- Child Development
Supporting Students in Learning to Advocate for Themselves
As students enter Middle School, these are formative years to practice skills helpful in the high school years. Among the important transitions students make during this time is a shift to developing capabilities to be more accountable and advocate for themselves.
Three main areas are foundational to effectively equip students with the skills to advocate for themselves:
- Equipping students with the power of their own personal voice;
- Encouraging them to create sound support systems around them that provide an understanding of clear boundaries and cultural expectations; and
- Developing the ability to identify clear and attainable goals so they can experience positive successes and positive rewards from the benefit of self advocating.
To foster personal voice, I love to have students take careful note of their audience, word choice, tone, and circumstance. Raising a student's level of awareness to these key factors provides them a sound starting point as they verbalize personal wishes toward a self-directed goal. It also allows students to develop a sense of empathy for others as they can see that others also have the power of personal choice and self advocacy. Middle school offers a wonderful environment for teaching such lessons, as educators are aiming to help students become more independent and to exercise more freedom and personal choice. Developing personal voice also develops the skills of recognizing responsibility and accountability.
Sound support systems are also key in helping students to understand cultural and social limits and differentiate between self advocacy and the imposition of one’s will on others. By creating support systems, students transition from a place of self-awareness toward a place of empathy for others. Having sound support systems helps parents to identify healthy boundaries to teach their children. Students learn to respect both the boundaries of themselves and the boundaries of others.
CLEAR AND ATTAINABLE GOALS
When it comes to clarifying and establishing goals, we help students feel powerful by establishing these. We encourage students to: create their own calendars and timelines; design their own physical work spaces that are conducive to their personal learning style; organize themselves in a manner that works for them; and set personal goals toward larger goals. Activities such as these equip students with the self-confidence and ability to achieve success. In establishing personal goals, students become increasingly adept at their own self awareness. They have a safe place to take healthy risks and reach for goals beyond what they would normally consider attainable. They also have support while reaching these goals.
Ultimately it is important to meet each student where they are. Students are varied in their outspokenness or reticence, and meeting students where they are allows individual students to feel supported in pursuing their own goals. Parents and teachers who persistently and consistently provide positive reinforcement and affirm students in their abilities to appropriately self-advocate will continue to see students exercise self advocacy skills more frequently.
Jessie Skipwith is a Student Success Coach at Aspen Academy. Jessie comes to Aspen with over 20 years of experience in educational leadership and student engagement. He has held head of school positions at elementary, middle and high schools, ran an all-school counseling department, provided private practice counseling services for families and individuals, and has served as the executive director of an education non-profit supporting low-income, English language learners from throughout the greater Denver area and at private schools in Denver. He is a voracious reader of books about how students learn, how families and communities support developing young people, as well as books on progressive, innovative and dynamic new solutions to many of today’s life challenges. Jessie loves that Aspen Academy provides families and students with a small, nurturing and safe environment that encourages students to take healthy risks, to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, and that it inspires insatiable curiosity and wonder in students as they pursue their passions to help make the world a better place to live for all people. Outside of work, he loves to spend time with his wife and two children and enjoying Colorado’s great outdoors while hiking, golfing or skiing.