definition of advocator

If you've seen the Lives in the Balance documentary film, The Kids We Lose, then you know it's a jungle out there for kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. And it's not a walk in the park for parents, educators, mental health professionals, staff in facilities, or law enforcement professionals either. Fortunately, there is hope, but we're going to need your help to facilitate the changes in lenses, practices, structures, and systems that are needed to end the counterproductive, punitive practices -- detentions, suspensions, expulsions, paddling, restraint, and seclusion -- that are often applied to these kids and that propel them down the very costly and unnecessary pipeline to prison. So, if you want to get involved, become a change agent, and help Lives in the Balance change things for the better, sign up to become an Advocator by clicking on the tab below. 


In the meantime, there are a lot of things you can do to heighten awareness and advocate for change right now:

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- Get fired up! Not with anger, but with energy, passion, perserverance, and a sense of purpose...

- Sign up to Round rounding up your credit card purchases, you'll help Lives in the Balance fund the effort...

- Take off your Kids do well if they wanna lenses: that mentality isn’t supported by the research that has accumulated on behaviorally challenging kids over the past 40-50 years. Nor are the characterizations that follow from those lenses:

  • Attention-seeking
  • Manipulative
  • Coercive
  • Unmotivated
  • Limit-testing
  • “He’s yanking my chain”
  • “He’s pushing my buttons”
  • “He’s gonna have to hit rock bottom before he learns how to swim”
  • “He needs to learn who’s boss

That mentality, and those characterizations, simply lead to interventions aimed at making kids wanna do well and modifying their behavior, primarily through rewarding and punishing.

 - Try on Kids do well if they can lenses: If the kid could do well, he or she would do well…so you'll want to familiarize yourself with what the research tells us is really getting in the way: lagging skills and unsolved problems. We help kids a whole lot better when we focus on solving those problems and teaching those skills than when we focus primarily on modifying the behaviors that those problems and lagging skills are causing.

Many popular interventions neither solve problems nor teach skills, including stickers, time-out, privilege loss, detention, suspension, expulsion, paddling/spanking, restraint, and seclusion.

Familiarize yourself with the many other non-punitive, non-adversarial interventions that focus on relationship-building, communication, skill-enhancement, and collaboration. You’ll find extensive resources on one called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) throughout this website (the best place to find them is in the CPS Resources section), and others here.

Familiarize yourself with the states where things are really bad, be knowledgeable about the fact that punitive discipline is still being applied disproportionally to Black and Brown students, and help us change things for the better.

- Stay on top of the most current news on how kids with behavioral challenges are being treated. 


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- Organize a study group in your school and take the Walking Tour on this website'll help you focus less on modifying a challenging student's problematic behavior and focus more on the problems that are causing that behavior, using the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP)...and it'll help you learn how to solve problems collaboratively and proactively.

- When others suggest that there's no time for solving problems with students, point out the pockets of time during the school day -- before school, after school, during lunch, during recess, during prep time (if it exists) -- and organize a system for providing coverage. And point out how much time they're spending already dealing with problems that are still unsolved.

- Don't be satisfied with the fact that 90 percent of the students in your school are doing's the other 10 percent -- usually those with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges -- who need your help the most.

- Don't get distracted by a student's home life...while you're still a mandated reporter on the really serious stuff, you can be a sympathetic ear on the rest. And remember that you can do that student a lot of good while he or she is at school six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year.

- Bend over backwards to partner with parents. Remember that most conflict between parents and educators occurs because the parties never achieved common ground on a child’s lagging skills and unsolved problems and instead jumped straight to competing solutions. You have information about the student that can help the folks at home...and the home folks have information about the student that may benefit you at school. If you impose solutions on parents, don't be surprised if they try to impose solutions on you. Blaming parents for the expectations their child is having difficulty meeting at school is misguided and counterproductive.

- Use your data...80 to 90 percent of the discipline referrals in your school are being accounted for by the same 10-20 students. That's proof that all those referrals (and the detentions and suspensions that happen next) aren't working. In other words, punitive school disciplinary practices aren't working for the students who need your help the most and aren't needed for the students who don't have behavior problems.

- Strive for your school to become a No REDSS Zone (Restraint, Expulsion Detention, Suspension, and Seclusion-free)...these interventions solve no problems and teach no skills.

- Sign up for Compassionate Communities...because your compassion, caring, and values have never been so important to your students...

- Heighten awareness of and change the structures -- e.g., the discipline referral system, the special education referral system, assessment practices -- that focus primarily on behavior and support obsolete, reactive ways of doing things.

- Keep your eyes wide open: Is discipline in your classroom and school equitable for all students? Is your school disproportionately applying punitive discipline to Black and Brown students? Far better to be solving problems disproportionately than to be applying punitive discipline disproportionately. And far better to be viewing a student's difficulties through the prism of lagging skills and unsolved problems than through the prism of race.

- Think outside the box: as Albert Einstein told us, We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.

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- Bend over backwards to partner with the caregivers trying to help your child at school, and remember that most conflict between parents and educators occurs because the parties never achieved common ground on a child’s lagging skills and unsolved problems and instead jumped straight to competing solutions. You have information about your child that can help the folks at school…the folks at school have information about your child that may benefit you. Once a consensus on lagging skills and unsolved problems is achieved -- using the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems -- it’s usually a lot easier to achieve consensus on solutions.

- Encourage the folks at school to take the Walking Tour for Educators on this website, so they can see what you’re talking about.

- Show 'em how it's done. Take the Walking Tour for Parents so you can practice and model collaboration in your home, with your spouse and your children. Having difficulty getting your spouse on board? Make sure he or she takes the tour too. Listen to the vast library of podcasts on this website. And join our Facebook group for you can get some support and collective wisdom. Then let the folks at school know how about those new lenses and practices are working for you at home. 

- Don’t accept the maltreatment of your child! There are always non-punitive, non-adversarial alternatives. Remember, restraint and seclusion are usually acts of desperation that are deployed in situations that have already spun out of control in response to highly predictable unsolved problems. The first time a problem causes challenging behavior, it’s not a surprise anymore. And all those detentions and suspensions your child is receiving aren’t solving any problems and aren’t making classmates any safer. And paddling? That’s not an act of love; it’s an act of bullying.

- Don’t accept blame for your child’s behavioral challenges! The folks who are blaming you may not realize you have other children in your home who are well-behaved. Blaming doesn't help people collaborate with each other...everyone has an important role to play in helping your child.

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- Make your voice your community, in the media, with the families and schools you work with. You know what the research tells us about behaviorally challenging kids. You know that unilateral interventions cause conflict and that collaboration brings people together. You know that there are many evidence-based non-punitive, non-adversarial interventions, including Collaborative & Proactive Solutions. Make sure they know what you know...and do it in a way that they can hear.