The Power of Teaching Students to Speak Up for Themselves
As educators, our primary responsibility is to empower our students. Because we’re obliged to strengthen young people’s academic habits, personal behaviors and social lives, we have to teach them how to speak up for themselves when necessary.
Eventually our children will leave the care of their teachers and parents and learn to navigate a world where self-advocacy is not just a nice-to-have skill: It’s pretty much essential. Keep these thoughts in mind as you build those skills in your students:
Know when to talk and when to watch
Students need to know how to decide between doing the right thing or the wrong thing in social interactions, work situations and dealings with authority figures. The key thing to teach them is that watching and understanding the entire situation is the best place to start.
Reacting impulsively or not fully understanding what is going on will only lead to miscommunication and poor results. While it’s important that they are able to speak up for themselves, it’s more important that they understand the situation they’re dealing with.
Say what you need to, but say it respectfully
After deciding to speak up for themselves, students cannot afford to diminish their efforts by acting in a disrespectful manner. While there’s a time and place for emotion and intensity, it’s best to clearly and plainly lay out the situation, the concerns and the solution before getting loud and disruptive.
Volume may eventually be needed, but speaking up for oneself doesn’t need to be accompanied by this kind of behavior. In today’s argumentative, conflict-driven society, using outrage as a tactic to drive change isn’t as effective as people think it is. Nothing is more powerful than a well-spoken, logical and passionate advocate for any situation.
Practice self-advocacy scenarios
Working with your class to brainstorm examples of when someone might need to speak up for themselves and then practicing these scenarios is a powerful tool for developing self-advocacy in students.
Examples could include what to do when a student feels unfairly graded on a school assessment, interacts with law enforcement or deals with conflicts on the job. Exposure to these possibilities inside the classroom will create “muscle memory” that students can activate when the need arises.
Don’t hesitate to go beyond
People often feel they’ve been denied satisfaction after speaking up for themselves. Encourage your students to go beyond their “first stop” and ask to speak to someone with more authority to bring about the results that they want.
While this may prove frustrating, children need to remember they have the option of going up the chain of command. Doing this in a work or personal situation further serves to send the message to the world that your students see themselves as people of value who have an important voice.
Speak for others, too
As essential as it is for students to advocate for themselves, it’s also important that they realize they can, when necessary, speak up for other people. Being a voice for the marginalized in our society is a necessary part of our democracy.
Self-advocacy is our way of telling the world we value ourselves and the ways others treat us in our lives, which makes it an extremely valuable skill. With a little bit of brainstorming and research, you can find many, many people who didn’t hesitate — no matter how intimidating it may have been — to say what needed to be said.