I started my Friday morning by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. I already read some of the posts that he featured this week, but one of the first new ones that I clicked on was Debbie Donsky‘s post, Listen with Compassion and Act with Love. After reading this incredible post, I tweeted out the link and said that I thought it would inspire a post of my own. For the past couple of days, I’ve tried to write this post, but with no success. A few minutes ago, I decided to comment on Debbie’s post instead.
It was Debbie’s reply to my comment that inspired this blog post.
She said that she would “like to hear the thinking it sparked” for me, and so, here is my thinking.
The part that really got to me in her post was when Debbie spoke about her own children struggling in school. I was also one of these children. When I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in visual spatial skills. In elementary school, my parents were the ones that helped advocate for me. They spoke to my teachers about accommodations that I needed.
- They got me extra time on tests.
- They advocated for having diagrams drawn for me, so that I could do the calculations based on the drawings.
- They figured out ways for me to learn to read (or at least, memorize) maps, and they shared these strategies with my teachers.
- They voiced the need for me to use a computer for various activities, and they got me the use of this computer.
As they advocated for these accommodations, they helped prepare me to also speak up.
- They had me practise talking to teachers about my learning disability and what I needed to succeed, and they got me to voice my needs.
- They spoke to me about the I.P.R.C. process, and they had me attend my I.P.R.C. every year. In high school, I was sometimes the only person that went to the I.P.R.C..
- They made me aware of what I needed to get these same accommodations in university, and they had me voice the need for an updated Psych Assessment. I wrote a letter to the Board, and I fought to have this assessment done. My letter didn’t work at the time, and my parents eventually paid for a private Psych Assessment, but they supported me in advocating for this need at the school level. They let me take responsibility for this because they wanted me to understand what I needed and why I needed this support.
- They also let me take the lead in talking to the university resource department about my needs. They went with me to the initial meeting, but they let me do the talking. They encouraged me to follow-up later. They also let me advocate, on my own, for the continued use of a computer and additional time on exams when the university wanted to remove these supports. This time I was successful, and I got both of these things!
My parents helped me understand what having a learning disability meant: that I was of “average to above average intelligence.” This became an important reminder for me when I went into teaching and taught numerous students with learning disabilities. I saw them as I wanted teachers to see me!
I share this story because my parents could have continued to take responsibility for my needs.
- They could have dealt with the resource departments at my high school and university.
- They could have made me feel as though I could not function without their support.
But they didn’t! They realized that at some point, I needed to do the talking, to be the advocate, and to become independent. Without these skills I would not have been able to leave home and go away to university. As extreme as it may sound, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.
I may not be a parent, but as an educator, and one that struggled in school, I can understand those parents that speak up. I know that parents want what’s best for their child and will do everything they can to make that possible. I know that this is what my parents did for me. But I also know that there is a time where we have to move from “parent advocate” to “student advocate.” There are individuals that may always need some degree of a parent voice, but it is important to explore what people can do on their own and when this change can start to happen. How do we support parents and students in this gradual release of responsibility? What is the value in doing so? I would love to hear your stories!