Empower or Enable

I got an email mid-week that went something like this…….

“We’re planning our annual project. Do you have the list of topics from last year? Will you be able to get books gathered?”

It’s a project I usually help gather materials for. I do have a list of the topics that are usually done.

Instead of replying immediately, I forwarded the message to another member of the grade level team who has more experience and said, “I think you have some of this information, maybe you can talk about it as a group and get back to me.”

Or something like that.

On Friday I get an email from the first teacher that says “Sorry this is last minute. Here’s a list of the topics. We’d like to have them by Monday.”


It just started my day off on the wrong foot. I was faced with what seemed like deadlines of impending doom, and stacks of books about to take over the world.

So I went to my friend, the team member with experience (maybe I need code names?). I said “I know I’m overreacting. I always get these books. It’s not that hard. But I’m tired. And the thought of dragging home 50 books from the public library for this project makes my brain physically tired.”

She said she understood. And then she helped me see the other side. The teacher who made the request is moving this weekend.

Ouch. Shame on me ouch!

I did what I should have done in the beginning and went to talk to the teacher. I told her that my day really was jam-packed with crazy. Perhaps she could come in to the library and quickly browse the shelves to pull what she needed? She couldn’t as she wasn’t actually going to be in school that day and had just dropped in to leave plans for a sub.

She understood that I was busy. And I was calm and completely happy to help at that time. I said I would get to the library to get what I could.

My day really did seem like the day of impending doom, but I put some of my classes to work throughout the day. I handed the email to a fifth grader and asked him to start pulling books from our shelves. Normally, I try to leave our books intact for special projects. I find that students like to check out books related to what they’re learning. If they have all the books for the project in their classroom, then they can’t take them home. So I get books from the public library for the project and leave our books for student checkout. The fifth grader stacked up about 35 books related to the topics for me. It helped out so much!

Saturday morning I took another copy of the list to the public library and found about thirty more books. It will be enough for Monday and we can fill in the blanks through the week.

That’s all mostly background. It made me wonder….

What habits do I need to develop to better empower teachers to provide for themselves? The control freak in me likes that teachers need my help and I don’t mind providing resources. But……this is a project that happens every year. For several years the teachers in the grade gathered what they could from the public library and then came to me to help fill in the blanks. Then the teachers in the grade changed, but the project stayed the same. The first year I knew more about the project than the new teacher did so I provided resources and a lot of help. That routine has stuck for two more years.

At what point do I transition the teacher into empowering her to gather her own resources? I allow teachers to check out their own materials from the library. Some are more comfortable with the software than others and I understand that…..but only up to a point.

When do I say, “okay….I love to help you, but what if I’m not here? Don’t you want to be able to do this yourself?”

I don’t want teachers to get too self-sufficient because then I lose that collaborative piece. But I want them self-sufficient because it’s good for them!

So I learned the lesson of compassion on this one. And was left with this nugget of an issue to work through. I’m not sure there’s a right answer….

April 18, 2011
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