Building Confidence: Strategies for Student Self-Advocacy

Coaching students to become strong self-advocates is an essential aspect of fostering their independence, both inside and outside of the classroom. The Churchill Center & School, a national leader in learning disabilities, cites the following four steps to achieve greater self advocacy:

  1. Know your strengths
  2. Be aware of your weaknesses 
  3. Identify strategies to overcome those weaknesses
  4. Effectively communicate those needs to others

It is important for students to begin understanding their strengths and areas for growth from a young age. When working with students, I provide sentence stems to facilitate this process. For example, I encourage them to complete statements such as, “I am really good at ______, but have trouble with ______.” Using these prompts, I work with them to transform their strengths/areas for growth into self-advocacy statements, such as, “I’m looking for help with ______, so I can improve my ability to ______.”  This approach empowers students to seek appropriate support, while also fostering their own self-confidence and self-awareness.

This work often becomes more challenging – but just as important – as students get older and gain more independence. In my work with college students, we practice scenarios where they may need to self-advocate. For example, I help them draft emails to professors, find resources on campus for learning support, and roleplay scenarios for encountering professors who may not understand their needs.

This work does not exist in a vacuum. Familial support is also imperative in bolstering a student’s confidence. Katherine Martinelli, journalist at the Child Mind Institute, writes, “parents and caretakers can model what [self-advocacy] looks like, both for themselves and their children.” Through this modeling, children and young adults will begin to see that while self-advocacy can feel daunting, it is a skill that will carry them through their adult life.

I partner with my students and their families to develop these vital skills to build confidence and support their growth as self-advocates and leaders.

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