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Speak for Yourself! The Importance of Self-Advocacy

In just over two weeks, the Class of 2021 will graduate from Roycemore and head off to college around the country and around the world. Recently I had a chance to visit with them to learn about their favorite Roycemore traditions and best memories. I also asked them to share ways they feel they have grown during their time at Roycemore. Some of their responses included:

  • “I’ve become more confident in my ability to tackle any challenge.”
  • “I’m able to do things that are not possible at other schools like starting LitMag and being able to ask for help.”
  • “I could go on and on about my growth but I want to focus on advocating and receiving the support that I need….I was able to find myself and embrace who I was.”

Again and again, a strong theme in the responses from our seniors relate to self-advocacy.

Hearing from the students that they have grown in this way validates our selection of “self-advocacy” as one of the skills of scholarship in Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate.

The ability to advocate for yourself is an important life skill and is relevant whether you are graduating from high school and going to college, whether you are focused on developing your career, or whether you are working on improving a personal relationship.

Self-advocacy helps build mutual respect and understanding. People can’t read your mind. It is vital that you speak up for yourself, express your feelings in a constructive way, and make your voice heard so that you can take charge of your life.

Self-advocacy skills are not gained overnight, rather they are cultivated over a period of years. At Roycemore, this is an intentional part of the student journey.

Students as young as 3 are taught how to express their needs, such as when a child is upset with a friend, they learn “bugs and wishes,” language: “It bugs me when you… I wish you would….” Our Early Childhood students understand that it’s okay to express to friends if your feelings are hurt in a particular situation.

As students advance to the Lower School, morning meeting time includes themes such as perseverance and growth mindset. Students learn how to advocate for themselves and be reflective of their own behavior and learning. Asking for help on assignments and becoming teachers together in the room makes asking for help an easy and natural occurrence.

The acquisition of self-advocacy skills in the Middle School builds on the foundation of the younger years. Students are encouraged to communicate with their teachers when they are missing work or need extensions and teachers celebrate students when they demonstrate this initiative. In Humanities, several group projects prioritize the objective of how to work in a group versus strictly focusing on acquisition of knowledge. Through the process students gain opportunities to demonstrate self-advocacy and group communication. A group project in music included students jointly creating rubrics, including the ability to work in a group. The class identified the steps to take if another member wasn’t participating equally. Steps included talking with their classmate, setting individual deadlines for completion of individual portions of the project, and if issues continued, communicating with the teacher. Students learn to advocate for themselves when there is a clear path to follow.

In all Upper School classes, students are responsible for checking their grades often and communicating with their teachers about late or missing work. Students are coached to meet with teachers during their office hours to obtain extra help or guidance on a topic they are struggling with. Students build metacognitive awareness. For example, students might be asked to predict their score prior to receiving feedback, rate their confidence on a topic/skill, or choose between varying difficulty levels on a given task. Teachers demonstrate how to ask for help or problem solve to find solutions. In recognition that our student body is diverse, we celebrate different approaches to learning and invite students to reflect on and choose an approach that suits them.

Years of self-advocacy skill building culminates in preparing students for life after Roycemore, including the college application and decision process. “I always tell my students that I am not the one deciding their college process for them. I give them the tools and resources they need to explore college options on their own, and then I give them my opinions on schools that might be a good fit based on the preferences they express to me; my approach is student-centric above all else,” says Roycemore college counselor, Mauricio Robert.

Roycemore students are encouraged to take charge of their education and to understand their strengths and areas to work on. They learn how to approach their teachers for help, and speak for themselves. Our students gain practice at sharing their thoughts and opinions, and gain confidence that will serve them well no matter what field of endeavor they pursue. As one senior wrote, “I can speak for myself finally… and I have enough confidence to advocate for myself and to be natural in front of people I don’t know.”