I learned this past week what an important lesson advocating for yourself is. I’m writing this about my daughter, but advocating for yourself is important at any age.
My daughter started a new school this September. It is a non-traditional, progressive school and students are “grouped”, not put in traditional classes. Older kids are in class with younger kids and act as role models. Grouping this way also allows for diversity in terms of academic ability and it fosters relationships that are not based on age or achievement. My daughter was right on the cusp of the apprentice group, which are kids aged 11-15, but being a new student they placed her in a group with a veteran (and amazing) teacher to get her accustomed to the learning environment of the school. Last week, my daughter called me, from the bathroom, telling me she had something very important to talk to me about. In a nutshell, while she loved her current teachers, she was feeling disconnected to her peers (she made some really meaningful friendships with kids in the apprentice group). She also loved the kids in her group, but she was the oldest by a few years, and wasn’t connecting on that level with them. She had spoken to another teacher she trusted who advised her to speak to her teacher and to me. Hence, the call from bathroom.
That night she came home and we talked and she told me all the reasons she felt she should move groups. And she wrote them down. She wanted to be with kids closer to her age and she felt she was up for the challenge (academically). She was hesitant to speak to her teacher because she was worried about hurting her feelings. My daughter asked me to email her to break the ice and I did. I also encouraged her to speak to her teacher the next day. And she did. She met with the teacher and spoke frankly and honestly about why she should move classes.
I got an email from her teacher that said they rarely move kids mid-year, but would take all of my daughter’s thoughts and their professional opinion into consideration and bring it up to the faculty. A couple days later, I got an email that said the faculty decided it was in my daughter’s best interest to move her class. This was an amazing lesson, on so many levels. She learned two very important and empowering things:
1. She mattered. I recently watched an Oprah Soul Session with Iyanla Vanzant and her talk was, “YOU MATTER” and how important it is to realize this. My daughter learned that her thoughts and what she felt were important. Her feelings mattered. The adults in her school respected her enough to listen, discuss and make a decision they typically don’t make because it was best for my daughter. This spoke volumes.
2. Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable. My daughter was hesitant to speak to her teacher. She didn’t want her to think she didn’t like her by asking her to be switched. She was nervous about doing this, but realized if she wanted to get what she felt was best for her, she needed to fight for it. And she learned that, although it was uncomfortable, it was worth it. Because she was worth it. And because she was able to move past feeling uncomfortable and plead her case, she got what she had hoped.
It’s important that we teach our kids to advocate for themselves. We can help and guide them along the way, but they need to do the dirty work, because therein lies the lesson.