Teaching Today

Teaching Self-Advocacy

By Jessica Douglass, Learning Specialist

The world is rapidly changing around us—social media has led to always-connected living, smart speakers answer our questions and predict our needs, and technology allows for immediate access to and manipulation of information from nearly anywhere. Our schools are changing, too. Gone are the days of the teacher-centered classroom, where the students sit as empty vessels waiting to receive knowledge poured in by their teachers. And gone also is the traditional ideal of the model student as one who follows rules and processes, takes good notes and asks the “right” questions.

In a true student-centered classroom, rather than the student adapting to the structure of the teaching, the teacher and the curriculum respond to the learner. What an exciting time to be an educator! And what an exciting time to be a student, also.
As our students become more aware of their own voices in the classroom, one of the challenges for the teacher is to help them learn to self-advocate. This is one of the main focuses of the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC).

When helping students find their voices, we model this format: “I understand what you want me to learn is … , the way you’ve asked me to do that is challenging for me because … , I’ve thought of another way that will accomplish the learning goal in a different way. Could that work?” Our students are learning that to be a true self-advocate, they must also be good listeners and engage deeply with their teachers and the work they are doing.

One student this year, frustrated by feedback that asked her to participate more in the conversation, said, “I am participating; I’m just not doing it out loud.” With some dialogue, this student was able to articulate that her teacher wanted her to talk more in class because it was a way for him to understand her comprehension of material and a way for the class to practice engaging with their peers’ ideas. Not sharing in class at all, then, was not meeting either learning goal. However, a conversation with her teacher explaining the challenges for contributing allowed for a common understanding and mutually acceptable goal: one original thought or question and one response per discussion.

As our world and our students change, so do we as teachers and an institution. We still remain true to our values as educators, though we seek to inspire learning, curiosity, empathy and pride. As Tower Hill turns 100, our students are poised to engage in all of these through budding self-advocacy that relies not only on knowing themselves, but on listening to and understanding others as well.