Rebecca Stewart, Middle School Coordinator of Learning Services and Math Specialist

How McLean School Promotes Self-Advocacy: Valuable Skills for School – and for Life

Rebecca Stewart, Middle School Coordinator of Learning Services and Math Specialist

At McLean School, we invest in getting to know each student, not only how they learn but also who they are, what’s meaningful to them, and how they thrive. As important as this is, we care just as much about helping each student get to know themselves. This is at the heart of self-advocacy: the ability to appropriately seek out the information and support you need to make good choices and be successful.

Sounds simple, right?

But you don’t just acquire self-advocacy skills overnight. It’s a process that starts early and grows along with the student with help from caring adults who are able to provide tools, guidance, and positive reinforcement along the way. I’d like to share some of the ways McLean encourages and empowers students to advocate for themselves so that they may move through life with authenticity, accountability, and confidence. 

Create a Safe and Nurturing Community.

At McLean, we understand that the more vulnerable you feel, the less likely you are to reach out for help. That’s why we work hard to make sure McLean is a place where students feel safe asking questions, taking risks, and stretching past their comfort zone knowing they are in the company of people who care about them. By focusing on things like respect, inclusivity, trust, and connection, we have created a community that we’re proud of – and where students are appreciated for who they are and supported in who they want to become.

Empower Students from the Inside Out.

McLean’s Abilities Model® is our proven approach to education that focuses first on a student’s strengths. In this context of “can,” students themselves begin to identify as learners and build competence, curiosity, mastery, and self-esteem. Our students know we believe in them, which enables them to believe in themselves – and you can’t advocate for yourself if you don’t believe deep down that you’re worth it.

Connect the Dots.

Self-advocacy is more than just speaking up and asking for what you need. It’s about problem-solving, prioritizing, listening, perseverance, trust, and communication. When a student starts to see how certain behaviors and choices relate to how others respond, it’s a powerful thing. Increased self-awareness makes for more meaningful and satisfying connections – at McLean, we help build and bring attention to these valuable skills in our interactions with students each and every day. 

Start Early.

Research shows that the younger the child, the more naturally they come by a growth mindset, or the powerful belief that change is possible, which is at the heart of self-advocacy. In all that they do, McLean’s expert Lower School teachers help lay the foundation for these skills by giving students language, responsibilities, and ownership. We remind children that asking for help is a good thing – and give them lots of positive feedback when they do. We talk with our students from the beginning about their challenges to normalize what can sometimes become a stigma or private shame. And we encourage all our students to use the accommodations and supports available to them, integrating them into classroom life beginning in Lower School and throughout their time at McLean. 

Remember Self-Advocacy is a Team Effort.

It’s important for students to remember that advocating for yourself isn’t the same as going it alone. It’s about having a voice and using it to ask for what you need, seeking out others who can help you achieve a particular goal, whether that means help in a given moment or support developing and implementing a longer-term strategy. But advocating for yourself, in ways big and small, requires a child to believe their voice is valued – and McLean students will tell you that is most certainly the case here!

Rebecca Stewart, Middle School Coordinator of Learning Services and Math Specialist