Being OK Saying IDK

Have we become too afraid to say, “I don’t know.”? In an age of abundant information, should we ever need to say, “I don’t know.”?

I think that just because the information is in abundance and a Google search is always at our fingertips, we should not be afraid to tell someone we don’t know something. It’s important for leaders to show we don’t always have all the answers and it’s important to show this to our students too.

I think we have become so accustomed to having so much immediate information available to us, we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves as educators to always have the right answer the first time in front of each other and in front of our students. Traditionally, a classroom teacher has been viewed at the authority on the content they’re teaching. Leaders have traditionally been viewed as the “go to” person for new ideas, decisions that need to be made, or general guidance over the school or the district.

I’ve heard the adage, “the smartest person in the room is the room” used many times when talking about being a connected educator, or the general benefits of joining online communities via various social networks. If we truly believe that, then why do we allow ourselves to become so comfortable in our silos and on our islands of knowledge? Are we still spending too much time worrying about being better than the teacher down the hall?

But I get it; saying “I don’t know.” is hard sometimes. I would always prefer to be able to give someone a more immediate answer or solution. I feel like I’ve just become more comfortable and accepting in saying, “I don’t know.”. If I truly don’t, I sure don’t want to pretend like I do. Just as important as being ok saying, “I don’t know.”, is how you follow it up. “I don’t know, but I can sure find an answer and get back to you.” or “I don’t know, but I know someone who does!”.

While I don’t always like saying I don’t know the answer to something, I always try to remember that I’m going to learn something new because of it.  Don’t be afraid to be real. We have way too much other stuff going on to not be.



The Innovation of Sour Cream & Onion

I recently was in the grocery store to pick up some potato chips (or ‘crisps’ as some other countries refer to them as). I entered the aisle, and this time was truly taken aback by the magnitude of choices I had as a shopper. I mean, lots of choices in the potato chip aisle is nothing new, however, this time I really caught myself stopping for an extra few moments to notice how many varieties, styles, flavors, etc. that there are in this one spot of the grocery store. We’ve certainly become accustomed to lots of choices, haven’t we? You might also be thinking, “Kyle, we need to find you a better way to spend your time on a Saturday!”. Side note: I love trying new/interesting flavors of potato chips. 🙂

One of the flavors I brought home was Sour Cream & Onion. This is a preferred flavor in my house. As I looked at the bag I thought, “I wonder how the development of this particular flavor came to be? What did that conversation and planning look like?”. I’ve always found really random history like this very interesting.

image of cans of Pringles potato chips
Image attribution:

While I didn’t dive into the history of this particular flavor of crispy potato goodness, I am going to make a fairly safe assumption that it stemmed from people who were tired of plain potato chips. I would imagine this is how the plethora of chip flavors all began – “You know what would taste really good? If we made potato chips taste like _____!”.

I then began thinking about innovation in education. The word innovation is used so heavily now. We’re all supposed to be innovative all the time in our teaching and the opportunities we offer students. It’s quickly become a buzzword like so many that have come before it, and we are certainly offered a lot of choices on ways to be innovative in the edtech world. Think of what the edtech space would look like as an aisle in the grocery store!

I’m not saying that being innovative is bad. What I’m getting at is we shouldn’t over complicate what innovation looks like. I think the idea of being/becoming more innovative is intimidating to some people. It needs to begin with something that we’ve become tired of; a particular lesson or unit, a process, a workflow, or the culture of a school or district. Or maybe we’ve discovered something just isn’t working as well as it used to – especially with learning opportunities we give our students and the ways we equip them to express their learning. It’s making the conscious decision (whether individually or collaboratively) that we are ready for something new – something more for ourselves and our students.

Don’t let all the options overwhelm you. Spend some quality time in the “edtech aisle”. Ask lots of questions. Seek help from your network. Select one and give it a go. Make an informed decision on what’s best for your students. I would then encourage you to share what you tried. Blog about it, share it with your school, find your voice to share the great things you’re doing in your classroom. We need more of that.


What Community Is

Is it better to bring people together around things or ideas? There are lots of communities in education: we have communities in our schools, we have learning communities with colleagues, social media communities, professional organizations that create a community around its members, and companies that create a community around what the company is all about for teaching and learning. Needless to say, we have options.

The professional communities that center around education in some way usually bring people together around a device or a platform. Not always, but often. It might be their product(s), software, or other resources that at first bring us in. But what these groups do to keep people active in these spaces matters more than the original hook to “get them in the door”. What are you offering? Is it always the same stuff delivered by the same people? Is it a lot of “old wine in a new bottle”? At the end of the day is it more about the business or more about creating diverse experiences and viewpoints?

A community is nothing without its people, obviously, but community leaders must be willing to put in the work to keep them there. To listen to them, to improve because of them, to be in a mindset of constant iteration, and serving the members. Do you tell your community how much you appreciate them? Do you show them? If I’m in your community, how do I know I’m more than just social media metrics or a bottom line?

A community is about connecting dots for others. We need to make sure we’re giving just as much if not more than what we’re getting.