Advocating For Yourself

At Coastside Leadership Academy we consider everyone to be both a student and teacher and this week I unexpectedly benefited from one of our social emotional learning lessons. My co-founder and I feel that it is our role to listen to our students and meet their needs with our co-created curriculum. Our students expressed to us that their generation “has an expectation for self awareness” because of the time they had to reflect during quarantine. They talked about understanding the value of introspection and wanting to continue on that journey. 

This week we developed an exercise to help students practice self awareness and advocating for themselves. On a hike, we asked our students to identify some needs or wants that they felt were not currently being met. We wanted them to begin to practice going inward to think about themselves. Our students walked and talked with a partner about the needs they felt the adults in their lives were not meeting and how they could communicate them in a way that will be received. 

Me, hiking with a few of my students.

At the top of the hill, we gathered to talk about their thoughts. They all had valid needs to share, and we spent time talking about feeling worthy of having your personal needs met.

During the discussion, I gave the example of a need in my life that is currently not being met and how I have been feeling guilty about needing to ask for help. I told the students about my new neighbors who moved in next door, and they installed a strong sensor light on their porch. The slightest wind activates the light that shines into my bedroom for most of the night. It has been keeping me awake for about a month, but I didn’t want to inconvenience them by asking to have the light turned off. I shared with my students that I was prioritizing being a nice neighbor over my own sleep, and it wasn’t working. 

Being “nice” instead of talking to someone to express a need resonated with my students and they could relate. We wanted our students to understand that wanting time to recharge in their own room, asking for help, or needing darkness to sleep, is not something to feel guilty about. Their needs are not a burden and we explained that this can be hard for people of all ages to feel, especially women and girls. 

After laying this foundation, we wanted our students to practice. We gave each student a different need that they had to figure out how to communicate to a community member and then ask to have it met during the hike down. 

Here are some examples of the scenarios we gave the students. We felt all of the prompts were easy enough for students to feel safe performing in a group setting. 

  • Ask for clarification
  • Ask for a favor
  • Ask for food or water
  • Ask for feedback
  • Ask for help with your supplies

As we walked, it was fun to hear our students practice. 

“I have something in my shoe, can you hold my water bottle for me?”

“That is an interesting idea, can you clarify what you mean?”

Our students were learning to express their own needs and building confidence. It is our hope that this practice at CLA will translate into skills to use in their lives. 

Coming full circle, after programming was over for the day, and we arrived back at my house for pick up, my neighbor was outside in their driveway.

“Claire, you have to go talk to him!” 

“This is your chance to talk to him about the light!”

“We can go with you for support!” my students said excitedly.  

I found myself on the receiving end of feeling the power of a supportive community and the accountability that comes with it.

“You guys go ahead and I will go talk to my neighbor. I will be back in a few minutes.” I said. 

“You can do it!” They cheered.

I walked over and had an easy conversation of small talk, and then asked my neighbor to turn their light off after 9pm. He didn’t realize that it was on and was happy to turn it off. I thanked him and went back to my students.

“How did it go?” they all asked at once.

“He was nice, and is going to turn off the light!”


They gave me high fives.

When we started the day, I had no idea that our lesson in communicating needs was going to help me get a full night’s sleep. It was a reminder that leaders have to be able to advocate for themselves in order to have the capacity to advocate for others and help others. I am grateful for the opportunity to model that for my students.

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