Advocacy from Within the Classroom
“I want to challenge you to advocate for literacy success for all within your realm of influence.” Tracy Weeden, President and CEO, Neuhaus Education Center
Educational advocacy exists on many levels. We can promote literacy as a fundamental human right. We can support policies through legislative action. We can use social media to bring public awareness to literacy issues. This large-scale advocacy is vital to creating equitable opportunities for all students. The small-scale advocacy we enact daily in support of individual students is equally vital. And it's our duty as educators. Let's reference the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading as an example. Professional Dispositions and Practices standard 5.1 states, “Strive to do no harm, maintain confidentiality, and act in the best interest of struggling readers and readers with dyslexia and other reading disorders.”
Our goal is to enable progress for all students via our instruction. Educators give this service to students within a myriad of systems. There are national, state, local, school, and classroom-level regulations. We need to navigate these complexities in our classrooms. We need to understand their impact on the essential student-teacher dynamic. That is the essence of teaching: one teacher, one student. We feel this responsibility to each student most acutely when we are supporting struggling students. We are committed to help. We are their primary advocates. We have a responsibility to ensure our students’ needs are met within the school day. Sometimes it is a straightforward and intuitive job. Sometimes it is difficult. There may be resistance to implementing the support struggling readers need. Following are a few things to keep in mind to bolster your efforts as you advocate for your students within the school day.
Knowledge builds confidence.
Uncertainty leads to hesitation and indecision. We must have the most current understanding of reading development and instructional intervention. We need to know the difference between evidence-based practices and those that are not (see the related article “In search of the right treatment for dyslexia” in this newsletter). We need to have a clear understanding of the legal rights afforded to students by an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan. We need to be able to emphasize the legal responsibilities teachers have in upholding them. Do your students need assistive technology and accommodations in order to access core instruction? Help their teachers understand why these supports are necessary. Provide a clear explanation of how the students' reading struggles impact their learning in each class. Explain how accommodations scaffold instruction and support student progress.
Promote and protect every student's right to literacy.
Use your knowledge to positively impact students at the intersection of complex educational systems and individual needs. Insist that all students get what they need to support their progress. Promote structured literacy instruction and universal design for learning. These core approaches support all students while benefitting struggling readers in particular. Promote and protect the conditions that enable struggling students to get intensive support. Reading intervention time is precious. Guard that time on your students’ behalf. Teach bell-to-bell with fidelity and seek to eliminate disruptions to that scheduled time. Remind colleagues that accommodations serve as scaffolds. They are not used to coddle students or reduce expectations for them. Accommodations allow students to access instruction while they are building their skills.
Assume every educator is child-centered.
Keep the perspective that the system is in place to support the child. Use student performance data, your professional knowledge, and the student's own voice to act in their best interest. Encourage and respect the individual agency of each child. Always use positive and constructive language when speaking about students. Communicate high expectations for every student. Set the tone for patience and positive persistence in teaching students who are struggling with reading development.
Build relationships and create alliances.
Mutual trust, respect, and confidence are needed among educators. Students who struggle with reading likely struggle across settings throughout the day. Observe your students in different settings. Provide potential solutions that support the student and the teacher. Welcome colleagues as observers in your classroom, and offer to model instructional strategies. Share resources and learn from each other.
Keep up-to-date on evidence-based literacy instruction. Be vocal about meeting individual student needs. Collaborate with your colleagues in support of each child. Embrace your role as an in-house student advocate. It is precisely those small, daily efforts you make on behalf of your students which compound to optimize their long-term success.
Melinda Hirschmann, Ed.D., CALT,
Assistant Director for Educational
Services and School Outreach
Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia