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When your student has executive function challenges, it’s important they communicate openly with their teachers or professors. Whether they need extra time on a test or clarification on an assignment, it’s powerful when the student reaches out to their teacher instead of the parent. This shows the teacher that your student cares about succeeding in school and taking their education into their own hands. ​As students graduate and enter the “real world,” strong self-advocacy skills will continue to serve them well and support them in the workplace.

In what situations should students self-advocate?

If a question/issue is recurring, or is in any way hindering learning progress in class, it is important enough for the student to advocate for themselves by bringing it up to a teacher.

Teachers don’t enjoy giving low grades. They want to help students succeed, not take away points from students who care. The most common situation we encounter is students who have incomplete or missing work who want to improve their grade. If your student has incomplete work, encourage them to reach out to their teacher to make up the points. Figure out the source of the issue (they forgot to turn it in, didn’t have enough time to finish it in class, misread the due date written on the board, were unclear on the directions) and go from there. At home, you and your student can tackle the reasoning and find some potential solutions for your student to share with the teacher. At school, the teacher can assist in implementing a fix (give extra time for assignments, create a new seating chart, clarify instructions). However, if your student doesn’t reach out to the teacher, no solutions will be found and their grades will stay low.

Sometimes your student needs to speak up about outside influences having detrimental effects on their schoolwork. Some examples of this are:

“I’m getting easily distracted by the people I sit by.”

“I can’t see/hear very well from my current seat.”

“Someone is teasing/bullying me.”

These are all important issues that the teacher can fix once they know what’s going on. Teachers can’t see or know everything that goes on in a classroom of 25-30 students, so the issues can’t be addressed if the teacher isn’t aware of them. Even if the teacher seems intimidating or your student is scared of “telling on” their friends or other students, encourage them to share their concerns with their teacher. Every single student has the right to a functional learning environment.

When’s a good time to approach a teacher?

During work time in class: If a quick question comes up for your student during class, encourage them to raise their hand and ask their teacher in the moment. There are likely other students with the same question! If your student has a more specific question or concern, the teacher is often circulating or at their desk during work time and can give individual questions one-on-one feedback at that time.

Before/after class: This can be both a great and bad time, depending on the transition. Make sure to ask if it’s a good time for the teacher to talk. Don’t be discouraged if the answer is no; sometimes the teacher just needs to set up for the next class.

Office hours: This time is allotted for teachers to answer questions from students. This is a great time to connect without the pressure of being around peers or other distractions. This is an especially helpful time to nail down any gaps in understanding.

If your student is nervous about approaching a teacher in person, help them write an email to set up their conversation. This takes the time crunch and distraction out of the situation, and it gives your student and the teacher helpful points to refer to when they meet. Emails are also helpful to document bigger issues, like a family emergency or a request for different accommodations.

We want our students to be comfortable advocating for themselves and being able to handle tough conversations with their teachers. As always, taking an active role in their education is the best way for your student to get what they need.