Most of my blog posts are geared towards students, but this one is just for all my art teacher homies! ;) Today I want to talk to you about something that may or may not be a touchy subject for you: how to ask for help. Specifically, how to ask for help from your principal…yikes!
Maybe you are fortunate to have an excellent principal who goes above and beyond and meets every one of your needs at the drop of a hat, but for many, asking your principal for help can be very difficult. Even the most approachable and down to earth principals have extremely busy schedules and they all have a billion and one things to do on any given day.
Nevertheless, the fact still remains that all teachers have needs (especially art teachers), and when these needs are not met, who suffers? On the whole, the students. Sure, it can make a teacher’s job more difficult or inconvenient when they don’t have the supplies or software that they need, but in the end the students are the ones who miss out on opportunities or experiences.
As you are reading a blog post on a website called Digital Art Teacher, I am going to focus on how to ask for some of the needs you have in the digital classroom (graphic design, photography, digital art, etc). However, many of the things that I’ll be outlining below will work for any teacher!
Now that you have the who, the what and the why, let’s look at the how to. Below I’ve outlined a 5 step process to how to approach your principal with your needs and ask for the resources you need to be successful. If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me and I’ll see what I can do to point you in the right direction!
1. Take a critical look at your needs.
When I started teaching, I struggled with this. There was so much that I still needed to learn about the many different aspects of teaching that I truly didn’t know what I needed. I faced a stack of art supply magazines, a computer lab, and an art room to organize and thought, “Where do I start!?”
If you are a seasoned teacher, you may not have the same uncertainties as a new teacher, but you still have ideas you want to try or ways you want to improve your classes for the next year.
You know that you can’t have everything, so how do you zero in on what you really need? I would suggest that you sit down in a quiet space (perhaps away from the clutter of your classroom), and ask yourself a few questions.
- Is there anything that you want to stop doing this year? If you’re stretched to your limits, can you take anything off your plate for next year? For example, if you’re the sponsor of a club or coaching a sport that you no longer wish to participate in, consider letting it go. Teachers can get roped into doing a lot of things that they are simply not passionate about, especially in small schools! Is there a course that you teach that just doesn’t have a lot of student interest? What if you gave up teaching that class and offered a different class that interests you more; what if you made your life a lot easier by offering one of your more popular classes twice? (Meaning less lesson planning!)
- Is there anything that you’d like to learn how to do? Take a moment to dream here. If you’re anything like me, you don’t learn new things unless you know you have to teach it! Would you like to learn how to use Photoshop? What if you taught an intro to photography class?
- Is there anything that you never want to learn how to do? This is where you give yourself permission to say no! No matter what anyone expects you to do, deep down, you know what you like and what you do not like. Don’t give into the pressure to do something just because you think that is what people (administrators or students) want you to do.
- What would it take in order to do the things that you’re dreaming about doing? Don’t be afraid to dream big here! Do you need new computers? Some software? Perhaps a curriculum to follow? Just make a list of things that you would like to have so that it’s out of your head and on paper.
2. Understand the needs of your students
This one is easier to think about for some people. “This is why I went into teaching, to inspire the young minds of tomorrow!” Then, after you’ve been teaching for more than…say a day, you realize that there is a lot more to it than the actual teaching part.
To bring it back to the point, what do your students actually need? My response may surprise you. In reality, the answer is very little. What they need is a safe place to be during the school hours and something to engage their minds for those few minutes that you have with them each day. They may want to learn some new or different skills that you do not cover, and you can take that into consideration when choosing projects or if you’re adding/changing your courses.
With that in mind, it may be a good idea to survey your students to see what they are really interested in (and this can be a handy thing to show an administrator who is wary of supplying the funds for the things you want to do). I have attached a sample survey to the end of this post if you need a place to start. You don’t want to consider adding a major project or a new course when there is no interest. That’s an uphill battle that you simply don’t need to engage in!
3. Put yourself in your principal’s shoes
If we’re being 100% honest, we know that principals have a really hard job. I’ll tell you that I never aspire to be a principal, even if they paid me twice the going rate! They have a lot to do and they’re being asked for things every single day. It may not be that they don’t want to supply you with the things that you need, but they have a lot of people asking them for money or favors and they have to choose whose need is greatest.
