I had an experience last week that gave me considerable reason to pause and think about the concept of advocacy.
I have heard that term many times during my educational career, usually in the context of a disgruntled parent “advocating” for the needs of his/her child.
Some have confused advocacy with unreasonable demands, but most have been reasoned presentations of individual needs, which are not always understood in settings where the needs of many tend to drive compromises in the decision-making process.
My own recent experience was advocating for my very ill father with a doctor who was making a decision to withdraw support from him with the intent of commencing palliative care.
Although the rationale of the doctor was sound, given her experience with my father, it lacked the depth of understanding that his family doctor has about his health issues and both successes and failures.
With his own doctor on vacation, and his life in the balance, I had no choice but to intervene quickly and remind the doctor that a patient has a right to options and the right to make a personal choice from those options.
I simply asked that she continue to follow the prescribed routines of his family physician until her return so that between our family and a medical professional who knew him well, decisions could be made with full information disclosure and a compassionate view to what was in his best interests.
As unique as each elderly person is in his or her health outlook, so too is each child an individual in learning style.
While schools have certain goals (what will be achieved in each grade), and teaching strategies designed to allow most students to reach those goals, there will always be exceptions to the strategies that work for most.
Often, a classroom teacher will identify a child with learning differences and a process will ensue to offer additional or different support to such a child.
Although many parents find this difficult to accept, I like to remind them that they are the primary educators of their children and that schools are there to support their efforts.
My view is based upon the difference between schooling and educating, and I certainly understand that the responsibility of schooling lies primarily with teachers. But even in that capacity, involved parents can make a dramatic difference.
The essence of advocacy, in my opinion, is sharing expertise and developing the best strategy possible given the strengths and weaknesses of those involved.
Where a parent is very knowledgeable about a child and his or her needs, the school simply needs to follow the lead of a parent who is looking more for support than guidance.
However, when a parent does not have the same level of understanding, then the school’s role must be two-fold: to educate the child and to educate the parent in how to support the schooling at home.
The bottom line to any advocacy effort is not the egos or expertise of those doing the negotiation, but the success of those for whom help is being sought.
In schools, or in hospitals, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is the student or the patient who is the sole reason for the existence of those institutions.
We all need to listen carefully to each other, to educate each other on unique qualities of the individuals with whom we deal and to devise the best strategies possible to bring about the most successful outcome possible that best serves the needs of each.
Graham Hookey is an educator and writer (firstname.lastname@example.org).