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My son’s math teacher created a new system for homework submission. It requires him to take pictures of his homework and upload it to an app with the title of the homework. Seems simple enough right? Wrong.

Most teens lack the executive function skills to tackle a multistep process like this one. To the teacher, it seems simple but to the student, it adds 8 extra steps to the traditional system of writing your name on your homework and turning it in.

Remembering to write your name and turn work in has been a struggle for my son, so as you can imagine this new system was particularly difficult to embrace. After a few weeks of feeling lost and whining from my son, I snapped. Time to intervene!

However, my son begged me not to send a message. “Mom, you’ll make it worse! She’ll be mean to me and my grades will go down,” he barked at me. My first inclination was to write a rant email to tell her exactly what I thought of her system, instead I wrote a brief message inside the chat feature of her system to start the conversation.

“Can you explain how this works? My son has several zeros. I need clarity on how this system works.” Since I was huffing mad, I did sit down to write an email telling her off in the most polite way I could muster. (Is that even possible?)  As my mouse hovered over the send button, I paused and decided to wait. I thought to myself, “Maybe I need feedback on what I have written.”

I lept over to Seth Perler’s Facebook group and left a quick message about the system with my email. Surprisingly, I am not the only parent struggling with how to advocate for my child without coming off like a jerk or whiner.

Seth gave some great feedback and I knew we needed to learn more about advocating for your kiddo. In the podcast above, you’ll hear more details about the various types of advocating and when to step in to help or step back. Below are the cliff notes of our conversation.

The Goal of Self-Advocacy for Students

self-advocacy for students

We all have to learn how to advocate for our needs.  Learning to speak up and get clarity is a daunting task for a teenager as they never want to be viewed as a nerd or weirdo for asking what they view is a simple task that everyone else gets.  Teens come up with stories that start this sequence of emotions and it can be difficult to get them to take action.

Simply stating that all you are doing is seeking to get needs met and for clarity can bring emotional responses down a notch.

Types of Student Advocacy


Student Lead Advocacy or Self-Advocacy

What does it mean?

The student asks the teacher for what they need.

What does it look like?

The student sends an email to the teacher, attends before/after school tutor sessions, sends a text, etc all in an effort to get clarity.


Parental Advocacy

What does it mean?

The parent intervenes on behalf of the student to get needs met.

What does it look like?

A phone call to the teacher, a short email seeking clarity (with kindness), scheduling a meeting


Teacher Advocacy

What does it mean?

The teacher intervenes on behalf of the student to get needs met.

What does it look like?

A teacher identifies a need. For example, a learning challenge or situation that indicates more support. An example of this would be a student has failed state testing for reading a certain amount of times, at this point they recommend the student for additional help often called RTI (response to intervention). When a teacher intervenes on behalf of a student, there is lots of red tape. It takes time. Be patient with any teacher that is in this process with your student. They are on your side!


Admin, counselor Advocacy

What does it mean?

Similar to the teacher role, the admin or counselor advocate to get needs met.

What does it look like?

A group meeting is called where parents, teachers, and other learning professionals meet to discuss how to best meet the needs of a student.


Legal Advocacy

What does it mean?

When teachers, admins, and counselors fail to meet the needs of the student legal action may be taken. Seth and I do not go into detail about this, but it does happen, unfortunately.

What does it look like?

The parent seeks legal guidance on how to get all parties involved in helping the student get their needs met.

Encouraging Student Advocacy

Teaching your kiddo to speak up for their needs is such an important life skill. Often you’ll get a lot of resistance before you get them to take any action on their own behalf. They have real fears about speaking to their teacher, but each time they do speak up they’ll be able to see that most of the time teachers are eager to help.

Students should find out the preferred way to communicate with their teacher. Is that via text? Email? A messaging system through the website? Does this teacher prefer in-person?

If your kiddo is too overwhelmed with the idea of communicating, break it down into manageable chunks. My son struggles with finding the words, so what I do is create a draft of what to say and then allow him to edit. I read it once over to make sure he asked all the right questions and was respectful then we send.

Seth encourages student communication in the same way:

  1. Keep it short
  2. Ask for clarity
  3. Be respectful
  4. Be kind
  5. Keep it short

Yep…I mentioned keeping it short twice because it is that important! Teachers get tons of emails every day. Asking specific questions and keeping it short is helpful for all involved.

Setting Boundaries

Make a hardline with your kiddo about when you’ll intervene without their consent. If you see a C, it’s time to step in and get clarity. Write a kind email to the teacher seeking clarity on the task at hand. Copy a school counselor or principal on the email to start a paper trail, but always—always frame your message in kindness and a team attitude. The majority of teachers are on your side! They want the best for their students just like you want what is best for your kiddo.  

Helicopter Parents Beware

Do you ever worry about becoming “that” parent teachers talk about in the break room? I know I do. Seth reminded me that I need to let go of this worry because terms like helicopter parent are not helpful, they are shameful. Your job is to help launch your child into a happy adulthood and if that means being the squeaky wheel at school, do it! While squeaking away to the school, attempt to be kind. I keep saying this…but I can’t emphasize it enough. self-advocacy for students There are more juicy comments about advocating for your child, be sure to listen to all of the podcast episode. Circling back to how things wrapped up with my son’s teacher. After sending a message inside the chat system, she replied with a quick response but I was seeking even more clarity. I popped over to my drafted email and grabbed a few of the bullet items to ask questions. Then right before I sent it, I paused to think about how busy she must be. The Thanksgiving holiday was two days away so I went over to Giphy and grabbed a little Jimmy Fallon dance and tacked it onto the end of my email to encourage her as we got closer to the break. Her email response was even more friendly and I had perfect clarity of her system. Now I know how to support my son in using her system. We still have bumps, but we’re back on track. If you have any questions for Seth about advocacy, leave them in the comments below and we’ll answer the best we can. More Resources on Self-Adocacy from SethPerler.com Seth Perler HeadshotAbout Seth: Seth Perler is a renegade teacher turned Executive Function Coach/Education Coach who is based in Santa Monica, CA and Boulder, CO. He helps struggling students navigate a crazy educational landscape and does his part to “disrupt” and improve education. Seth specializes in Executive Function and 2e. Find out more at sethperler.com.

Self Advocacy for Teens