How to Ask for Help—and Get It!

The most successful educators know when—and how—to ask for help. Tips from the experts will help you learn the vital skill of asking.

Diverse group of adults working

by NEA Member Benefits

When you’re stressed, asking for help may seem like a no-brainer, but for many educators, it’s surprisingly difficult. Teachers don’t want to appear weak, vulnerable or overwhelmed. In fact, many educators view help as a four-letter word—the kind you don’t utter, especially in the workplace or around children.

“When you’re in a position of authority, it can feel uncomfortable to request help for yourself,” says Caroline Miller, MAAP, professional coach, positive psychology expert and best-selling author of “Creating Your Best Life.” But, asking for help is a vital skill which, when applied constructively, can help put you on the path to success.

Here, seven strategies to raise your hand and ask for help!

1. Take a self-assessment. Track which types of situations or times of day leave you feeling frustrated or overly taxed. Then study yourself for clues about how much (or how little) you can do without burning out. If your workload is so overwhelming that you have no time to disengage, exercise or spend time with friends and hobbies, assess what you can delegate, delay and take off your plate, suggests Miller.

2. Identify sources of support. Does your daughter love baking? Recruit her to bake a batch of brownies for the annual fundraiser. Does your nephew excel at organization? Ask him to make the stack of papers on your desk disappear. Is your teacher’s aide a whiz at creating tests? Let her create the week’s pop quiz. And don’t forget to hit up administration/human resources for stress coping resources.

3. Be specific. It’s not enough to say, “I’m stressed,” or “I need help.” Instead, get clear about which tasks you need assistance with and how a friend, co-worker, teacher’s assistant or even your students can help. Something as simple as self-guided instruction or quiet classroom reading for 15 minutes may help you tackle an unmet obligation.

4. Strive for balance. Being able to give and receive is critical to health, wellbeing and yes, de-stressing. In fact, refusing to ask for help when you’re overtaxed is a key factor in developing depression. “If you keep giving, you will overextend yourself which could lead to physical exhaustion, emotional burnout and resentment,” says Shannon Kaiser, college professor, life coach and bestselling author of “Adventures for Your Soul.”

5. Talk it out. Sometimes problems look worse than they are until you talk through them. Plus, you’re more likely to come up with solutions when you confide in someone else. A bonus: Developing friendships by talking over your troubles with other educators can buffer you from the negative effects of stress. Gallup research shows that people who have a confidant at work are more engaged and resilient than those who don’t form close bonds. One potential reason: Cortisol (a.k.a., the stress hormone) dips when you spend time connecting with loved ones, says Miller.

6. Establish boundaries. You don’t have to accept every task the principal, or the PTA, puts on your plate. If you’re habitually saying, “yes” because you don’t know how to say “no,” that’s a muscle you need to develop. Create a clear set of goals, and when someone asks you for a favor or assigns you a task that might prevent you from achieving those goals, say “no.”

7. Prioritize self-care. Develop a repertoire of actions to restore calm and focus. Walk around the block in the middle of the day to recharge and rejuvenate your brain. Take a 5-minute meditation break. Pause for a healthy snack. Whatever you choose, the key is to shift your perspective. Research shows that viewing stress as something that can sharpen your skills and challenge you helps enhance health and happiness. And your students can enjoy the benefits, too: “Having a teacher who can model humor, mindfulness and other effective strategies to de-stress could have a positive lifelong influence,” says Miller.