This section highlights the various tools available to an advocate. This may be one of the most practical pages on this website, because as it is developed we will provide specific advice and examples of how an advocate can make effective use of the various tools they have at their disposal.
A. Communications and Letter Writing: The advocate’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the most important skill sets which an advocate brings to educational planning. It is a sad truth that too often educational communications and planning are shrouded in vague, educational jargon. Districts often speak in educational clichés designed to “talk past” the parents, rather than clearly inform. On the other hand, parent communicates tend to be highly emotional; to mix past offenses, with present concerns; and often fail to clearly express exactly what the parent is seeking. It is vital that the advocate be capable of helping the parent organize their present issues and separate out the emotions and past offenses which tend to cloud communications. The advocate’s clear, direct, concise communications can push the school district toward clearer, more useful communications. This section provides some basic communication tips. We will also work at adding sample letters to help advocates develop their own communication skills.
- Sample Letters
B. Student Records and Evaluations: A student’s educational records are the essential foundation to an advocate’s work. The records provide the history of the child’s education, the district’s positions and attitudes, psychological and educational data, and the student’s present program. They provide the perspective and the informational base, vital to effective educational planning and advocacy. This section discusses how to obtain and organize, and use a student’s records and educational evaluations.
C. Community Resources: An advocate’s ability to connect with and access community resources can effectively expand the pool of knowledge and skills being focused on the child’s educational issues. Good advocates strive to know what community resources can be called upon to add their expertise to the advocacy effort. This section examines the types of community resources may be available and how to cultivate them.
D. Professional Resources: In the same way an advocate makes use of community resources, an advocate should also be familiar with the diverse professional recourses that exist in the community. An advocate can only help a child with disabilities to the extent the advocate understands the child’s disability and educational needs. Knowing the most skilled doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists in the community, helps an advocate to direct parents to independent advice and help. This section looks at what professionals the advocate needs to know about, how to work with professionals, and who to effectively bring private expertise to the educational table.
E. Advocacy Community: The effectiveness of advocates and attorneys in special education is limited by the practical limitations of their practice. They can only work on a few cases at a time. Sometimes schools will accommodate an effective advocate, while maintaining an inappropriate systemic program for other students. If the advocate is interested in systemic change, it is essential that the advocate collaborate with the broader community of advocates. By sharing and training together, advocates can exponentially expand their effectiveness. This section discusses how advocates can band together with other parents and advocates.
F. Advocate – School District Relationships: An advocate’s priority focus is upon the educational needs and interest of the child. To the extent that the advocate, parents and the school district can find a way to agree upon the needs and appropriate services, they are collaborators. While an advocate is certainly firmly independent from the school district, it is a mistake for an advocate to cast his or herself as the irreconcilable antagonist or enemy of the school district. This section explores how an advocate can resolutely advocate for students’ interests, in such a professional and skillful way, that they are seen overall as a positive participate in the educational process.