Maybe you, but not me, would argue that words are not important here, helping or supporting. Supporting seems to be truer or maybe more equitable than helping. To me, supporting means I am honoring the other person. In my role as a teacher I want to be supportive more than helpful. I don’t want to be the knowledge bearer; we all learn and teach each other in relationship.

In an online class I taught a few years ago, a young woman struggled to remember to post her contribution to the class discussion each week. Her midterm project (that was work that progressed toward a final paper) reflected her lack of engagement. She asked to meet with me about two weeks before the end of the term. She didn’t blame circumstances for her failures. She fully accepted her lot but wanted to do the work she had neglected and fully engage in the inquiry that would result in the final project. And she did. She revisited those “lost” weeks when she didn’t show up in the discussion online and created her own discussion—even though I had made it clear that it wouldn’t “count” for her grade since she wasn’t part of the original time sensitive encounter with others in our class.

She took the suggestions I made on her midterm and went beyond what was required. Her final paper was exemplary. I did not expect such insights, given the circumstances I witnessed. Given another opportunity and some constructive feedback, she rose above the expected. I did very little “helping”. In fact, my efforts maintained my professional role and allowed possibilities. Going alongside, celebrates both our efforts.

The change from helping to supporting, it seems to me, is about intention. And it is about attention. Attention to another person. To see that person as God sees us, not in “need of help” even though we surely do, but to see us in the light of what is possible.

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