When I think of education advocacy I see Batman’s utility belt, but instead of gadgets, it endows parents with superpowers to fight for their children’s education rights. You could think of it as a mix of Professor X’s telepathy and Hermione Granger’s knowledge of magic spells- empowering parents to make informed decisions, creating positive change, and the getting of functional outcomes much more likely for their child. Not to mention that access to professional education advocacy (not legal) resources over time further enhances the quality of all our public schools.
Education is a fundamental right for all students- regardless of their status, talents, or challenges. A Board-Certified Education Advocate TM can work magic on many levels and help the parents maintain the empowerment and positive change in a number of areas and in a number of ways.
This information is crucial in understanding the specific and unique needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
An IEP should be more than just a piece of paper; it should be a roadmap to success, outlining educational goals, accommodations, and services. There are many legally sufficient IEP’s that are not appropriate because the IEP is not effective in supporting progress commensurate with the child’s abilities.
Implementation is key to your child’s progress. Make sure those teachers are trained and equipped to deliver the necessary instruction. If the IEP is not implemented appropriately with Fidelity and with the appropriate expertise the child will not make educational progress.
If your child has not been identified as having a disability but they are showing signs that there might be don’t be a bystander! Share your observations with the right authorities to kick start the evaluation process and get the ball rolling on appropriate interventions and do it in writing.
Get ready to negotiate and engage in discussions with the IEP team to advocate for the right educational services for your child. This includes teachers, tutors, and administrators at the facility who have direct involvement with the student’s education. Also, you can always seek support from a professional special education advocate to strengthen your efforts and ask the right questions.
Get your hands on the educational standards for your state. It’s like having a secret cheat sheet to assess the adequacy of the services your child is receiving. Are they up to par?
Join forces with a local advocacy group who is fighting for the rights of students and persons with disabilities. Share your school’s patterns of behavior on the part of administrators and other personnel. Together you can form your own Justice League of advocates, armed with guidance, resources, and support advocating for appropriate educational services for the students.
If efforts to improve education services do not yield satisfactory results, contact a professional education advocate who specializes in and is cross trained in the special education process, educational standards, educational research, behaviors, related service standards and disability rights. They can assist in developing the IEP correctly right from the start and ensure that the students educational rights are upheld.
By taking the steps outlined above, parents and education advocates can work together to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate and inclusive educational services. This collective effort often leads to positive changes within the school’s entire education system and improves the outcomes for all students not just those with disabilities.
So, for the parent who decides that they need a professional advocate what should they be looking for and what should they be expecting from the advocate? What does that professional advocate look like?
Developing strong advocacy skills is crucial for education advocates who want to make a positive impact protect the rights of others and some societal problems effectively. Advocacy skills empower individuals to speak up, be listened to, and ensure that their views, wishes, and feelings are hurt and taken seriously. Here are the most important advocacy skills we teach at NSAID and how to develop them:
This skill involved the ability to thoroughly understand and articulate the educational needs of the student in a way that the school can understand and empathize with. To develop this skill individual should explore all aspects of the problem, distinguishing major issues for minor ones, and conducting thorough research to gain a deep understanding.
Each problem requires a specific type of advocacy. Developing the skill to identify the most appropriate advocacy style involves learning about different forms of advocacy and seeking advice from experts. Education in the field, personal experiences, and guidance from national leaders in training professional education advocates can help individuals become adept at selecting the most appropriate approach.
Building expertise requires dedication to the field of education advocacy. There are a myriad of specific types of special education advocacy issues the parents face and it is essential to have successful problem resolution skills. Individuals can develop the skill by educating themselves about the various aspects of specific issues studying past cases and understanding how similar problems were handled and resolved. We do this at NSEAI through modeling many different approaches (good and bad) We are the only organization to require continuing education credits to maintain their credentials.
Effective record keeping enhances the efficiency of advocacy efforts developing the skill involves keeping detailed written records of meetings conversations and communications related to advocacy work this ensures accurate information in the documentation sent to schools and helps avoid miscommunication or misinformation.
Having a child focused attitude greatly influences advocacy effectiveness. Individuals should learn to ignore naysayers, remain assertive and firm in their views and opinions, and stay calm in challenging situations. Developing the skill requires self-awareness, resilience, and the ability to stay focused on the cause. NSEAI gives you key Scripps to assist you in this process.
Persistence and regular follow ups are crucial for a creating desired results and advocacy. Knowing the child’s data, parent’s desires and standards that can be used but are NEVER offered makes a difference. This allows you to stay confident throughout the problem-solving process. Challenges should be seen as opportunities for growth and further action.
