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For young adults, in particular, self-advocacy is a critical life skill that has emotional, vocational, and academic implications.  In this blog InnerChange academic director, Kathrine Whittekiend, M.Ed., discusses this skill and the importance of the academic milieu for cultivating it.

Many young women come to us afraid to make a mistake, afraid to ask for help.  These students tend to be very concerned with appearances so they work hard be invisible or otherwise avoid the vulnerability that can come with asking for assistance.   So we are very direct when teaching self advocacy: “you need to be a self-advocate. How can you stick up for yourself in this situation?  What do you need and how can you best get that need met?” The classroom is a kind of laboratory for teaching not only academic skills, but life skills as well.   So it’s a natural place to practice self advocacy—a skill that will greatly impact a young woman’s future success in college, the workplace, and even personal relationships.

The first step for fostering self advocacy is creating a low affective filter classroom where it’s okay to make a mistake.  Implementing Stephen Krashen’s low affective filter approach helps us foster 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.

To complement our work in the classroom, we offer psycho-educational groups where we teach students explicitly about various aspects of learning, thinking, processing, and academic success.   Teachers 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 advocacy.

As our students learn about their own needs and how to get those needs met directly and respectfully, their academic progress accelerates.   As a result, close to 100 percent of our students are able to catch up academically prior to graduating from our program.  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 upon return 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 true self-advocacy.