Often, we expect students to advocate for themselves, but sometimes they’re hesitant because they feel uncomfortable or nervous talking to their teachers. Developing self-advocacy skills will help your student tremendously—not just academically, but in their life beyond school. One way to help your student develop their self-advocating skills is by encouraging them to build relationships with their teachers. This has been made more difficult in our remote era, but it’s more relevant than ever. You can help your student with this by reminding them that by building those relationships and asking for help shows teachers their desire to learn and their maturity. There is no such thing as over-communicating—sometimes what we’d consider “over-communicating” is communicating just enough.
You can help your student reach out to their teachers by creating a list of possible scenarios and role playing them to get comfortable. Role playing can help students prepare what they are going to say and how they will respond to certain questions or comments. Essentially, you can help develop a script of what to say to teachers. This, in turn, will ease your student’s anxiety around confronting teachers and asking for the help they need.
Developing a script can be helpful when drafting emails as well. Try helping your student form a few standard responses that they can use as templates for corresponding with their teachers. For example: draft one template to ask for an extension, one to ask for help understanding a topic, and one to ask about missing work. This serves several purposes; it removes a barrier in opening communication with the student’s teacher, streamlines the process of asking these questions so the student does not spend too much time agonizing over the “right” wording, and helps students gain confidence when reaching out to their teachers or other authority figures.
A large part of self-advocacy for our students is advocating for their ability to use their accommodations when needed. Some students may feel uncomfortable requesting to use their accommodations, so an email template can be a great way to help with this. Additionally, encourage students to reach out early in the year to discuss their accommodations with their teachers. A student’s ability to advocate for the use of their accommodations when needed can greatly impact their academic success.
Signing up for office hours is a great place to start in building relationships with teachers and open a dialogue. Since this is already set up as time for teachers to support students, the student does not need to ask the teacher to set aside additional time to talk to them. “Going in” for office hours when class is remote is even more important, as this is likely the only time that students can have one-on-one conversations with their teachers. Help your student prepare a list of what they would like to address during this time. Having a list makes students feel more confident and prepared, and they will likely leave office hours feeling like it was a valuable use of their time.