Guest Author - Bonnie DeLong
Studies show that parents identify their own children as gifted with great accuracy; sometimes with greater accuracy than a school can provide. So why can it be so challenging for parents to know how to advocate for their children in a school setting? Several factors can affect this. Following are some road blocks to advocacy and ways to get around them.
Knowledge: One basic step on the road to advocating for your gifted child is to educate yourself.
Many parents do not have a background in education and can feel ill at ease with educational “jargon” and academic settings. Therefore, researching such topics as social/emotional needs of gifted children, early identification, acceleration, differentiation and service options, can provide parents with confidence and credibility when approaching individuals who are working with their children. Find out all you can about how gifted children learn and how they should be educated in order to arm yourself with information that can be helpful to your child and to the school as well.
Locating this information is often no more difficult than typing these topics into the search engine bar on your computer. There are also good websites specifically designed for supporting gifted children. The National Association of the Gifted is a great place to start, as is a search for your state’s local gifted association, if one exists.
Technique: How you go about advocating is as important as what you know.
It can be easy to fall into the emotional trap of being so passionate about getting your child a good education that you lose sight of maintaining a good working relationship with the school. While it is true that it is the school’s job to educate your child, being demanding or angry when approaching the school will likely not be terribly effective.
Before your meeting, organize your information and even practice what you will say. Try to foresee potential stumbling blocks and attempt to have alternative ideas ready. If the school is not willing to let your child go to a different classroom to receive instruction at his or her level, be ready with ideas about how this could work. Showing a willingness to be flexible and provide ideas will go a long way toward establishing good rapport with the school.
Perspective: Consider the school’s point of view.
Schools today face so many battles, sometimes they feel as though they have to pick which ones they’ll fight. While it’s true that many school districts nationwide are facing financial difficulties, a compounding issue is that there is little to no federal funding available for gifted education at all. Each state is left to decide what they can afford and what is important. On top of this, teacher training programs do not adequately prepare teachers to work with the upper end of the students in their classrooms; many don’t even realize that this requires specialized training.
Parents need to remember that advocating for their children is a process. Establish a good relationship with the school and educate yourself about giftedness, then be persistent. You will not get things changed overnight. Even small changes are helpful and sometimes, you will just have to compromise.
Without parents making their voices heard about providing for the needs of their gifted kids, this group will continue to be overlooked with the assumption that they’ll be just fine because they’re “so smart”. Advocate without being angry, be persistent without being pushy and be patient! True change comes with time and is usually worth the wait.