Always make sure that parents have enough information so that they can give informed consent vs being bullied into signing documents that are inaccurate, incomplete and do not represent their views as part of the IEP team. This includes their rights and responsibilities as a member of the IEP team.
Strong relationships with school leadership, colleagues, and various stakeholders is essential to effective advocacy and can be difficult (without selling your soul or learning to drink). You nor the parent can’t accomplish the goal of an individualized outcome and data driven IEP alone.
Advocates often seek the support and collaboration of clinical community members like psychologists, OTs, PTs, S/L therapists, Behavioralists, Neurologist, Developmental Pediatricians, Neuropsychologist, and other relevant professionals. Know who is good in their field. It can be as hard as picking a good melon from the store not everyone has the same skills despite having the same clinical license. So do your research.
It is always about outcomes not how nice someone is. Great clinicians often do what they do intuitively, and it is so ingrained that they do it instinctively and find it difficult to write a report that identifies needs accurately and make appropriate recommendations. They often leave out what they think or assume that everyone else knows since their colleagues would know what to infer and what they are talking about this is a mess that’s the common sense recommendations and steps to accomplish them are often left out of reports (ha ha they all should be trained in task analysis like behavioral specialists! I have happy dreams about that happening someday.)
Recognize that you advocate for all students not just those with disabilities. Education advocates understand the importance of engaging the public and other stakeholders beyond the school environment. They amplify their students stories and make a broader impact by writing blog posts contacting lawmakers, and actively participating in community action and support groups. By doing so, you expand your resource base, establish networks of support, and bridges the divide between schools and communities.
When advocating for students at the IEP table, the professional education advocate prioritizes assisting parents and achieving an appropriate education for their child. Professional advocates adhere to the following:
Set an example for the entire IEP team and demonstrate respectful, child focused behavior with parents and school staff. Learn to ask the right questions, offer valuable research-based suggestions. Research and know your stuff before you walk into any meeting. My motto’s are
Understanding the disability (ies) and how they specifically affect the student across multiple environments before ever advocating for a student is how the advocate starts their homework. They research the specific disability and familiarize themselves with research-based instructional methods. They go beyond the school environment and meet the student and their family in their home setting to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the disability affects the child’s life and education.
Good advocates strive to bring the school and the parent closer to agreement.
Compromise involves making concessions, or accepting part of what is being offered, on both sides. In compromise, neither party actually gets what they want or need. This leads to ineffective and yet legally sufficient IEP’s that waste our children’s precious time.
In negotiation, the process is of discussion between parties that are attempting to come to a mutual individualized child focused data driven IEP that is outcome driven. Never take your eyes off the ball. Develop common ground were each party gets something in exchange for giving something the other party wants without sacrificing the quality of the child’s education.
Negotiation is not a sign of weakness but a skill to be developed and polished so that you can create win-win situation and outcomes that benefit everyone during IEP team meetings. Prioritize developing a language of persuasion rather than engaging in positional combat (emotional intelligence includes self-regulation !!! So they say!) !
Negotiation is a crucial part of finding common ground. Avoid exacerbating conflicts and work towards resolving differences to improve the outcomes for the child
No one is perfect and mistakes or misunderstandings happen. Take responsibility for any errors and apologize sincerely when necessary. Advocates understand the value of maintaining positive relationships.
Professional advocates actively listen to all perspectives and ensure that they understand others viewpoints. There is never just one conversation going on there are
Nonverbal conversations (sighs, throat clearing, lack of visual contact, eye rolling, etc…)
Good advocates continually cross train and educate themselves on these areas and they’re into relationships. They stay updated on legal educational and clinical development and understand that answers to special education questions can be found in various unrelated laws, clinical practice standards and research. They conduct comprehensive research to ensure their advocacy efforts are well informed.
NSEAI was the first and only organization to develop a standard of Practice for the profession of education advocacy.
Marie Lewis is an author, consultant, and national speaker on best practices in education advocacy. She is a parent of 3 children and a Disability Case Manager, Board Certified Education Advocate, and Behavior Specialist Consultant. She has assisted in the development of thousands of IEPs nationally and consults on developing appropriately individualized IEPs that are outcome-based vs legally sufficient. She brings a great depth of expertise, practical experience, and compassion to her work as well as expert insight, vision, and systemic thinking. She is passionate and funny and she always inspires and informs.
MJ Gore has an MEd in counseling and a degree in elementary education and natural sciences. She worked as a life-skills and learning support teacher She has been honored with the receipt of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. She is the Director and on the faculty at the National Special Education Advocacy Institute. Her passion is social justice, especially in the area of education. She is a Board Certified Education Advocate who teaches professional advocates, educators, and clinicians the best practices in education advocacy.
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