The same team

When you need assistance, guidance or advice, it's a good idea to ask for it a way that encourages both parties to work as one team.

If you're getting a "C" in your English class and you say to your teacher, "Why did you give me a 'C?'", you're immediately putting your teacher on the defensive.  His first inclination isn't going to be to do whatever he can to help you; he's going to gear up to defend the grade he's given you.  You asked the question in a way that divided you into two opposing teams.

I often see students and parents make this mistake during the college planning years.  A student gets a low grade on a big exam, so the parent fires off an email to the teacher demanding an explanation.  A student misses an "A" in a course by a few points and marches into the class to complain that the grade should be raised. A student isn't placed in an AP class so the parent calls the counselor to argue that this just isn't acceptable.    

I'm not arguing that students or parents shouldn't ask questions in these scenarios.  But you're the one who needs something in each of these situations.  So you have to ask in a way that encourages collaboration.  You've got to create one team. 

Here are a few steps that will help you do that.

1.  Leave your emotions out of it. 

There may be places or professions where bullies are the ones who get ahead, but education isn't one of them.  While you might be frustrated by the situation, your frustration or outright anger won't encourage collaboration.  It's much easier to find the desire to help someone who's nice and respectful.  So be nice.  Don't assign blame.  Leave your negative emotions at the door and try to work together.

2.  Acknowledge your role in the scenario.

There is almost always something you could have done to prevent or at least mitigate the situation that you're in.   So acknowledge it.  It doesn't necessarily mean you have to take the all the blame for something that wasn't entirely your fault.  But someone will be much more likely to help you if you own your responsibility.  

It sounds like this,

"I know my son really should have told us much earlier that he was struggling in your class.  If he had, we wouldn't be coming to you so late to discuss his performance."

"I know I did badly on my last three exams.  That was my fault.  I don't know why I'm just not getting trig."

"We knew the cut-off for entry into the AP course was to earn a B+ or higher in this year's class.  Our daughter didn't get the B+, and that certainly isn't anybody else's fault."    

3.  Ask for help, and be willing to do your part.

Demanding action keeps you on two teams.  Asking for help and showing that you're willing to participate in the process puts you on the same team.

"Do you have any recommendations for steps our son could take to improve his grade?"

"If I show you my tests, can you help me understand where I'm going wrong so I can do better next time?"

"Do have any suggestions of things our daughter could do to show the teacher that she's ready and able to take on the AP workload?"

This isn't a post about manipulating people to get them to do what you want (I promise you that none of this will work if that's what you're trying to do).  It's about taking responsibility for your education, seeking out assistance when you need it, and doing so in a way that treats people with respect.

The fewer teams, the better.

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