Kara’s 6th suggestion is to ask for help.
One of the first experiences I thought about “asking for help” isn’t even an educational experience, it was an obstacle endurance race called the Tough Mudder.
For those of you who don’t know what the Tough Mudder is, it is an endurance event race in which participants attempt 12 mile-long obstacle courses that test mental and physical strength. Source
Before the first year of teaching my brother and I signed up for a Tough Mudder. It was going to take place in October and I started teaching in August so I thought it would be a great motivational point to get me into shape. My first couple of years in college I ran triathlons and thought I was in good shape. Unfortunately, this was a few years after that and I was not in the same shape as before. Hence signing up to be motivated to get back into shape.
What a mistake that assumption was.
Teaching is hard. First year teaching is really hard! While I loved my time at Weber High, I did not feel a lot of support as a new teacher. Partly because I was a singleton within three of my four preps. Most days I came home and told my wife that I made a mistake and teaching was the wrong career choice for me. I even started seriously looking into an MBA. The reason I’m telling you this is because I was overwhelmed. I felt like I was building an airplane while learning to fly it. All of this meant that I did not have the energy, motivation, or desire to workout. To prepare for the 12-mile obstacle race I ran the 3-mile loop around our house a couple of times. Obviously not enough training.
There were 24 obstacles spaced out on the 12-mile course. The first one was called the “Arctic Enema.” You had to jump in a large pit of ice water (yes, it literally had ice floating in it, check out the picture below) that had a barrier in the middle that required you to submerge yourself and go under it. While that sounds bad (and it was), that wasn’t the hardest obstacle for me. It was a precursor of what the race was to be.
I met my hardest obstacle at mile 11. There I hit the wall. Literally. The obstacle was called Everest and it was a curved 15-foot wall that we had to climb. By this point, I was running on empty and I did not have anything left to give. I watched my brother go first and he seemed to make it up relatively easily. At the top, he grabbed some extended arms and pulled himself up (see below).
Next was my turn. I sprinted with what I had left and barely grabbed one of the arms hanging down helping people up. At this point, I was supposed to pull myself up. But I had no arm strength left and being so muddy and sweaty my hands slipped and I slid down the wall. Don’t let the smile fool you on my face when I’m at the bottom of the wall, I was only smiling to prevent the tears.
It was so demoralizing that I had to try again. I didn’t think I had anything left. I took off again and ran with all I had. Luckily there were some guys and my brother at the top that grabbed my hands and locked in. They told me to swing my legs up and they would grab them and pull me up. Simple, right? Yeah… right! Not only were my arms gone, but my abs were also destroyed. I literally could not get my legs up. They started swinging my body to get my legs up and with the incredible combined strength from the men hanging onto me I was able to swing my legs up and help me roll on top of that wall.
Without their help, I would not have been able to make that obstacle. There was no physical way for my body to get on top of the wall by myself.
I wish I would say it was smooth sailing from there but it wasn’t. By the end of the race, I looked and felt like death. Proof I looked like death is below.
I feel similar about my administration team as I did about those guys on top of the wall. I couldn’t do this work alone. I am very fortunate that I was able to land in a team that has 5 assistant principals in addition to a head principal. There is a steep learning curve moving into administration. So much policy and procedure that you don’t learn as a teacher. Many times I have had to turn to them to help me solve a problem, or resolve an issue that has arisen. I feel for the elementary administrators that are alone in the building. I think that would be incredibly hard.
Some of the best advice I received was that rarely I had to make a decision at the moment. I could always tell the parent, student, or teacher that I needed to talk with my team about the issue and I would get back to them. That instantly relieved me of the stressful feeling that I had to know everything all the time. One thing I have always been comfortable saying is “I don’t know.” Usually, that is followed up with “but I’ll figure it out and get back to you.” I have actually received a lot of positive feedback from those I have followed up with. They were okay I didn’t know the answer that second and understood that I needed to confer with my team to come to the proper resolution. As discussed in a previous post, we need to also be okay with asking for feedback. Part of asking for help is that it is a two-way street. Once we have started the conversation we will typically receive feedback about our question or how we handled the situation. Even if it isn’t solicited, I will oftentimes follow up with my team asking their opinion on how I handled something to see if I did it correctly, or how I could improve on it.
My most vivid education-related experience of asking help occurred last year. I was only a couple months into my VP experience when I met with a father and his daughter. The father was irate because he believed that there was some sexual harassment happening to his daughter in a couple of her classes. It was from the same student and he had a list of demands he wanted to happen. This was my first experience with a sexual harassment incident and I wasn’t sure I could fulfill all of the demands he had. When I told him that he became even more irate. At that moment I knew I needed help. I told him that I needed to confer with my team to see what we can do for him and his daughter. I left my office searching for an administrator to help me. As luck would have it, not a single VP was in their office. I had to turn to my principal for help. He later remarked that as soon as I walked in he knew something was up. I looked like I just got beat up (full disclosure, I felt that way). He sat me down, printed out the district policy on sexual harassment, gave me some talking points to what we can and can’t do and sent me on my way. Feeling more confident I returned to that father and walked him through our policy and what was available for his daughter. What was initially a very upset dad, turned into a reasonable conversation that had him feeling heard, and encouraged by the plan we put together.
I have met administrators that would get enraged with their team if there was something they were unaware of because in their mind it made them look stupid to say “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I learned quickly from their example that being able to own up and say, I don’t know, is something that will not only build credence with my staff but also build bridges with my team.
We need to be okay saying “I don’t know.” But we need to follow up with “I’ll figure it out and get back to you.” We need lots of help in administration, and we can use the resources we have.