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Be a Student Advocate: Top 9 Tips

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this administrator advice from The Principal as Student Advocate: A Guide for Doing What's Best for All Students by M. Scott Norton, Larry K. Kelly, and Anna R. Battle. This article provides the top nine traits that a principal needs in order to become an effective student advocate.

The principal student advocate possesses several special traits that ground his or her personal administrative philosophy:

  1. Is student centered. He or she is a principal who is committed to helping each student be his or her best, one whose beliefs relative to student advocacy are revealed in his or her actual behaviors and decisions about school policies, curriculum and related school programs.
  2. Makes decisions that are in the best interests of students. The principal understands the complexity of the factors that affect the performance and success of a student and supports and defends decisions that are in the best interests of all students.
  3. Represents the special needs of all students. This trait encompasses academic, social and physical needs. Student advocacy focuses on identifying students’ educational needs and then taking proactive steps to gain maximum support for meeting those needs through educational policy and state and federal laws. Proactive measures often are met with resistance and criticism. Unpopular actions on the part of the student advocate may be viewed by colleagues and others as permissive, or as attempts to gain popularity with students. It takes courage to stand up for students and the principles of advocacy when others favor policies that are more popular with other parties.
  4. Sees things from the student’s perspective. The student-advocate principal always keeps in mind what is best for the individual student. This trait will be reflected in his or her philosophy relative to such matters as student discipline.
  5. Stands up for student rights and concerns. The student-advocate principal treats students as important individuals in their own right and recognizes their individual needs. This trait requires that the principal be knowledgeable of the rights of students and the administrator’s responsibilities under state and federal laws. The principal takes courageous stands on educational initiatives that are contrary to the best interests of students.
  6. Creates an environment in which students can focus on their interests and strengths. This advocacy trait requires attention to the inclusiveness of the school’s programs, such that the curriculum and instructional methods support individualism. Principals are committed to the statement, “I will respect my students.” The principal accepts each student, regardless of his or her status, for the personal contribution that he or she can make to the success of the school’s goals and objectives and to his or her own growth and development. The advocate leader uses his or her influence and energy to protect students’ rights and interests.
  7. Views the school as an inclusive learning site. Each student is given the opportunity to participate in the school’s programs and learn, in the continuous effort to reach his or her potential.
  8. Is a good listener. The principal student advocate is genuinely interested in assisting a student in meeting his or her personal needs and interests. Listening to the student’s side of the story, learning about the student’s special interests and talents, knowing students by name, and using effective listening skills are of paramount importance to student advocates. The principal makes an effort to see things from the student’s perspective and is sensitive to the student’s feelings.
  9. Has a research posture. The principal student advocate is a consumer, distributor and utilizer of the best research relative to such critical issues as student retention, student motivation, special needs programs, student learning and others. The principal’s philosophy relative to such matters rests on a fact-based approach supported by quality research and generally accepted best practices.

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