Teachers As Learners...|
by Hal Portner
Need Something? Ask!
(continued from page 1)
How to Ask
When you ask for help, ask assertively. To be assertive is to honor your own basic rights without violating the basic human rights of others. You have the right to ask for help, just as the person you ask has the right to refuse. For example, you have the right to ask a colleague for permission to use a new lesson plan he developed, and your colleague can respond just as assertively by saying, "I appreciate your interest in the lesson plan, but I prefer not to share it."
Being assertive does not mean being aggressive, i.e., invading the other person's boundaries. For example, a request like "Hey, Charlie, lend me a copy of your lesson plan. I don't have time to do my own," is aggressive because it violates the other person's right to courtesy and respect. On the other hand, being assertive does not mean allowing one's own boundaries to be restricted. If Charlie had shared the lesson plan even though he did not really want to, his response would have been nonassertive.
What to Ask For
Even if you are assertive, you may not get what you ask for unless you are clear about what it is you want. What are you really asking for when you make a request for help? G. M. Gazda et al, in their book Human Relations Development (Allyn & Bacon, 1991), present a framework that identifies several types of requests for help.
One type of request is a request for action. Do you want the person to do something? If so, say so. For example, suppose you want your colleague to look at and comment on your new lesson plan, and you say, "I have developed a lesson plan but I'm not sure it will work." He or she may or may not offer to look at it and even if he or she does, you may not get the type of response you really want. On the other hand, "Please critique my new lesson plan. Will it work?" directly asks for the desired response --- in this case, an opinion of its worth as well as action.
Another type of request is for information. For example, "Where is the copy machine located?" Not, "Can I get this copied?"
A third type of request is for understanding or emotional support. This is more difficult to ask for than the other types and you may find yourself making such a request with an undercurrent of anger or frustration. For example, saying, "I'm going to meet with a parent who is also in education. How should I handle it?" may seem to be a straightforward request for information, but may really be signaling for emotional support. It can be difficult, but if you really want and need understanding, you should express your feelings. "This parent is a college English professor. If he challenges me, what should I say?" may sound like a request for information, when you what you really mean is, "This parent is a college English professor. He probably knows more than I do about the subject. What if I make a fool of myself?" Understanding which type of request you are making can help you phrase your question to best elicit the kind of response you want.
Mary is a student teacher. It was during the second week of her teaching practicum that she was first exposed to the concept, Writing Across the Curriculum. Mary was observing her cooperating teacher, Ms. Perry, teach a ninth grade English class. "You've probably seen this format in some of your other classes," Ms. Perry said to her students. "We will be using this format for our writing here as well. In the upper left hand corner will be the FCAs. There will be one, two, or three areas for you to focus on in your assigned piece of writing."
FCAs? Mary hadn't heard the term before. She was curious. If the students knew about it --- and she was going to be teaching them soon --- she better know about it, too.
Later that day, during their prep period, Mary asked Ms. Perry, "What are FCAs? You used the term with the ninth graders this morning."
"Why, FCA stands for Focus Correction Areas*," Ms. Perry answered. "They're an element of Writing Across The Curriculum, a writing program we use in all the academic classes."
Mary asked Ms. Perry and the other teachers, "Do any of you have materials about FCAs and Writing Across The Curriculum?"
Click for next page