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Tips for Students: The Power of Self-Advocacy

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Raise Your Voice: The Power of Self-Advocacy

Chances are you have some very supportive adults in your life who have been making important educational decisions for you for a long time. (Kudos to those adults!) But this may be the right time for you to reverse roles and take charge of your own education. Why? Because no one knows better than you what is going on in your head and heart when you leave for school each day, sit in classes, walk the halls, do your homework, or even engage in unschooling. Even if you have high test scores and earn good grades, you may not feel that your education is all it could be.

Ava felt that way. She didn’t really mind school, but science class never went deep enough. Math class never went fast enough. Language arts included books she’d read long ago. History didn’t dive into the underlying issues. Orchestra was fun, but the music wasn’t very demanding. She spent hour after hour waiting for something that truly challenged her.

Like Ava and all other students, you have the right to an appropriately challenging education, to learn something new every day. It’s not wrong to want something different. In fact, the most common definition of giftedness says that in order to learn, you need to be doing things “not ordinarily provided by the school.”

So what would you change? Maybe you’d like more interesting challenges or exploring something new or spending more time with other gifted kids. The best way to make that happen is to raise your voice and ask for what you want. That might sound simple, but in fact it takes some preparation. By following the four steps to self-advocacy listed in the tips below, you can create a plan to make every school day (and possibly, the rest of your life!) more of what you desire.

Simply put, self-advocacy is the process of understanding your wants and needs and speaking up appropriately to assure they are met. But it’s not a selfish way of just getting what your want. It begins with a honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, your interests and preferences, your best and worst educational experiences. By reflecting on your personal learner profile, you can figure out what is right for you, even if it’s different from what other kids are doing. Of course, gifted kids are as different from each other as they are alike.  But no matter what your unique strengths, interests, or personal preferences might be, there is no limit to what changes you might propose.

If you, too, would like to change something about the way you are “doing school” or how you want to do school in the future, the best way to begin is to choose a goal and create a plan.

4 Steps to Successful Self-Advocacy

  1. Know your rights and responsibilities.
    • You have the right to understand giftedness and how it applies to you.
    • You have a right to a challenging education in which you learn something new every day.
    • You have the right and the responsibility to be a partner in your own education.
    • You have the responsibility to acquire the attributes of good character expected of all students.
  2. Assess and reflect on your personal learner profile. This includes:
    • Cognitive ability
    • Learning strengths (and areas for improvement)
    • Interests
    • Preferences
    • Individual character traits
  3. Explore options and opportunities that match your profile. Here are a few, but really, anything you can dream is a possibility.
    • Compacted classes
    • Independent study
    • Mentorships
    • Credit by exam
    • Online enrichment courses
    • Grade acceleration
  4. Connect with advocates who can support your plan.
    • Your family
    • Your Davidson mentors
    • Teachers, coaches, and club advisors
    • School counselors
    • Principals
    • State and national organizations for the gifted
    • Find out who the “yes” people are! Those people who understand you and are eager to help you achieve your dreams

Things Students Can Do to Explore Self-Advocacy Further

Just to get you thinking about your own goal, here are a few examples of what could be modified through self-advocacy.

  1. Find appropriately challenging academic work.

Do your classes move too slowly or do your assignments seem too easy? These options might help: compact a class, test out of a class, replace a class with independent study, or accelerate in a subject or even a whole grade level.

The first step is selecting a goal. These are some that other students have set in order to find a greater challenge.

I want to:

  • finish both algebra and geometry in 8th
  • do Civics as an independent study.
  • skip 8th grade English.
  • take as many science classes as possible.
  • enroll in college classes during high school.
  1. Explore an interest

Is there something you’re passionate about studying that isn’t covered in your classes or offered in school? You could try one of these options: online courses, college classes, independent study, out-of-school mentorships, and community volunteer opportunities.

These are some of the goals other students have set in order to follow their passions.

I want to:

  • study Latin.
  • learn more about animation and Photoshop at the community college.
  • study in Sweden my last year in high school.
  • get a mentorship with the National Weather Service.
  • take a philosophy class.


  1. Spend more time with other gifted kids

Do you spend much of your school time in mixed-ability classes? If you want to have more contact with kids who have abilities similar to yours, try one of these options: residential and semester schools, study groups, summer programs, and extra-curricular clubs and teams.

These are some of the goals students have set in order to hang out with other kids like them.

I want to:

  • join a writers group.
  • find other kids who want to learn to speak Tolkien Elfish.
  • check into Talent Search summer programs.
  • start a philosophy club.
  • find an online gifted kids community.


  1. Make adjustments to meet your personal needs.

Do you need to make changes in school or at home in order to match some of your personal characteristics? It’s possible that traits like perfectionism, motivation, introversion, or intensities can add to or get in the way of your success.

These are some of the goals other students have set in order to adjust life to suit their needs.

I want to:

  • create a quiet study hall at school.
  • figure out why I procrastinate.
  • start a support group for perfectionists.
  • change my math class to the afternoon.
  • set up the perfect study space at home.

During my Expert Series forum, the Young Scholars who attended were polled regarding their goals. Here’s how they responded:

  • 10% Find more appropriately challenging academic work
  • 52% Explore an interest not in current coursework
  • 28% Spend more time with gifted peers
  • 10% Adjust school or home to better accommodate personal needs

Resources and Tools for Self-Advocacy

For more info about self-advocacy:

  • My website:
  • My books:
    • The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners
    • Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field

For a general overview of giftedness:

For info on assessing your personal learner profile:

  • Re-Forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child, Karen B. Rogers
  • Big 5 Personality Test:
  • Other online assessments of character traits such as perfectionism, introversion, optimism, creativity, motivation, self-direction, etc.

2 very important notes:

  • Always check with your parents/guardians before accessing any online assessments.
  • Online tests like these are merely starting points to provide an initial personal assessment of the psychological construct measured. When you see the results, always ask yourself, “Is this really true of me?”

Authored by: Deb Douglas
Bio: Deb Douglas is the founder of GT Carpe Diem Consulting and advocates for gifted kids around the world. She is a frequent presenter at state, national, and international conferences and over 700 teens have recently enjoyed her self-advocacy workshops. She is past president of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted and served on the NAGC Parent Advisory Board. Her books include “The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners” and “Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Voices from the Field.” Her guilty pleasures are murder mysteries, Twizzlers, NYT crosswords, and fluffy little dogs. For more info:


Hector Gonzalez

I really enjoyed the articles. I got several ideas for class. I will try and find a learning style assessment for my students. I think some students may understand they are visual, auditory, or tactile learners. They just do not know what to do with that information. I will also put together a questionnaire for students to clue me in to their best learning method (projects, blogs, SARs, exams, etc.)

Laura Rendon

This is very interesting information. I think that giving students a questioner can benefit student and teacher. Getting to know what interest the student and what do they want to get from the class can be very helpful.

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