If you haven’t already, build a good professional relationship with your principal. It doesn’t have to take much out of you. Just say hi when you stop by the office or invite him into your classroom when you know that you’re teaching a lesson that you know the students will be excited about (I know that can seem scary, but principals generally like to be invited into what is going on in their schools rather than deal with the problems that they face each day).
Just remember that a little empathy can go a long way. Contrary to what some may believe, they are actual people with actual lives. You don’t have to feel sorry for them…they did sign up for this job after all! Just consider where they’re coming from before you ask something of them.
4. Come prepared
Okay, this is the step where you actually get real with what you need. You’ve done all the dreaming and considered the needs of everyone involved (yourself, your students, and your principal) so now, what do you need in order to move forward? Don’t just charge into your principal’s office and start asking for things before you do a little research!
First, take stock of what you have. Do you have a room full of computers but no software to go with it? Do you have everything you need to get started, but no idea where to start? Do you have inadequate equipment that would really be best served by being thrown in the trash can?
Answer these questions for yourself and do some research on what you might want to have in your classroom and approximately how much it would cost. If you’re wanting to upgrade some software, do some research on the list of skills that people are expected to have now for entry level art jobs; the list is staggering.
Another approach might be to ask around to the districts in the area to see who offers the program or equipment that you need. If a district is smart, they're competitive and they might take this into consideration.
On the other hand, if you’re at a small school, you may be able to make your venture into some school or community projects or possibly even a money maker. For example, if you desire to purchase the adobe suite for your classroom in order to effectively teach graphic design, you might mention that you could have them design clubs and sports T-shirts.
Whatever argument that you decide to make, just make sure that you’re always bringing it back to how it will benefit the students and the school. If you’re passionate about it, your principal will see that passion and want to help if they feel like they can.
You can make a simple list or you could make out a spreadsheet to show to your principal. If you need a place to start, I’ve got a spreadsheet template that you can use at the bottom of this post.
This may seem like a silly step, but if you’re one of those people who are scared to ask for things, it’s time to face that fear and step up! For your own sake and for your students. And make sure that when you ask, you don’t do it over an email. Ask your principal for a time that he/she can sit down with you and chat about some improvements that you’d like to make in your classroom or in your curriculum.
Try to pick a good time of the day, go back to putting yourself in your principal’s shoes and think about what the day looks like for him/her. Is it before school starts (and before the day’s problems have begun)? Is it after school (when he/she has had a moment to decompress from the day’s activities and stresses)? Would it be best to ask at the beginning of the week or the end of the week? Take a minute to make your “plan of attack” so to speak.
State your research and share your passion for the things you desire to do. Answer any questions your principal has and wait patiently for their answer. It may be that they need to take some time to think about it or to ask and see if what you need can be put into the budget.
And in the end, if the answer is no?
Sometimes, no matter how good the argument, the answer will still be no. Sadly, this isn’t a foolproof formula that will get you what you want every time. However, this doesn’t have to be the end if you keep pressing on!
If no is the answer that you are given, you can certainly ask why and try to understand the reason behind the answer, but you can also try a few other avenues in order to get what you need:
- The PTA. This can be a great place to bring your needs. The process to approach the PTA will be very similar to what you did to approach your principal. Just get in touch with your PTA and lay out all the same information; always bringing it back to how it will benefit the students and the school.
- CTE (Career and Technology Education): If you are unfamiliar with this term, some states have a set of courses that can be certified in order to give students college credit when they leave high school. Often, there is a fund set aside by the state to equip schools with software or equipment that will benefit the classroom. Check to see if your school has a program like this or if you can set one up yourself so that you can get the funds you need.
- Grants. This may be a scary concept, but there is a lot of money available out there if you know who and how to ask. Do some research and go back to your administration with a ‘list’ of grant opportunities and get pre approval before you put in the work. You can even suggest a grant committee where you work with other teachers to research and write grants to help support the school community.
If you’ve made it this far, I commend you! You must really need some help getting your needs met at your school. If I can help you in any way as you embark on this endeavor, feel free to contact me. If you think a graphic design, digital photography, or digital art curriculum would help you meet the needs in your classroom, you can check out my membership, and you can even see how to set up a purchase order so that you don’t have to use your own funds to join!
If you're interested in downloading the FREE reflection sheet, student survey, and needs spreadsheet that goes along with this article, click the button below and enter your email!