But what exactly is it? Can you be positive and still properly advocate? Can these words ever contradict each other?
Like many of my fellow board members, I have spent time working in the field of education. This offers a helpful perspective. As both a parent and former teacher, I believe wholeheartedly in our approach to advocacy. We have asked a lot of questions, listened to advice from leaders of other organizations, analyzed lessons learned, and weighed options. With the implementation of the Humanities Program for our 9th and 10th grade students this year and the creation of the GT Advisory Committees, we feel that our voices are being heard, and that our collaboration with our district is bringing positive changes to our students, teachers, and families.
The most common questions we get from parents are regarding personal advocacy and how to be effective advocates for our kids. Based on personal and group experience, as well as my experience as an educator, here are my own steps to positive advocacy on a personal level:
1. Cultivate Positive Relationships.
Start building positive relationships with your kid's teachers as soon as possible, while still respecting boundaries.
2. Determine if Your Child Should Self-Advocate.
If a problem arises, decide whether it warrants your direct intervention or if your child just needs some skills to help solve the problem independently. This, of course, depends on the nature of the problem.
3. Get the Details.
Sit down with your child and gather information about the situation. Reassure your child that you're just getting everything straight so that there are no misunderstandings. Ask for facts, and not just feelings. This serves your child in a couple ways: It shows that you have time to hear his or her thoughts and feelings and take them seriously, and it also gives you the opportunity to create a "team effort" approach with your child and his or her teachers and school.
4. Brainstorm Solutions.
Ask your child what he or she would like to see happen with the situation. Discuss which options are reasonable, but also find humor in the ones that are not possibilities. Sometimes granting our children their wishes in their imaginations can lighten the mood and help them solve their own problems. Reassure your child that you have confidence that the problem can be solved.
5. Identify any Unanswered Questions.
After talking to your child, write down what you don't know and the possibilities for each of the unanswered questions.
6. Reach Out to the Teacher.
If an action on your part is warranted, let your child know that you are going to talk to the teacher about the problem. Start at the classroom level first. Contact the teacher via note or email so that both of you have documentation of your conversation.
7. Respectfully Communicate the Issue and Request Next Steps.
Present the problem in "I" terms and from the perspective of a team player; emphasize a wish to work in partnership with the teacher. If appropriate, tell the teacher what you want to have happen. Do you want a conference? Do you want the teacher to call you? Would you like for the teacher to speak to your child about the issue? Be polite but direct in asking for what you want.
Keep in mind that teachers sometimes have limitations about the information they can share and what they can do in the classroom. Don't ask them to do something that is beyond what they are allowed to do. Keep the relationship professional on both ends.
8. Thank the Teacher for His/Her Partnership.
Thank the teacher in advance and along the way for working with you to find a solution. Is it necessary? No. Does it create a positive relationship and a same-team relationship? Yes! Remember that it's always best for the child that we work together to solve problems.
9. If the Issue Remains Unresolved, Contact Other Resources.
If it becomes necessary, contact the guidance counselor or principal for assistance in resolving the issue. Before you do, thank the teacher for doing what they could do and let them know that you are contacting someone else. You may want to consider copying them on emails and including them in any conferences so that the team is still working together for the best possible outcome for the child.
In the end, the golden rule always applies! A positive and respectful approach usually produces positive results. It not only encourages team-based problem solving, but it also teaches our children that they too can solve problems in ways that allow everyone to present their best selves. While this approach may not work in every situation, we recommend starting here.
We'd love to hear your experience with positive advocacy and how it has helped resolve issues and create a stronger partnership to benefit your kid! Please share your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.