I Support My School My Way, I’m a Parent Advocate

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Parent Advocacy

Last year I blogged about JJ’s developmentally inappropriate, worksheet-based literacy program (here’s why) at our local public school. Sadly, many of you experienced similar situations which you shared in the comments, Facebook, and through email.

As I considered my options, I really didn’t want to change schools or home school. I wanted to stay at my neighborhood school and work for change — change for the better. People told me it would never work, that the school would never change but I thought I at least needed to try. I hoped that the school would listen to me with openness and work with me for a solution.

If you think in metaphors, think of the school as an overgrown plant that in my eyes, needed pruning to be better for kids. Cutting out a curriculum of skill-and-drill and grafting in a constructivist, workshop approach with real books and authentic writing experiences would help this plant, the learners in the school, to flourish and grow. Some people told me I was against the plant, was making trouble, but I loved the plant and wanted to make it better.

So even when I was called to the principals office and told that the school was looking into any possible legal action against me, even then, I didn’t want to change the schools.

I felt and still feel that it was my right as a parent to speak my opinion and to ask for change.

Quite frankly, as a teacher-parent, I actually felt it was my responsibility to speak up since I knew that the learning could be improved and how to make it better. (Years as a literacy trainer, well versed in the research.)

Unfortunately, my public school, where my taxes hire the principal and teachers to educate my children, continued to use the pre-packaged curriculum of worksheets despite my displeasure. I won’t even tell you all the emotional bullying I felt, nor will I go in to the sordid details, but I eventually realized that I was fighting a loosing battle.

If I stayed, it would be sacrificing my children’s education. The school wasn’t ever going to change. At least not with the current leadership.

My daughter was languishing. IN KINDERGARTEN! Proving this: she went from a DRA 4 in September to a DRA 3 in May. (Of course this speaks volumes of how little she learned from the worksheet approach.) My older daughter, AJ, in a class of 31, certainly wasn’t thriving either.

Two Types of Schools

I’ve come to the conclusion, perhaps you have as well, that there are two types of schools. Those schools who welcome parent involvement and those who don’t. 

Parent Involvement Improves Your Child’s Education

Recently, Shutterfly and District Administration asked me to present for a Parental Involvement webinar. I found it ironic they asked me, but who better I guess. I spoke about the abundant research showing the correlation between involved parents and better student outcomes and behavior.

*If you want to read the research, start with Miedel and Reynolds (1999), Fan (2001),  Adunyarittigun (1997), Munoz (2000), Sheldon & Epstein (2005a & b) or Sheldon & Epstein (2002).

Of course, shouldn’t all schools welcome and encourage parental engagement?

Parent Involvement Includes Advocating For Your Child

Recently, a teacher friend of mine asked that her ADHD, dyslexic daughter’s teacher please move her daughter’s seat to face the board because her daughter’s back was to the board. When the the teacher told my friend NO, my friend asked the principal. She knew that her daughter would be more successful if she could see the board. (Duh!) Let me add that this child has a 504 plan with “preferential seating” written on it but the teacher said it was not specific enough to warrant a move.

Do you know what the principal told my friend? That she was too much of an advocate for her child and as a teacher she needed to set some boundaries!

Horrifying.

To paraphrase my friend, she wasn’t proud of own profession at this point.

Too Much of an Advocate?

You can’t be too much of an advocate for your child if you’re asking kindly for what is, in your opinion, necessary for your child to learn. And, in my friend’s case, on a legal document.

I’ve had parents treat me rudely, even shout at me. That is never, under any conditions, okay. Unkindness is not advocating, it’s bullying. Do not ever raise your voice; if you’re too upset to talk kindly, don’t speak at all until you can. You won’t get anything done if you’re rude.

Advocating is NOT acting like your child walks on water and shouldn’t be held responsible for his or her actions. That’s entitlement.

But as far as standing up for the best interests of children, you need to do it.

But what about the repercussions –like  getting called to the principals office, the staff not speaking to you, other parents shunning you from their groups?

It happens. It happened to me, and I don’t know how to prevent it. Yet.

All I know is this, NO ONE will care more about my own kids than me. I am their mother and their advocate. Same with you. Your child is voiceless without you.

Supporting My School, Being an Involved Parent, Means . . .

Supporting my school means helping in the classroom.

Supporting my school means being involved in school activities and volunteering to help where help is needed.

Supporting my school means being a thinking parent who cares about the decisions that affect my children everyday – like curriculum, like school lunch, like class size, like hiring principals, like playground safety. Supporting my school does not mean that I have to agree with everything.

Supporting my school means being polite.

Supporting my school means if change needs to happen, I must ask for the change and help make it happen.

Supporting my school means I support my child’s learning at home and at school to the best of my abilities.

What You Can Do to Support Your School

This is the first post in a series about child advocacy in education. I’ve been interviewing experts and seeking advice so that we all can better understand how to be more successful in advocating for children.
Visit the Mom Congress Page on Parenting Magazine’s website to celebrate parent engagement with voices from all over the country from parents like you.
For now, whether or not your in a school that encourages and welcomes parents, here are some ideas from Volunteer Spot to support your child’s classroom.
I like that VolunteerSpot’s basic service is free to all parents, teachers and groups who need to coordinate their signups. Anything that can make getting involved at school easier is best for everyone – parents, teachers, and kids.Parent Advocate

I SUPPORT MY SCHOOL.. MY WAY! And I’m joining VolunteerSpot’s sponsored Back To School campaign to help raise visibility for parent involvement in schools.

