Self Advocacy for Teens

In a treatment setting, school is often the laboratory for practicing skills learned in therapy.   One such skill— self-advocacy—has far-reaching implications for both emotional well being and academic success.

Many young women in treatment programs have histories of going along with the crowd, not speaking up, and not self-advocating.  So we’re explicit about teaching students to advocate for themselves by speaking up to ask questions, make requests, and express their opinions.

We name and encourage this skill: “you need to be a self-advocate. What do you want and need and how can you go about asking for it in a way that is clear and effective? How can you stick up for yourself in this situation?” A classroom is a natural place for practicing this skill—a skill that will impact a girl’s future success in college, the workplace, and even personal relationships.

LOW AFFECTIVE FILTER:  The context we create to help foster self-advocacy is a low affective filter classroom where it’s okay to make a mistake.  Implementing Stephen Krashen’s low affective filter approach helps us provide a sense of safety.  This allows girls who would normally be embarrassed or afraid to speak up the opportunity to safely discover—and use—their voice.  We encourage students to ask questions and seek help, both of which are critical skills for learning and job success.

PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL GROUPS:  We offer psycho-educational groups where we teach girls explicitly about various aspects of learning, thinking, processing, and academic success.   For instance, I just finished a group with the girls on emotional intelligence.  I present the material and allow the girls time to discuss and to process the material together so that they can see its relevance to their own experiences—past, present, and future.

We teach about learning styles, the difference between reasoning and logic, and other topics so that these girls can “learn how to learn.”  These meta-cognitive approaches are critical for demystifying the learning process and cultivating self-awareness, which is the precursor to self-advocacy.

IT WORKS:  We succeed in getting our students caught up or ahead academically close to 100% of the time.  With occasional exceptions, students return to their home district or school right on target or ahead of their peers.  Most return to their home district or school right on target or ahead of their peers.  By learning self-advocacy and developing confidence, we’re ensuring that this success can continue long term.

We also work with our students to advocate for the right classroom circumstances and accommodations upon returning home.  While one student might thrive in a very tactile, experiential setting, another might perform better in a traditional setting but with small class sizes.  By getting to know themselves so well on so many levels and by developing a confident voice, our students graduate better equipped to pursue the right circumstances for their own continued success.  That’s effective self-advocacy!

Kathrine Whittekiend, M.Ed., is an InnerChange educational director and has worked in traditional and therapeutic settings for nearly 40 years. An expert in “whole-child” education, Ms. Whittekiend is a licensed school administrator and is certified to teach English, ESL, German, Geology, and reading.  She can be reached at [email protected]