What do you need from me?

This week I was attended the Coalition for Essential Schools Fall Forum in Portland, Maine. As an emerging teacher in the progressive teaching movement, I was delighted to be able to learn from, and meet, some incredible people who are truly making a difference in education reform and, more importantly, in the lives of children.

One session I attended was titled “Unconditional Positive Regard: How to Radically Care About Your Students”. This seminar was led by Alex Shevrin of the Centerpoint School in South Burlington, VT.  Not only was the topic important to me but Alex led the class in an engaging way that is consistent with how I am learning to teach. Now I, the teacher, was the student and I could see the benefit in how I am leading my lessons. Some seminars followed the lecture approach and I was bored or inattentive. Alex’s class was refreshing and engaging. But I digress.

There is no way to share all that we discussed and learned but I did come away with a very important phrase or sentence….What do you need from me? This simple, yet powerful, sentence, offered by a high school student who was also attending this seminar, has become a part of my daily vernacular.

For example…

  • from teacher to student: What do you need from me to accomplish this assignment?
  • from parent to child: What do you need from me to be better organized?
  • from friend to friend: What do you need from me to help you get through this rough time?
  • from a corporate to employees: What do you need from me to be efficient, effective, and/or successful in your role?

I think “What do you need from me?” provides four things:

  1. It allows or provides the space for the student, or the person in need, to self-advocate and to be given permission to think about their needs and how they would like to solve their own problem(s). It helps teach thinking, self-reflection, and problem-solving strategies.
  2. It requires this same person in need to accept some responsibility for their needs. By asking someone in need this question, it expects them to work on problem solving instead of passively expecting others to think for them or to fix the problem for them. This can be a powerful skill and one that not everyone has mastered.
  3. This question requires the teacher (or the parent or friend) to accept some responsibility to help. As a teacher, I feel this question holds me responsible to help the student based on their needs, not mine. By asking, I am communicating that I know I am a piece of the puzzle and have some part to play in this matter.
  4. It also communicates that I am not going to tell you what you need nor am I going to guess what you need. That would be presumptuous on my part. We can work together on this.
  5. Finally, this phrase lets the person know you care. It says “I care. I want to help. Tell me how I can help you. Tell me how I can help you in a way that is meaningful.”

Such as simple question but it exudes so much meaning. Try it…

So…What do you need from me?

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