Advocating for Gifted Children with Diplomacy
“Advocacy” is defined in several different ways, depending on which source you look it up in. I prefer the definition given by Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition: “active support, especially of a cause”.
As parents, we all want our children to be happy and successful, and when it comes to their education, this can often be a challenge for a wide range of reasons, especially for gifted children.
It may be helpful to enlist the help of a professional to create goals and strategies for maximizing your gifted child’s school experience; an ally in the journey. The following ideas may provide a starting point.
Get to know the key players.
As the school year kicks off, it may be helpful to get to know the teachers, librarian, computer lab personnel, school secretary, and the principal, or other personnel who play key roles in your child’s school day. Schedule a time to visit the school, hopefully while students are in class. As you visit the school, be thinking of how you could use your skills or talents to volunteer.
Be Seen as an ally.
Promote what is best for the entire student population and volunteer in ways that benefit them all. Become familiar with your school’s mission statement and use the language of the mission often. Consider attending school board meetings or serve on the PTA. Be a consistent, positive presence on campus.
Choose your words carefully.
Some terminology parents use in advocating for their children may be perceived negatively. For example, “boredom” is a big NO-NO as it’s sure to cause a defensive response by teachers and administrators. Instead, enlist your child in a conversation about what they need to be challenged and present these ideas to the teacher. This constructive approach engages the child, and also offers the teacher valuable suggestions.
Find a guide or connect with others.
Try to find someone who has been there before. There are MeetUp groups, online groups, and many school districts have support groups for parents of gifted children. A gifted specialist, or consultant can be especially helpful. It’s easier if you have a kindred spirit in your corner who truly “gets” your journey.
When you come across a resource or person who has been helpful, tell them “thanks.” Acknowledge them very specifically and let them know that you appreciate the efforts made on your child’s behalf.
Do your research.
Knowledge is power. Become familiar with your state’s gifted policies, as well as those of your school district. Do your research and be prepared to work diplomatically within your child’s school setting.
Raising Champions, by Dr. Michael Sayler
Guiding the Gifted Child, by Dr. James Webb
Stand Up for Your Gifted Child, by Joan Smutny
Parenting Gifted Kids, by Dr. James Delisle
Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented offers this list of
15 Do’s and Don’ts of Advocacy.
DO: prepare yourself for an appointment; be clear and specific about the purpose of your meeting, introduce yourself and/or your group, and leave materials relevant to the issue.
DO: be punctual, and be willing to wait for a person who runs behind schedule.
DO: keep letters and visits short and to the point.
DO: be accurate and authentic with supporting facts – document resources.
DO: be pleasant and polite.
DO: be aware that issues have two sides—yours and that of the opposition. Be the first to acknowledge an opposing viewpoint.
DO: support officials with positive visibility on behalf of the special needs of gifted children.
DO: ask for a response to keep communication going.
DO: follow-up with a thank-you note, phone call, e-mail, an appointment, a letter, vote, etc.
DON’T: be disappointed if you don’t accomplish your purpose on the first visit; change is a slow process and involves a relationship built over time.
DON’T: make your issue complicated. This person likely must deal with several important matters simultaneously and will be more attentive if you keep your points short and simple.
DON’T: ever be belligerent or threatening. Consider opposing viewpoints, even if you DON’T share them. Conflict closes communication.
DON’T: be late for an appointment. Lack of respect for other people’s time is rude.
DON’T: forget other staff members in your thank-you cards. Staff members often know as much or more about an issue than a legislator or administrator AND can get to him/her easier and more often than you can.
DON’T quit! Persistence and perseverance eventually pay off. (Adapted from an article by Gina Ginsberg Riggs, copyright 1984.)