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Advocacy as a SEIT

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When you are a Special Education Interium Teacher you always have to consider what is best for the student and then advocate, advocate, and advocate, till other people believe you. Sometimes you might have to recommend parents reconsider their child’s educational plan, and sometimes you might have to fight the school district to get your student the services they need. Either way, the child is depending on you to advocate for them and their educational needs. So what is the best way to use advocacy as a SEIT?

Can I be real with everyone for a second? I can count on one hand the number of times I have left a meeting about services for one of my students and not wanted to punch someone. 

I have been called overzealous and told there is no evidence I am doing my job, in the same meeting.

Let’s think about that for a minute. 

How can I be both overzealous, and so apathetic that I’m not doing my job at the same time? 

How can I be both overzealous, and so apathetic that I’m not doing my job at the same time? 

All of my cases have gone to hearings. Every one of my student’s families has sued to get the educational services they need. That is how much these parents care.

And that is why advocacy as a SEIT is so important because our kids have been denied services and we need to make sure they’re getting what they need.

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An advocate is considered someone who argues for the best interests of another person. It’s also defined as someone who works towards a cause, but we’re going to go with the arguing on behalf of a person part for now. 

Advocacy as a SEIT is about fighting for what we believe is best, based on evidence and our observations, to be in the best interest of our students.

Based on the story in the hook, you might think that most of the time we are advocating with district reps who want to tell us no or to lawyers and judges. And yes, we are.

But we also advocate with nearly everyone else.

Yes, even the parents. You might think they’re the last people who need, but everyone loses sight of things every once in a while.

The key is to do it correctly, in a nonconfrontational way.

I don’t mean go organize your thing. Though that is always a good thing to do. 

No, what I mean is get something to back up whatever claim you’re making. Let’s say I want to get a child summer services since their current IEP only allows for services during the school year. 

The district isn’t going to give it to me because I say I need it, and they shouldn’t. Paying for special education services costs money, and they don’t have enough of it. 

That’s why they’ll only do it if I can present a clear and present need. 

So take data. And then get some more data. Because if your experience is anything like mine, they’ll probably then say you don’t have enough. 

In the case of trying to get summer services, it can be documenting academic performances before and after a break. Also track time spent reteaching expectations or skills lost over break, as well as behavior disruptions. You want to know how long it takes a child to readjust to school.

Another good thing to do is to make sure other providers on the case agree with you. Check-in with your coworkers and see what they think about whatever issue you want to advocate for. That way when you go to the district rep, or principal, or parent, or whoever, it’s not just you saying this. It’s multiple professionals, indicating a trend. 

For more tips and tricks on collaborating with other SEITs, check out this post!

This is true no matter who you are approaching, although the strategies you’re going to use for your advocacy will depend on who you are talking to.

It’s important to remain professional and calm throughout meetings, no matter how you might be feeling on the inside. 

You can bet that I wanted to scream when the district rep said there was no evidence I was doing my job. But I remained very calm and asked him what evidence he would like me to present to him.

When you are professional and calm, people can’t get angry, rude, belligerent, or upset at you without looking very strange. They’re the ones yelling at someone who is being very calm. It gives you the upper hand. 

(Side note: This trick also works on irate neighbors.)

You might also think that with parents you don’t have to be professional, especially if you’ve known them for years and have been coming into their house for ages. 

I say the opposite is in fact the case. To the district rep, this is just a job. To the parents, it’s their child, and they have much more at stake. Parents are more inclined to get emotional or angry about your advocacy.   

The key with parents is to stay nonjudgemental and direct while talking to them about difficult subjects. 

I once had to tell a parent that I felt what they were asking me to do was unethical. I gave them three other options and said politely that they had two weeks to choose one or I was not going to be able to be part of their team. 

Did they get emotional? Yes, but about the situation. And most importantly they listened to my concerns and wound up agreeing that one of the options I gave them was better. 

For more on SEIT’s relationship with parents check out this post!

If you are told no, or are disagreed with, or are told yes, but no one actually does anything then you need to keep pushing.

So long as you think it’s in your student’s best interests, you have an ethical obligation, as a SEIT, to keep advocating. 

I have been trying to get a student summer services for three years, but no matter how much data I present, how many people agree with me, the district kept moving the finish line and asking for more data more this and more that.

The key is to not give up. I keep pushing without being annoying. I think I succeed often, though I’m sure the people in my district think I’m the worst.

I try to not be annoying because if I am, people won’t take my calls. I’m kind but unmovable.

Sadly your families might have to sue to get what they need. If that is the case listen to the lawyers, make sure your reports feature plenty of observations and data and keep records of everything. 

I know advocacy as a SEIT can be intimidating and sounds stressful. But take a deep breath. 

Lean on the people around you for help, and never feel guilty for trying to get your students the best. They’re already at a disadvantage, and it’s our job to help them in every way we can. 

Find me on Instagram @sarahscaffolds and share your advocacy stories!

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