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Self- Advocacy Spotlight: learning how to disagree

Students absolutely must learn how to disagree with teachers, parents, and peers in a respectful manner. This one skill is the foundation for self-advocacy. Failing to learn the art of disagreement can have disastrous consequences both inside and outside the classroom. Luckily, this skill, like all executive functioning skills, can be taught. In the sections below, we outline three fundamental principles to help students respectfully disagree with teachers, parents, and peers. By following these concepts, students can successfully self-advocate and become leaders in whatever organization is lucky enough to have them.

Constant Contact

The first principle students should internalize when it comes to disagreeing as a means of self-advocacy is maintaining relationships. I know it sounds simple, but how many students only talk to their teachers when there’s a problem? If that’s not your child (lucky you), then when was the last time your son or daughter approached you with a solution rather than a problem? If every interaction students have with teachers and parents is negative, it can be challenging to voice disagreements productively. Students should fight to keep positive interactions with teachers in particular. Otherwise, any dissenting (even seemingly dissenting) remark about an unfair test question or challenging essay will be met with hostility. Enter the magic of social capital.

We teach students to build social capital with teachers, parents, peers, and anyone else in their sphere of influence. Social capital is aggregated goodwill. With peers, students can build social capital by always having extra paper in their binder or offering to share notes when a classmate is sick. With teachers, we encourage students to turn in assignments on time, remain organized, and contribute to class discussions. With parents, students can help out around the house, say thank you more often, and keep up with their schoolwork. These small investments in social capital make it much easier to disagree because there’s a history of goodwill between the two parties.

Investigate the Well, Not the Bucket

The second principle is to avoid gossip and be direct. I often remind students that teachers are humans too. They hear conversations in the hall; they see the eye-rolling during class and care about their reputations. When a student has an issue with a teacher, being direct is usually the best approach. Complaining about the problem to other students usually doesn’t end well. Instead, students should think about why they feel wronged or what they disagree with, then set a meeting with the teacher.

The Environment is Everything

Lastly, when students need to disagree with a teacher as a means of self-advocacy, choosing the proper environment is crucial. Considering the timing, location, and audience for this difficult conversation can make or break the outcome. In general, students should discuss any disagreement with a teacher in a private setting during office hours or tutorial time. Calling a teacher out during class or in front of one or two other students is not a good idea. Secondly, students should choose their timing wisely. Approaching a teacher about a grading mistake or a hurtful comment made in class should never be done during the brief window between classes. Rushing the conversation is disrespectful and unproductive. Lastly, we remind students that preparation is a sign of respect and goodwill. For example, if a student has an issue with how a teacher graded a specific short-answer question, he or she should bring the graded test, the notes for the exam, and anything else that might relate.

Above all, maintaining professionalism should be a student’s mantra when raising a disagreement with a teacher, a parent, or a peer. It’s an excellent practice for the “real” world.”

Self-advocacy and other social competencies are central to our unique executive functioning skills curriculum. Read more on our blog page or reach out to set your child up with a one-on-one academic coach today!

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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