Building a Successful Teacher Advocate Program

While serving as principal at a middle school with over 1,200 students, I lead a team of dedicated staff members who embraced a simple vision. We believed, at our core, that all students could achieve and that failure was not an option.

To accomplish this noble goal, our staff forged connections with students to help them navigate the social-emotional maze of the middle level experience. We worked collaboratively to share best practices, analyze data, and create programs to meet the instructional needs of all learners. Grade-level teams identified students who were struggling academically, socially, and/or emotionally so that we could quickly enroll them in our schoolwide intervention programs. Myriad programs before school, during lunch, after school, and even on Saturday mornings provided opportunities for additional instruction and targeted remediation.

Still, something was missing. Kids were falling through the cracks, despite out best efforts. Our leadership team, after a great deal of analysis and discussion, proposed another schoolwide intervention at a staff meeting—the Teacher Advocate Program. We soon learned that this was the missing piece we were looking for.

The Goal

Teachers were asked to volunteer to become an advocate. The goal was to make a connection with at least four struggling students, offering academic help and social-emotional support. The manner in which they did this was entirely up to them. Suggestions included checking student’s daily planners, organizing three-ring binders and backpacks, helping with homework completion, connecting with all teachers to track progress, making positive phone calls to parents, etc.

The Support

Members of the leadership team met with interested staff members in an afternoon training session. Advocates were paid $33 per hour to meet with a minimum of four or more students for one hour per week. If they met with their small group more than once per week they would be paid for the additional time. How was this funded? Our superintendent provided the funding through state intervention monies.

Teachers submitted the names of the students they wanted to work with and contacted the parents to explain the purpose of the program. Once parents were in the loop, a second meeting was held to discuss the “nuts and bolts” of the program.

Nuts and Bolts

Teachers were given sample letters for students and parents, a student information sheet including parent contact info, student schedules, and current grades. In addition, they were given an attendance sheet and time card. Time cards and attendance sheets were turned in monthly.

The Payoff

Because teachers were given the flexibility to design how they advocated for students, intervention was clearly targeted based upon individual needs. Teachers and students made personal and lasting connections. Parents and teachers worked as partners, supporting the efforts of the student. The personal connections developed within the program created an atmosphere in which struggling students believed that they could achieve, and they did.

What are your experiences with schoolwide interventions? I encourage all of you to evaluate the intervention programs you have in place, and to add the Teacher Advocate Program as part of your schoolwide program.

Annie Allen worked as a middle level educator for 35 years and was selected as the Principal of the Year for California in 2018. Recently retired, she lives in the state of Maine and works as an educational consultant.

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