Save time {and sanity} and get more parents involved at school with VolunteerSpot.com

Plus there’s a huge Sweepstakes on VolunteerSpot’s Facebook page!
Win $500 worth of school supplies for YOUR School! Enter here

19 Responses

  1. Thanks for the comments everyone. As you all know, even teachers get resistance from schools, so asking for change is not anti-teacher. Asking for change is pro-children which is all that I want to be about.

  2. Hallie Doyle says:

    I grew up with the philosophy that “the teacher is always right” until I saw my mom and dad justly advocate for my twin sister when her teacher was unjust. I waited around with the “teacher is right” mantra MUCH too long with my son, and it’s my biggest regret. One of my proudest moments (a biggy for one who doesn’t like to make waves) was when I spoke up at a VERY unsatisfying conference, “Ladies, Mama Bear has returned, and I am very upset about what is going on.” I was polite and bold. I also shared research to back up what I expected. Thank you for your thoughts!

  3. Great post, Melissa, and great resources and support for all us parents wanting the best for our children. You bring strength and empowerment to us all for what we believe is right for our child.

  4. Kudos to you, Melissa! You are your child’s biggest advocate and your voice is important. Parental involvement is paramount to the success of the child and I applaud you for standing up and speaking your mind.

  5. I”m sorry to hear about this experience with your local school. From the details you provided, I honestly believe this is a rare case. I would love to have a parent like you at our school.

  6. Claudette Lindquist says:

    You are 100% right, and I am so sad to say I had a very similar experience with my dyslexic ADHD child 20 years ago! I can not believe schools have not gained better understanding in all this time! I was “that mom” until I took him out of the system, but when I did I had a meeting with the principal, the special ed teacher (who was not the right fit for the age group) and the district psychologist–and made sure it was on record as to how not only did they not help my child but likely hurt his positive attitude about school. I also discussed (with all to witness) the inappropriate attitude of the special ed teacher who felt adhd children should be drugged into submission! The medication is to help a child function at the same level as any child of their age–not a zombie! As an Early Childhood Educator/administrator I try to set parents on the Advocacy road early on, it is the only way we change schools. Keep it up!!

  7. I work as a consultant, training teachers and administrators how to teach using a workshop approach. To me, my mission is to advocate for children– every child deserves access to the best, most up-to-date, state of the art curriculum. I can DEFINITELY relate to the resistance that you probably met as a parent. Some schools can be extremely difficult places to advocate for change (even when they hire my organization to come in and do just that!). But not all schools are so resistant– in fact, after eight years working in schools all over the country my experience has been that very few schools are hostile. There may just be a few very powerful negative voices, but they usually do not reflect what the majority of teachers actually think. Most genuinely want to do what’s best for kids and families, and not just whatever is easiest for the adults in the building. I have never met a teacher who was against workshop teaching once she (or he) understood it. Where there is resistance there is usually a lack of knowledge/support/training, and people feel threatened when they are asked to change to something they don’t know much about. Good luck advocating for your child – and don’t give up!

  8. My oldest daughter has dysgraphia and my youngest is dyslexic. After a not very productive meeting with my older daughter’s English teacher, I told her Special Ed coordinator that I didn’t want to be “that” mom. She told me that if I didn’t advocate for my daughter, who would? Those words have stayed with me for the past 6 years. We are dealing with the same process with my younger daughter and I much more informed this time around. I don’t care that the school “doesn’t have the money”. I will make sure they do what is best for my daughter.

  9. It’s terrible when schools don’t want to work with parents and children to provide the best education for students. You were unfairly put through the ringer with this and I’m inspired by all of the work you have done to advocate for education. My favorite quote is “All I know is this, NO ONE will care more about my own kids than me. I am their mother and their advocate. Same with you. Your child is voiceless without you.” That’s perfect.

  10. Good for you, Melissa, for standing up for your child and other children who would’ve benefited from the changes you were fighting for. In the end, you had to do what was best for your child, and sometimes that’s all we can do. If we’re not our own child’s biggest advocate, who will be?

  11. To say I’m worried about my daughter starting kindergarten at our local school district next year is an understatement. The administration is notoriously stubborn, threatening & feel like they know everything and you (the underling) knows nothing. **shudders** I will be an advocate for my child no matter what – and like Lori said, I will be the school’s worst nightmare for my child & everyone else’s!

  12. how ridiculous. i opened and ran a private school for several years (in a small town with “great public schools”) and then homeschooled. the thing i’m always, always told is that i should NOT have done those things – i should be in there fighting to make the schools better. over and over i reply that they don’t really want that – i would be the school’s worst nightmare. and i guess your story shows that that is true!

    i applaud you for advocating for your child — and *all* children who deserve a better education.

  13. Brilliant! That must have been very hard to do but you did the exactly right thing. I would have felt the same way about the worksheet curriculum- in face, I would have been livid! I’m glad your child is now flourishing elsewhere and I totally agree about positive parental involvement. Well done!

  14. Wow. You held your ground and that was admirable. Too bad the school system couldn’t see past the nose on their face.

    I hope you get this resolved soon. Not just for your children’s sake, but for all the children in the school district.

    *hugs*

    Donna Earnhardt

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