Advocating for What Your Child Needs At School

site admin courtesy Susan Winebrenner
Category: Education & Training

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Perhaps the most frustrating event faced by parents of gifted students is figuring out how to approach your child’s teachers to ask for some consideration for your child’s exceptional abilities. There is a general reluctance to announce to anyone your belief that your child is gifted. In our society, that behavior is often perceived as bragging and may label parents who do make requests as “the squeaky wheel.” There is also a concern that the request will somehow have a negative effect on the child’s experience with the teacher. Parents need to earn how to use appropriate and effective advocacy methods. Those which I have found most effective are described in this section.
by Susan  winebrenner                                                                                                                  Education Consulting Services
  1. First, understand what an incredibly difficult job teaching is. Ask yourself if you would change places with your children’s teachers on a long-term basis. Understand the intense pressure experienced by all educators to bring all students up to a competency level on state standards and their tendency not to worry about kids who are already there. Be aware that very few teachers or administrators have ever been required to take even one course in gifted education.
    Teachers’ apparent unwillingness to accommodate
    your child’s special learning needs is probably due to the fact that they simply don’t know what to do! My experience with teachers is that once they learn what can he done, many are happy to provide what they can to challenge gifted students. 

  2. Before making a request of your child’s teacher, send sonic positive messages ahead. Tell the teacher of activities your child has enjoyed. Offer to help by either volunteering in the classroom, or working on things at home the teacher can use in her instruction.
    Convey the message that you want to work as a partner in your child’s education, not as a thorn in the teacher’s side! In this way, you are not asking for something “special” for your child nor are you inferring that you expect the teacher to spend lots of extra time on your child’s behalf You are simply expecting that your child will also receive the benefits which all children in the school are promised. For example, in Oregon , the gifted education legislation never mentions the word “gifted.” Instead, it states that all students should be learning at the appropriate rate and level for themselves, Parents of all students, including gifted and talented students, only need to ask for evidence that the legislation is being complied with. 

  3. Be very careful of the vocabulary you use. Don’t say “gifted, special, best and brightest, or bored.” Don’t discuss all the things your child can do at home that exceed grade level expectations unless you can provide concrete evidence of what the child has accomplished without adult assistance. Don’t use any language that conveys that your child is in any way, better or more important than other kids. He's not!
    Gifted kids are not special. All kids are special. But gifted kids do have problems and needs with curriculum designed for age-appropriate learners. 

  4.  Locate a copy of the school’s or district s mission statement which describes the goals set for all children. In each of those statements, there is a sentence which promises something like: ‘‘All students will actualize their learning to their highest potential” or “All students will experience a challenging learning environment.” Your advocacy efforts, ~should center around the promises made for all students. You want to ask for evidence that your child is also experiencing the promised learning challenge. In this way, you are not asking for something ‘‘special’’ for your child nor are you inferring that you expect the teacher to spend lots of extra I me on your child’s behalf. You are simply expecting that your child will also receive the benefits which all children in the school are promised. 

  5. Understand that gilled students are as far removed from “average” in ability and performance as are students who qualify for special education services. Your advocacy should he based on the expectation of equal treatment for all atypical learners. If students in special education receive differentiated content, expectations, pacing, teaching methods and assessment options, then exceptionally capable students should he equally able for such differentiation opportunities.

  6. Know the research on which grouping practices are most beneficial for highly capable learners -- especially the research on cluster grouping for gifted students. Become an advocate for that practice in your school.

  7. Join and support the efforts of your local and state advocacy group. Gifted education stays alive in districts where parents of gifted kids are vocal and organized. Push hard for state certification for teachers who will have gifted students in their classes and for financial support for gifted students.

  8. Request specific teachers not by name, but as those who 1) pre-assess students who wish to demonstrate previous mastery of upcoming content; 2) give students full credit for what they know and allow them to use class time to work on alternate activities for equal credit; and 3) provide those activities on a regular basis. Please do not ask the teacher to give your child more work. Always ask for opportunities for your child to do work that is personally challenging for her.

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This article was published on:
Friday, December 21, 2007

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