We examine the importance of mutual support and the ability to request help from your colleaguesIntroduction

Seeking help Fortunately, the current environment of both primary and secondary schools empowers teachers to no longer labour under the so-called “myth of the good teacher”, that is, “I can manage all situations and students on my own, I do not need any advice or help!” The creation of an emotionally literate workplace encourages everyone to recognise, understand and manage their feelings while also being aware of and empathising with colleagues’ emotions. There may still, however, be occasions when we need to seek help and support. Waiting until such times arise, and then attempting to make non-existent systems work, is likely to be too late. Situations requiring help or assistance can be many and varied. Not only can they be directly related to behaviour, but they can also be medical. Either way, it is vital that all staff are confident and well practised in using robust systems. At the very time you require help, response and reliability are crucial. To look around and hopefully find a “trusted” or “responsible” student to go and find a member of staff, who may or may not be free to attend, is likely to prove unsatisfactory. Existing systems may include the use of red cards, phone messages or, in some situations, panic buttons. The success of such systems relies on a number of issues:

  • The message actually reaching the right person(s).
  • The receiving colleague understanding the nature of the message. Red cards or panic messages mean “come now!” (Do not finish your coffee, conversation or phone call.)
  • The recipient of the message knowing who has sent it.
  • The child taking the message being well practised and knowing what is expected of them.

If the above points are not in place, then you may well find that the expected help or assistance may fail to arrive. It is worth undertaking a risk assessment of your own school/teaching and learning environment. Use a behaviour tracking tool (on paper or electronic) to build a clear picture of the number of times help is requested and to identify “hotspots” and individual members of staff requiring assistance.

Practical Resources The first, and probably most effective, tip when asking and responding to requests for help is to ensure that whichever system is agreed on, it is applied and used consistently by all staff.

When using red card systems and sending trusted students ensure:

  • the child knows where they are going to, by naming the member of staff on the card
  • that your name is also on the red card, indicating who is requesting help
  • all staff understand the meaning of the red card: help is required urgently
  • that the system is not over complicated by having too many different-coloured cards, with different meanings.

It is usually not sufficient to simply take the card to the school office. However, if this is the case, ensure office staff can contact support staff who can actually offer help. The risk assessment to identify needs should take account of existing technologies (internal phone systems, electronic registration/on-call systems), together with balancing the identified needs with the budget available. There are also more simplistic (and often equally effective) systems that should be considered:

  • Named, key staff who are allocated to specific subject or year group areas.
  • Privately understood signals between staff, which may also include scripted responses when a member of staff identifies when help is necessary. For example: “I see you need help Mr…” The member of staff may reject the offer of help on the basis of seeming to lose face etc. The scripted response may then be, “I see you need extra help.” The key word in the second response is “extra”. This means that the helping member of staff has identified that you do indeed need help and, in spite of your own assessment of the situation, you need to accept the help offered.

Finally, as a practical tip for members of staff who are supervising students while they are off the school site (educational visits, work experience visits, etc), don’t forget to include your own, and colleagues’, ID in your risk assessments. Many members of staff take students on school trips etc without any form of visible identification. ID badges should be clear and easily understandable, featuring your name, your school and your professional job title. If you require assistance when outside school, ID badges provide vital information for anyone providing assistance or when they require your help.

Don’t operate under the myth of the good teacher − be prepared to ask for and accept help and assistance when the situation requires it. Make sure that everyone understands the system and consistently applies it.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a wrtier, consultant and trainer.