Tag Archives: lessons in teaching

Āwhina – asking for help

One of my biggest learning moments this year has come recently when my mentor and I began having regular structured PRT meetings. Prior to this term we have had a flexible and fluid arrangement that meant we could go for over a month without meeting about PRT specific topics. However, each one of those meetings would conclude with my mentor saying, “Remember you can come and ask me if you need any help.”

The recent change to our meeting arrangement has brought one very clear fact to the fore: I have never learned to ask for help. The ingrained habit of waiting until I need help before asking has meant that I have missed dozens of opportunities to ask for help simply because I want to be better at something and feel able to ask for support in achieving that goal.

The small but significant difference in what motivates people (ME!) to ask for help, I think, can be identified thus:

Asking for help when you need it usually stems from a fear of failure and is associated with a sense of self-doubt and, for me, a sense of being a pain in the ass for the person whom I am asking (and my method of asking for help is usually prefaced with a lot of apologising for needing help in the first place).

Example: “I just don’t understand why this isn’t working, so, I know you’re busy and I’m sorry to be a pain but I just don’t think I’m doing the right things and I’m not sure what to do to make a difference…” etc. Add some more self-depreciating apologies and excuses for not independently having the situation under control… This vague and confusing method of asking for help can result in frustration for both sides. (I know because I have been on the receiving end of this method myself!)

Asking for help when you want it, before you need it, feels different. It feels like asking how to be greater and more successful tomorrow than you are today, and is combined with a sense of aspiration and purpose. In the last few weeks I have learned that this type of asking is usually met with enthusiasm and can even be a compliment to the person you’re asking to support you – people, including me and teachers in particular, love to help – especially when you are specific about what you want to achieve. If the person you ask can’t help, they will generally direct you to someone who can when you use this approach.

Example: “I haven’t collected any evidence of meeting Registered Teacher Criteria #11. What would this evidence look like and can you help me identify some quality examples?” 

That’s it – simple and specific. I want this help, can you support me. There is no reason to feel like a nuisance if you are being responsible and proactively asking for help. This is a lesson (not just for teaching, but for life in general) I wish I had learned years ago. It makes all the difference to whether you have set-up your support network to wait at the bottom of the cliff, or whether you are working together co-constructing the wings you need to fly!

Ask... seek... knock

Ask… seek… knock

For information on high-quality co-constructed PRT induction click here

How do you ask for support and ensure you are reaching your aspirations, rather than just surviving? How are you teaching your students to ask for help in specific and constructive ways?


Mahi māra – to garden

Again and again in the classroom, my mind returns to gardening; not only because my own plot, so carefully tended last spring, is looking unkempt; but because it is becoming my metaphor for teaching. I have always thought of learning as a journey, but this is changing with everyday spent in the classroom I share with 24 amazing little people.

Initially, the gardening metaphor was applied to developing routines; I was referring to the constant restatement and reinforcement of the rules as ‘weed-picking’. “Got to get those weeds cleared before this garden can flourish”, I would cheerfully announce to other staff.

Then came goal setting and the new metaphor of growing towards the light. “We need a bright goal to strive for, something to guide us… Shine brightest on that which we want to grow…”. Which was of course quickly followed by praise being the water (of course), nourishing and nurturing these budding brain-fruits (do I sound like a loony yet?)

Then, today, I discovered an amazing brain-as-garden concept, used by an expert, which is based on research and facts!

Nathan Mikaere-Wallace has seeded the idea (see what I did there?) that
If the brain is a garden… then endorphins, released by singing, laughing and movement, are brain fertilizer; and that cortisol, released by stress, anger and fear, is weed-killer. 

In short, interactive FUN helps children’s brains to grow; and negativity is killing their brains! Negativity can be sparked by even innocuous comments (think of a parent asking the age-old question “And just what do you think you’re doing… insert first, middle and surnames here” in the most bowel-freezing tone possible – even a sudden “Don’t!” switches off the endorphin taps and turns the cortisol on full).

If my students are unsure of what is happening next, find the learning frustrating, or are always feeling that they (or anyone) are about to receive a bowel-freezing dose of negative attention; then they surely aren’t growing their brains / experiencing quality learning.

My goal for next week is to make sure I see every one of my little charges sing, laugh, and dance around each day to get those brain-fruits fertilising.


Cauliflower grown by author

Hātepe – proceed in an orderly manner

Four years of hard slog at University has paid off – a wonderful and supportive school just outside of Christchurch offered me the opportunity I’d been dreaming of and I am officially a teacher.

The first task I set myself was to write the mother of all to-do lists. There must have been at least 50 tasks on it – from ‘get a code for the photocopier’, right through to ‘arrange furniture’, and ‘organise reading groups’ (yep, I really wrote that – before I had even seen my class list). I am a list maker – I have lists for everything and anything.

The night before school began there was not a nervous twitch to be found – I had organised my students first week with military precision. The next day, it rained. Of course, rainy day activities were not on the list *sigh*

Lessons from week 1:

  • When working in a room with 24 other people (who are under the age of 8) things can often get away from the plan.
  • Students don’t want a perfectly planned programme anyway – they want to know their teacher is a human being who is interested in them and cares about what is happening in their lives.
  • Knowing how to set-up routines and expectations is far more important than making reading groups – reading groups aren’t going to work if the students don’t know what to do when they’re not reading!

Most importantly, try to enjoy every moment – planned and unplanned. That first week went so fast that I have only just had time to sit back and reflect on it, two weeks later.

“When you study great teachers... you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.” ― William Glasser

“When you study great teachers… you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.”
― William Glasser