As military spouses, we’re no strangers to the road less traveled. For a final exam in a community college history class I taught a number of years back, I took the assessment road less traveled, and it has made all the difference in my understanding of the students with whom I have worked. Instead of drilling for names, dates, and battles, I asked them simply to tell me what they learned in the class. Sounds easy enough, right?
The essays produced exceeded the quality and (unfortunately for my hopes of an early start to my summer) length of any they had produced so far in the course. Given the insightful responses from the 90-something students from all walks of life and all ages 16 through 60, I wouldn’t hesitate to give a similar assessment again.
It was one response to one aspect of the test which has changed the way I work with students, and it is something that your military child likely needs help with, too. The question was: What did you learn about yourself in this class? The overwhelming response–almost 75-percent of the students–revealed that the students recognized they needed to develop the ability to work in groups.
Now, it’s entirely possible that my latent Irish temper–the one I’ve diligently learned to moderate over the past decade–may or may not have rendered a significant emotional experience for these students when it came time for them to turn in their group projects a month prior to this final exam. Apparently, the memory was still raw for them; it was for me, too, but I can only tolerate so many complaints of so-and-so not helping with his part of the project.
Why, oh why, did they not talk to me about this sooner? Better yet, why didn’t they ask their fellow group members to help sooner, too? Why did they not respect their time and their rights enough to reach out to others and ask for help in time to receive it?
Therein lies the problem: It wasn’t that they needed to learn to work in groups; it was that they hadn’t yet learned to self-advocate.
Self-advocacy is so much more than the simple definition of learning to speak up for oneself. Speaking up for yourself also means that you’ve learned to communicate your needs; that you recognize your strengths and your weaknesses; and more importantly, that you have developed the ability to respect yourself, your time, your rights, and can clearly and firmly request others do the same.
This School Year, Help Your Child Help Himself…
If you’ve ever sat up with your frustrated child watching him furiously finish every component of a group project, then you already know the struggle and importance of teaching your child to self-advocate. It’s painful to watch your child, or any child, struggle like that, and let me tell you, it was painful to watch an auditorium of adults struggle with it, too. Instead of speaking up to his fellow group members, his teacher, or even you when there was still time to change the outcome of this situation, your child instead suffered silently, hoping that the situation would change itself.
Situations never change themselves, though, as my college students found out. For military children, the situation can be even tougher; they’re continuously removed from their support network of teachers and friends in schools where they can grow comfortable seeking help. As I discussed in an earlier post on the Homefront United Network, Should We Set Military Standards for Our Children, military children already struggle with confidence issues rooted in their academic inconsistencies inherent with the education of most military children. So, our military children typically need even more help learning self-advocacy.
The best ways that I’ve learned to work successfully with students on self-advocacy is through discussion, role-play, and extrinsic motivations. Find opportunities to discuss communicating needs and wants with you; role-play self-advocating with your child; and offer rewards for signs of improvement. If you find that your child continues to struggle with self-advocacy, make sure to advocate for your child by seeking help through school and outside help.