How Can I Help?

Sometimes something that I read or see just resonates for me.  I am sure that happens to you as well. I was reading a post – The Seven Most Powerful Words in Education – and a few thoughts converged. Usually I just mention the ideas to a few folks in my immediate circle, but a good friend has encouraged me to start writing, so I’m going to try blogging again.  

As a coach, I have seen the change that a simple offer to help can make.  Walk into a classroom where a teacher is trying to implement a strategy that was demonstrated in a training.  Things aren’t working and they look to you with any of several emotions evident: frustration, embarrassment, anger – all of which are understandable.  They have tried to do what has been asked (or required) of them and for whatever reason have not been successful. Change is hard and when you have resolved to try to change, facing defeat can be crushing.

Teachers aren’t all the same, so their needs in that critical moment can vary.  So when I ask “What can I do to help you?” As a coach I need to be prepared for anything from “I don’t want any more of your help” to “Just do this for me”.  No matter what the response, the offer to help reminds the teacher that they are not alone and that we are in this “change thing” together. And it makes all the difference.

I sometimes feel like the character Dr. Max Goodwin from the TV show New Amsterdam.  “How can I help?” is his line and he always shows up ready to lend a hand.  He is the hospital medical director but wears scrubs so he can roll up his sleeves to help in any way at any time.  He brings with him, an interesting combination of optimism and tenacity that I find inspiring.

As a servant leader, Dr. Goodwin tries to ask the right questions.  He wants to help steer his staff to look at the presenting problems in different ways.  While he is seemingly breaking “the rules”, his goal is to fix a broken system. The situations are similar to education where there are so many different pieces of the puzzle that need to work together.  This questioning strategy and the motivation behind it is powerful and empowering. It is in fact a “model” that I think all tech coaches could use.

Solution-Focused problem solving doesn’t assume that all problems have an easy solution, rather it invites stakeholders to focus on what could make the situation better. Sometimes a simple change can open up a path towards true resolution.  The small change might challenge assumptions or established procedures that were helpful at one point but have become barriers. Using this type of lens when helping teachers reminds us that even though sometimes education get stuck in a rut, we can make change.