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  • Meg Tanner

You Never Know Unless You Ask


I don't remember when I learned the meaning of the word advocate, but I do remember it instantly becoming one of my favorites words. Advocate is defined as "to plead the cause of another" or "one who pleads the cause of another." All of my career paths have at their hearts involved advocating for people and issues. Most find advocating for people we love and causes we feel passionately about natural and easy, but advocating for oneself can be a challenge for many.

One of my favorite skills to help my students develop is advocacy, especially for themselves. Many of my students will make assumptions about how their teachers will reply if they ask questions or need a favor like extended time or the opportunity to retake a test. Unless a teacher is a mean person (yes, they are out there), they will typically be open to a student approaching him/her. This can be really difficult for some of my students due to factors like shyness or difficulty talking to adults. I love role playing with them so that they become comfortable and confident enough to approach their teachers.

Last week I showed up for a session with a 9th grade boy. He had just finished taking all of his exams and was stoked about having A's in all of his classes but Biology. He began to tell me about a group project that resulted in him getting a very low grade. He went through the Power Point and explained his contributions to a point where I was very convinced the teacher graded him based on false assumptions. I asked him if he would like to email her, and he was very hesitant. He said he might not be able to convince her and that it was probably too late because his final grade for the semester was already recorded. I asked if he would be open to me helping him construct an email to her simply explaining what he shared with me. We went on to other tasks, and within just a few minutes, the teacher changed his grade and he got an A in the class. While the ending isn't always that fairytalish, it ends that way more times than not.

Teaching your student the skill of advocating for himself/herself can yield big rewards including better grades, stronger relationships with others including teachers, friends and family, and more confidence. As I always say, you never know unless you ask.

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