Sunday, September 28, 2014

Advocacy... the story of my life

Advocacy. I always said I wasn't good at it. I talk too much, I'm not good at being "politically correct," and I often put my foot in my mouth... at least when it's about my own kids. I get emotional. I'm not a good advocate for them, though I am persistent. That's a good quality for an advocate.

And yet, it's something I find myself doing time and again. Daily, it seems. A cousin who's second grader is facing the new school year having to "prove" himself again before he can get the enrichment that kept him sane in first grade last year. A friend who's 4th grader is going nuts with the mindless math homework, and needs something to encourage him to bother doing it... like harder homework. Another friend who's 9th grader isn't welcome in Sunday School any more, because the leader is suddenly uncomfortable with her being grade accelerated. Advocacy seems to be my middle name.

So what have a I learned over the years? What can I tell folks to help them make their own advocacy better accepted? And why couldn't I have thought of these things years ago, when I was advocating for my kids? Can't turn back the clock, so I'll focus on the future.

And honestly, that's good advice. Don't focus on the past. What can we do today to improve the gifted child's life tomorrow? There's no point in rehashing the past for minutes and hours. It doesn't help, but it does make folks feel bad; usually folks on both sides of the table. When advocating, let's start with today, and look forward.

Take the other person's perspective. That sounds simple, but often it actually is. Yes, the teacher is making life difficult for your child. But sometimes your child makes life difficult for the teacher, too. And then there's the rest of the things the teacher must be to the kids in her class: teacher, mentor, guide, disciplinarian, food provider, and lots more. All the while she may be worried about her own job, if her students' test scores aren't high enough.

But how can you help these things? They're not in your control. You can't do them for the teacher. Ah, but you can make her life easier, by advocating for options that don't require her to work harder. Like what, you ask? Like homework. It's easy to differentiate homework for one student, and when that student is your child, you're motivated to do it. You can even volunteer to share the differentiated homework with the teacher so she can use it with other children. No, she might not have any other 2nd graders who need 4th grade math homework, but hey, at least you offered!

Another important part of seeing things from the school and teacher's perspective is saying "yes." The teacher is concerned that your child might need more time to develop her social/emotion skills? Yes, I had that concern too. I look at the gifted literature, and found that there's research indicating that excess repetition can actually have a deleterious effect on the gifted child. Let me send bring you a copy (send you a link, whichever you'd prefer) to that research when we're done meeting. Now, I can help you with differentiating for my child by....

And how do you differentiate math homework? Easy! Take your child to the educational supply or the wholesale club, and let her pick out a math book from a grade or two (or more) higher, and buy it. When the homework comes home, replace the grade-level worksheets with similar topic worksheets from the higher level book. The second grade homework is simple subtraction? Replace it with multi-digit subtraction, then add borrowing as soon as your child can handle it. The homework is shapes? Replace with more complex shapes. Telling time to the 1/2 hour? Telling time to the 5 minutes. Easy.

This approach solves many problems. It makes the child far less frustrated with the below-level worksheets for homework. He learns that his parents are working on his behalf, trying to bring more learning into his education. At the same time, the teacher sees what the child really can do, what level he is really working at. And this is his level without any instruction!

For my kids, changing out the homework kept them happy for a year or so while we advocated for the next step: subject acceleration, in our case, in math. But these techniques work just as well in reading, writing, science or social studies. For subject acceleration in math, we advocated for several different options, presenting them as a selection for the school to pick from. Some of the methods were more labor intensive at the school (requiring work by the teacher), some required a little scheduling (allowing the child to go to a higher grade for the subject), while others had a cost associated (signing up for a complete online course). We suggested that the online courses would make the teacher's life easier, and our goal was not to make more work for the teacher, but instead, to make her life easier... while still meeting our child's requirements in education.

The next step in advocacy is often a much bigger step: full grade acceleration. But that's a topic for another post.

For more on Gifted Advocacy, visit Hoagies' Gifted: Advocacy page. There you'll find links to research and success stories, and everything in between. Gifted Advocacy guides, Myths vs. Realities, and more.

For more on creating your own Advocacy Support group, read The Care and Feeding of Gifted Parent Groups: A Guide for Gifted Coordinators, Teachers, and Parent Advocates by Wenda Sheard.

Visit the next blog in the Hoagies' Gifted blog hop on Gifted Advocacy

This blog is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Advocacy. Visit all the blogs in this hop!


  1. Really appreciate your empathy for the struggles teachers go through. I always found that I had to "pick my battles" and let a lot of things go, but mostly, had to recognize that they had their limits and my child was only one of many. Helping the teacher find the most "efficient" way to enrich and accelerate learning is a win-win situation - it helps the child and makes things easier for the teacher. Greater battles tend to be with administrators who refuse to enhance gifted education due to financial and philosophical constraints.

    1. If I could get rid of one myth, it would be the myth that gifted education has to COST something. Perhaps by the time the kids get to high school, and run out of courses... but even then, only if the state doesn't offer PSEO (post-secondary educational options), also known as dual enrollment.

      We do need to remember that we (parents, teachers, administrators) are on the same side. Glad for every little bit I can help.

  2. It can get so frustrating for parents when they have to repeatedly advocate for accommodations for their gifted child at school. The ideas you presented can offer these weary parents a new perspective on finding those accommodations for their child. So often, we see the school resisting our efforts, and we feel defeated. Teachers are stretched to the limit nowadays, so adding work that they may feel is optional to their job easily results in push-back. But with patience and your suggestions, maybe there would be more willingness from the school to supply your child with the accommodations they need. The homework idea is very feasible! Thank you!

  3. Love the "say yes" suggestion. Acting instructors always told me when improvising to never say "no" because it shuts down the flow of action. True for advocacy, too!

    1. So often we're actually saying the same things, just in different words. We're all worried about the kids social/emotional development, but we parents have had the time to do the research, while the teachers have been busy doing everything they find themselves doing in addition to teaching.

      If we can all work together...!

  4. Love your ideas. Last year we simply said "no" to homework at some point and had our second grader do Khan Academy instead. In general, it's certainly good to find a "middle ground" with a teacher than go to war.