How to Advocate For Your Child Virtually
Many of us are learning firsthand how different remote learning is from face-to-face learning. It affects content delivery, socialization, and the school-life balance. As a result, the advocacy you do related to remote learning may also look different. Many parents may have relied on the traditional parent-teacher conferences, physical report cards, or in-school IEP meetings to discuss how to best support their child. Now that many of these face-to-face opportunities have been limited or altogether removed from advocacy efforts, it may be a brave new virtual world that parents must navigate to received services and supports for their student. In addition to traditional advocacy strategies, what other the tools and strategies are there to help your online advocacy be more effective?
At a glance:
- Communicate Early and Often
- Leverage Technology
- Provide Examples and Ideas
- Have Empathy for All Sides (Including Yourself!)
Communicate with Instructors Early and Often
The key to advocacy has always hinged on communication between families and school staff. The virtual environment is no different. Reaching out to teachers and school faculty early and often is still a great way to build rapport between your family and the school.
Knowing where to begin may be your first hurdle in online advocacy efforts, but you can always kick start things by simply sharing more about your child and your family. While it is generally a good practice under normal circumstances, the especially abnormal circumstances of 2020 have made this first step even more important. Let your child’s teacher know how the end of last school year affected them, how quarantine has been, whether or not someone in the family has been affected by the pandemic, and any other relevant updates that will help contextualize your child’s unique needs. You can use tools like Understood.org’s “Back to School Update” as a template. Even if your school year is already underway, there is no statute of limitation on an update, and they can be shared at any time or as frequently as your family needs!
Leverage Technology to Suit Your Needs
The virtual environment imposes both limitations and opportunities on the way parents can communicate with the school. While many advocacy efforts begin with written communications like email, we know that some parents or educators prefer to communicate verbally for myriad reasons: neurodiversity, language differences, etc. It may seem as if video chat and phone calls are the only options in situations when verbal communication is preferred, which are not always ideal platforms to effectively hold a meeting. However, new tools are available that can assist parents through communication barriers like talk to text technologies or Microsoft Translator for Education.
We often talk about assistive technologies in terms of children and their schoolwork. However, many adults benefit from assistive technologies in different ways. As you are likely spending more time communicating remotely, it may be helpful to consider how technology can help you. Take a look at Understood.org’s article covering the basics of assistive technologies and consider how you might leverage those same tools in your own online endeavors.
Come Prepared with Ideas
Educators may have made the switch from in-class to online formats rather hastily and may have only had enough time over the summer to convert the basics of their lessons into the distance education format. Materials that were used in the classroom to support students needing additional enrichments or supports may have been left out of the conversion. If the strategies and opportunities your student relied on to make class work for them have been left out of the equation, be sure to communicate this to their teacher, but come prepared with suggestions.
For gifted students, parents can suggest a number of strategies for teachers to enrich their children’s online learning, including enrichment, curriculum replacement, or curriculum compacting. These requests may be fulfilled by utilizing online resources like Khan Academy, book lists for avid readers, or MITOpenCourseWare.
For twice-exceptional students, many organizations have lists at-ready filled with remote learning strategies and advice. Some of our favorites include REEL’s “2e Distance Learning Tips,” and Landmark College’s list of remote learning best practices. If your child has an IEP or 504 Plan, formal requests are still valid in online classes. Be sure to check out the Parent Center Hub’s “Virtual Meeting Tip Sheet” to prepare for your next conference!
Have Empathy on All Sides
2020 has been a steep learning curve for parents, students, and educators alike. Many of us are only just learning about different learning platforms, technology tools, and assistive apps. The work-school-life balance is becoming murky and then there is everything else we are juggling during the pandemic. A lot of us are tired and trying our best.
Be empathetic to your child as they are learning to monitor themselves in place of traditional instruction. They may miss their friends, the routine of school, or are experiencing eye strain after hours of Zoom instruction.
Be empathetic to the school staff as they are working overtime to figure out their next steps. They may be tracking virus cases state-wide, trying to comply with ever-changing government regulations, or are trying to oversee their own child’s learning during this time.
Be empathetic to yourself. You are working very hard to ensure the safety of your family and the provide adequate education to your child. Your efforts are not unnoticed. You are really doing the best you can under the circumstances.
Perhaps a bright spot in the shift to online is that there is evidence that both gifted students and twice-exceptional learners can do well in the online class environment. As everyone settles into the remote routine and you begin your digital advocacy efforts, bear in mind that the seeds you are planting now may yield great results down the road!
Looking for additional remote learning ideas and best practices? Check out the following articles!