While we could provide a laundry list of common misconceptions about student advocacy, we thought it would be more constructive to describe what a student advocate is rather than what he or she isn’t.
To do this, we’ve enlisted the help of Scott Norton, Larry Kelly and Anna Battle, authors of The Principal as Student Advocate.
So what, according to the authors, is a student advocate?
Someone who is student centered
A student-centered principal is someone who looks at even the most challenging students in a positive light. S/he does not give lip service to student advocacy; to the contrary, his or her belief in it is “revealed [through] behaviors and decisions about school policies, curriculum and related school programs.”
Someone who makes decisions in the best interests of students
Our students’ performance is impacted by a variety of factors including mental and physical health, poverty, social injustice, teacher quality and home environment. Student advocates understand these factors; they also make—and defend—decisions that are in the best interests of all students.
Someone who represents the special needs of all students
Student advocates identify their students’ needs and proactively seek support through educational policy and state and federal laws to meet those needs.
Although these measures often are met with criticism, student advocates have the “courage to stand up for students…when others favor policies that are more popular…”
Someone who sees things from the student’s perspective
A student-centered principal sees students as individuals—and because of this, s/he rejects a blanket-approach to discipline.
Someone who stands up for student rights and concerns
Advocates are knowledgeable about the rights of students; they understand their responsibilities under state and federal laws and take a stand on educational initiatives that are not in the best interest of students.
Someone who creates an environment in which students can focus on their interests and strengths
Student-centered principals support programs, curriculum and instructional methods that are inclusive. In addition to this, the principal “accepts each student, regardless of the personal contribution that he or she can make to the success of the school’s goals and objectives.”
Someone who is a good listener
A principal student advocate knows students by name and learns about their interests and talents. Why? Because student activists ask questions and listen to the answers.
Someone who is grounded in the best research
The principal advocate is a “consumer, distributor and utilizer” of current, academic research. S/he understands critical issues such as “retention, student motivation, special needs programs, student learning and others.”