August 28, 2022 by Dr. Robbie Barber
Welcome to the school year SY23. I am understaffed and overwhelmed. A third of my certified teachers left the building at the end of SY22, up from previous years. My half-time assistant retired and has not been replaced yet.
I have new teachers (new to the building, not necessarily to teaching) asking for help with wifi, communications, and even which dental program is best from the benefits package. (I have no idea about the last since I don’t pay for dental insurance, but it’s interesting that I was asked.) Then, I simply ran out of steam only two weeks into the school year. Following my husband’s advice, I asked for help.
I sent a note to my region coordinator for school librarians (Janie) with a specific task I needed help with. She replied within an hour: “[My husband’s] favorite saying is, ‘Janie, you can do anything; you just can’t do everything.'” And, she included a date (one week away) to help and an offer to bring additional people. The relief – just from the offer of help – was intense.
When you are feeling you are down to your last bit of energy, even asking for help is hard. Even if someone offers to help, you may feel you can’t handle the help because it requires some feat of organization to even be ready for help. If you are a leader in your school (every teacher-librarian and most instructional technology support personnel lead from the middle!), it is harder as we may not want to disrupt our image as being in control and capable (King Lindley, 2022). More, we are especially concerned with the cost to our helper in terms of time and inconvenience (DePaulo & Fisher, 1980). The task I had to do was simple and repetitive, but it did require following an exact standard. I didn’t ask students because I could not run the library and monitor the process. I needed help from other librarians who understood the specifics of the task. It was a little embarrassing on my part to ask for help except for the sheer volume of need. According to DePaulo and Fisher (1980), more people will ask for help on a difficult task than a simple one. We could argue about whether this, with my exacting methodology, was simple, but for a librarian, I think it was. I still asked for help.
Here are some suggestions for how to ask for help (King Lindley, 2022):
- Think about your situation and decide you need help. Be honest with yourself. If you’re worn out, or it’s too much, or you can’t meet a required deadline, ask for help instead of tormenting yourself.
- Be specific in the task you need help with. The week between the ask and the help gave me a chance to organize my materials better. While it was still an overwhelming task, I felt that when they came, I had some (weird!) organization to the piles of books and we could split up the work easily.
- Ask for help without hemming someone in. Whoever you ask needs to be able to say ‘no’. Sometimes a teacher asks me for help and I just can’t manage it in their timeframe. I do my best to refer them to others, but I try to be honest when I can’t.
- Show gratitude. Helping someone else is an inconvenience to them. Would you do it if asked? Probably. But it’s nice to be thanked. I went to Trader Joe’s the night before the team showed up and bought small inexpensive flower bouquets. A box of doughnuts would have worked too.
We added over a hundred books to the school library; a task that would have taken weeks. And, the library did not close at any time. Students continued to come on passes and classes were held in the space, because I asked for help.
I hope that the school staff works on asking for help this year. From each other, from others at the district level, wherever. After all, Dumbledore himself said, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it” (J.K. Rowlings, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). (And, yes, I have a Room of Requirement for those in need.)
DePaulo, B. M., & Fisher, J. D. (1980). The Costs of Asking for Help. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 1(1), 23–35. https://doi-org.proxygsu-sdek.galileo.usg.edu/10.1207/s15324834basp0101_3
King Lindley, J. (2022). The Shame-Free Guide to Asking for Help. Real Simple, 23(5), 99–101.