In the “helping professions”—education, health, social services—our usual lead question is, in many ways, misleading. “How can I help?”
Well-intentioned as it may seem, embedded in this question is the idea of the asker doing to or for, not necessarily with. What initially seems to be an act of support can, in time, become an act of limitations—short-term fixing rather than sustainable changing.
We know, for example, that giving tools to teach reading or math better, can result in better teaching and more learning. And that’s a good thing. But does it also allow teachers think about how to frame problems? Do the tools equip teachers to keep improving on their own?
Instead of asking “How can I help?” STS tries to be guided by the adage, “If you give someone a fish, they eat for a day; if you teach them to fish, they eat for a lifetime.” Cliché as this lesson seems, it suggests an important reframing—how to balance doing to or for with doing with.
Indeed, this is one of the biggest lessons we have learned in our first 20 years implementing the Whole Child Model. Teachers may need new tools for reading and math. But equally important is an acknowledgment that many of the teachers we work with already have the knowledge and skills to figure out much of our “best practice.” As we share our tools, we should also find out what tools they already have that work. Together, we can find solutions empower now and create a framework for confidently employing new versions in the future.
Sounds easy, if not self-evident, right? But, like most of our work, theory and implementation can be quite different. In my next post, I’ll share how a recent workshop in Tanzania put this to the test.