Asking For Help

Asking For HelpHe’d surpassed his frustration level. I was working with another group when I glanced over and noticed his head in his hands. He was desperately trying to cover his red face and the tears streaming down his cheeks. We only had a few minutes left in class, and he had been diligently working to map out his group’s reading plan for the next few weeks.

I’d provided a sample plan. We had twice discussed how he could pattern his group’s plan after the sample I’d given them. And yet, he was still confused and couldn’t seem to make it work. His partners weren’t helping much. He had enthusiastically taken the lead on developing the plan, and they had let him do it. Why wouldn’t they? He’s a hard-working student–an extremely “high flyer” in a room full of soaring stars. Having him in their group all but insures they will all do well. However, at this point he’d reached his limit. He couldn’t figure it out and was certainly not going to finish it before the class ended. Crushed and falling apart, he slumped in his seat.

I quickly made my way over to him and threw my arm around him. “Let’s take a walk together,” I stated as I instructed the class to tidy the room before leaving.

When we reached the small office next door, I said, “Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“I can’t figure it out. I tried and tried, but it doesn’t make sense, and they were counting on me. . . and not really helping,” he admitted.

“Okay,” I said. “Don’t worry about the plan. I’ll be happy to help with it. It is really confusing the first time you do it, and I’m sure the example could have been clearer. We will figure it out, okay?”

“Okay.” He relaxed and immediately appeared relieved.

“Can I ask you something though?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you get the other guys’ attention, tell them you were having trouble, and ask them to help you figure it out?”


“Aren’t they part of your group, too?”


“Isn’t that what partners are for–to help us learn?”

“I guess so,” he reluctantly admitted.

“You have so much to offer your group. You work hard in class and strive to think deeply about our books. And I also appreciate that you want to lead your group, but leading isn’t always doing it yourself, right? Leading is inviting other people to help carry out a task and helping them do their best, too, right?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“You know asking for help is okay, right?”

“Well. . . I guess so.” He bowed his head as if ashamed to admit he might need help occasionally.

“I know how you feel. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn, too.”

Considering Place-based Education

On Saturday I attended a free screening of Bob Gliner’s film Schools That Change Communities hosted by The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend it. (The film is available to buy on Mr. Gliner’s site for a small fee. I have no connection to him.) Progressive leaders would do well to start  conversations among school staff about the ideas in the film. Here’s the trailer:

According to the Promise of Place website, place-based education:

  • Immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences;
  • Uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum; and
  • Emphasizes learning through participation in service projects for the local school and/or community.

I’m drawn to learning experiences portrayed in the film. In particular, I love that students are given a voice and heard not only by their teachers but also by the community at-large. Imagine how empowering a young person feels knowing he’s doing something good in his own neighborhood. Too much school learning purports the idea that “you’ll use this someday.” Students need to know that their learning matters now. They need to know that THEY matter now. Place-based education can take the learning out of the classroom and put it in the community where it’s most needed. That’s powerful.

Recently, my students and I have jumped into the deep end of project-based learning. I’ll share about our experience and learning later, but I believe PBE could be the natural progression of the project-based learning approach when an entire school or team of educators envision students’ doing local work that matters. After the screening, Jamie Feild Baker pointed out, “PBE provides an answer to the ever-present student question ‘Why do I need to know this?'” Through place-based learning, students experience the why now. In fact, many of Will Richardson’s ideas in Why School? surfaced as I thought about the film.

Too many students find school and learning irrelevant to the world they know. Based on what I saw in Schools That Change Communities, PBE provides immediate relevance. If you haven’t explored it, give it a look. You can learn more about place-based education and find useful resources at the Promise of Place.

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