What Does Advocating for Students Mean as an Educator?


May 4, 2023
a young girl standing on the sidewalk with her backpack she needs someone who knows what advocating for students means

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Just as Matilda needed the encouragement and support of Miss Honey against the cruel Mrs. Trunchbull, your students need you. Although, educators rarely fall into categories as black and white as Roald Dahl’s beloved classic. Any teacher can make a difference — but what does advocating for students mean as an educator?

It’s taking small, daily, sometimes imperceptible steps toward helping learners of all types, needs and backgrounds. Your goal is to help every child in your room feel like they belong and to give them the education they deserve.

Advocacy requires action. You can’t stand back and watch from the sidelines, you need to jump into the fray with students because that’s often how school feels for them. This list is full of actionable steps you can take to become the advocate you’re meant to be.   

1. Listen First 

Even though schools exist entirely for the good of these kids, their requests and needs are largely ignored. So many of our students just long to be heard. They need someone to ask how their weekend was, what they’re passionate about, how they feel and what they need — and they need you to actively listen to their responses.

Sometimes, listening goes beyond conversations with your students. It may mean picking up nuggets from whispered chats between school friends or non-verbal cues telling you something is wrong. Before you act on what you think is best for them, pause and take notice. 

2. Be Their Voice

After you listen and have a better grasp on their needs and wants, you’ll have a better way to advocate for them to others. You get to be the voice they need when addressing complicated parties like other teachers, administrators and the school board. The learners you’re responsible for don’t often get the opportunity to address their needs with these bodies directly, so you’ll have to step up. 

You may need to work with grade-level teachers to ensure follow-through on your students’ IEP accommodations. Talking to administrators or the school board when issues are more systemic like out-of-date teaching materials or an excess of bullying behaviors. Students are typically ill-equipped to address these problems with school decision-makers.

3. Know the Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Unfortunately, not everyone treats your students with the same loving care as you. All teachers are required to be certified mandated reporters. Your mission is to report any behavior, speech or physical signs suggesting one of your kids is being abused. 

Even with this directive, many teachers overlook the common signals of abuse and neglect. They either don’t want the responsibility of reporting, or they don’t know what to look for. Your job as an advocate for students is to know the subject well and be on the lookout. Protecting these kids is vital — they can’t focus on learning when their basic needs aren’t being met. 

4. Commit to Lifelong Learning

The only way to advocate for your students is to have the knowledge to back yourself up. You need to know what you’re fighting for and the best approach. Often that means observing your students, knowing who they are and what they need from you and their school.

However, you also need to keep up with district and school policies. You should be aware of what other teachers in your school are doing. Even taking an interest in educational politics could come in handy. Knowing your students’ rights and who to talk to is a powerful part of being and advocate. 

You should also advocate for students by giving them the best teacher you can be. Apply to attend conferences and stay current with the latest education studies and ideologies. Use what you learn to create a positive learning environment.

5. Assemble Your Village

Every student needs a village of people fighting for and believing in them. As their teacher, you’re an integral part of that system, but you can’t be everything to your students. Part of being an advocate is building a team of people invested in each child’s education. You’ll need to find ways to get parents, administrators and the community invested in the classroom. Your kids will be more likely to thrive when they have this extended support system. 

You’ll also need a village of your own if you’re going to be capable of making change. Gather other teachers who can help you talk to district officials. You’ll also perform better with the support of your family and other loved ones. While a single raindrop raises the sea, a rain shower makes it rise faster and higher. 

6. Create a Safe and Welcoming Environment

Your classroom is the safest place some of your students will see all day. Advocating for their needs can be as simple as creating an atmosphere where they feel safe expressing their feelings and learning. 

Create classroom rules and expectations together to give your students a voice. Set up a de-escalation spot where students can escape if overwhelmed. Let the kids know you’re available to talk and teach them how to get your attention appropriately. 

You should also plan diversity and inclusion in your lessons to make everyone feel welcome. Teach your students how to respond to someone they disagree with so your room becomes a welcoming place to share their thoughts. 

7. Help Students Self-Advocate

While your students certainly need your help, the most beneficial thing you can do for them as their advocate is to teach them to advocate for themselves. Once they leave your classroom, they’ll need to know how to use their mind and voice to stand up for themselves, their education and others. Creating an environment based on positive communication and problem solving will set them up for success. 

Advocacy Is an Ongoing Process

So, what does advocating for students mean as an educator? It means going out of your way to improve the lives of your students in and out of the classroom. They need a cheerleader, a protector, a mediator and countless other things. As an advocate for your students, you’ll wear many hats, including teaching them how to advocate for themselves. This isn’t an easy job, but the outcome is well worth the effort.

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