It’s often stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”; especially if the “cure” creates misunderstanding, division, and conflict. This is true for most events which have a high stakes impact on one’s life as well as our childrens’ lives. And this is where Education Advocacy enters the discussion. Simply, during those moments when we feel over-whelmed, stressed, or out of our league, we often lean toward the expertise and guidance of a specialist. In matters related to educational planning, IEP development, 504 Plan accommodations, and behavior management systems, a well-informed, experienced, and insightful Education Advocate may serve your needs best.
I say this for a few reasons: Of course, I do this for a living. I would be trying to pull the wool over your eyes if I stated I don’t have an incentive in this game; I do. For one, it’s how I earn my income. That’s pretty basic. However, I truly believe in this work: It’s my calling. My purpose. And finally, I see the results of the parent – advocate partnership on a daily basis.
I didn’t go into education from the perspective of being the best advocate possible. Then, again, some of life’s greatest decisions come from the challenges and struggles one may experience on this path. At an early stage of adulthood, I felt being an elementary principal was my calling. And this would lead toward education reform and change by furthering my adminstrative career toward district level positions. Nevertheless, this did not play out as planned. After ten years as a principal, I discovered that politics and an entrenched system in status quo was much greater than my intentions and vision. So I moved on toward a direction which I felt would provide the best path toward supporting students; education advocacy.
I have done this work since 1998. In addition, I have also felt that by keeping a foot in the system, would lend itself to being the best Education Advocate possible. So I have positioned myself through a wide range of jobs which all lead toward greater understanding of students, instruction, and learning, within the educational system. Most recently, I felt an intense drive to go deeper into the realm of student behavior for so many of my clients reflected behavioral issues within their profiles. As a result, I served as the Behavior Specialist within a medium sized district for 2 years. Then, when this opportunity ran it’s course, a colleague informed me that a local district had a Director of Special Education vacancy; but she also advised me to seriously think-twice about this for the reputation for this position was less than desired. But I knew at my core, I loved a challenge but most importantly, I was attracted to this opportunity for I would have access to a wide range of experiences as a “Director” that were not available to me otherwise. So I moved forward. And ironically, after the first year, I was elected to the board of the Council of Administrators of Special Education.
Again, life has it’s ways of creating change in it’s process which often leads toward affirmation of our long-range goals. With a extraordinary amount of new insights, experiences, and skills, all developed within the context of service to others, I have returned to Education Advocacy full time.
As a result, I am committed to being the best version of an Education Advocate anywhere. And in doing so, this vision is founded upon serving as many parents as possible*, across the wide spectrum of social economic backgrounds. As I said earlier, I am driven and moved to support a group of people who are currently under-served within the educational system: parents of special needs students. It’s not a matter of intent and purpose to keep parents out of the system or disengaged from the decision process. This is more of a by-product of a long-standing political system, out-dated cultural norms, and senseless procedures which have been employed for years beyond their efficacy. Furthemore, we are in the midst of a transition; EVERYWHERE WE LOOK! And within the educational institution, this is evident as well.
Getting back to the point: NOW IS THE TIME FOR EDUCATION ADVOCACY TO UNFOLD. As we all stake claim to a process which claims to be “student centered”, we may discover this is far from the truth. So it’s essential that parents consider Education Advocacy iwhen decisions are made which could impact a child’s lifetime. Imagine having someone on your side with the wisdom, knowledge, and insights moving forward. For this we always say, “Never go it alone”.
So let’s cut to the chase and address a number of misunderstandings about advocacy that need to be de-mystified:
- Bringing an Advocate always creates conflict and division
- It’s best to wait before bringing in an Advocate
- If I am bringing in an Advocate; why not bring an Attorney to the meetings?
Bringing an Advocate always creates conflict and division: Yes, when you bring an advocate into the process, it does create a new level of urgency and focus to the situation. However, it does not need to lead toward conflict and division between parents and staff unless this is the intention of the advocate to do so. In fact, in my experience, my engagement leads toward conflict resolution and in most cases, appreciation by the school district that I have been asked to manage the process.
It’s best to wait before bringing in an Advocate: As stated in the title, an ounce of prevention is worth a pount of cure. There’s no reason to wait till the situation goes from bad to worse. It just means that the team, as well as your child, needs to clean up a mess even more complex than previously described. Similar to going to the dentist; best to use preventative measures rather than approaching the dentist only when matters have developed to the point of intensive procedures. Many times, my engagement, sometimes through the Consulting – behind the scenes – model early on, supports you and your child and this lends to problem solving and partnership in contrast to conflict resolution.
If I am bringing in an Advocate; why not bring an Attorney to the meetings? Attorneys, like advocates, are tools within the education planning / decision process. As an advocate, I am able to attend meetings as a partner, and I bring over 23 years of advocacy experience to the table, but I also bring over 40 years of instruction and education experience as well. Whereas, once you bring an attorney into the process, you are creating an adversarial response by the district. And their attorney will be part of the IEP process too. Again, attorneys and advocates are necessary tools. Think of this like gardening: In most situations, you do not need to bring in a back-hoe or a tractor; when hand tools are necessary and best. Advocates are hand tools, Attorneys are heavy equipment! I appreciate and admire the work our legal colleagues bring to the table. I also know when the process lends itself to differentiation between one tool or another. Give us a call in these situations and I would be glad to listen, learn, and make a recommendation for you: Attorney or advocate.
All in all, do consider Special Education Advocacy as part of your special needs tool kit. I am here for you! And when you consider, the first call is on me; what do you have to lose?
*Of course, the quality and impact of the advocacy process requires discernment; as a result, I am very conscious and mindful to assure the clients I work with receive my full attention. Also, I work with the philosophy that “no one should ever got it alone” so my practice is designed to work with a diverse group of parents; socially and economically. Let’s talk!