Friday, November 7, 2014

I Don't Know

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

"I know nothing! Nothing!"
     ----Sargent Schultz, Hogan's Heroes

     Three very powerful words that say a lot and mean a lot and I believe as teachers we should be saying more often.....

     What do I mean by this?? Well, I think for way too long that teachers, students, parents and even administrators have thought that teachers should or do know all of the information about the subject matter. While many teachers are very knowledgable and appear that way, isn't it a bit silly to think that one person knows and contains that much knowledge? What kind of message does it send to students that unless we as teachers have that knowledge that it doesn't exist? I think this is a product of giving answers to students and students repeat them for the test. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. But is that learning? Are students really being forced to think and analyze like we want them to? I don't think so.
     Bam! Then there was the internet. And Google. And smart phones. And tablets. And this beautiful Macbook Air I am using right now. (#techcrush) Now all of a sudden teachers monopolies on the truth was in jeopardy. We could no long claim to be the keeper of all knowledge about history, science, English, math and everything else. Mr. Wolski can I use my phone to look this up? Why would I say no?? When they leave my room they are going to do it anyhow. There are two ways we as teachers can look at this change (which by the by is already here). We can resist and refuse to change or we can embrace this world that all of our students are already living in and are trying to adjust to on a daily basis. But they need our help. They need us to say those three magical words of "I don't know" and help them to find the answer.
     But Mr. Wolski, you say, the students don't know how to use all of the information at their fingertips and get wrong answers and we have to teach them the right answers anyhow. So why bother teaching them search terms, reliability, bias, and how to formulate an argument? But isn't that our job? Are we not responsible to our students, parents, aye! our nation to produce thoughtful citizens that can solve problems? Even if the students need to be shown the right answer, isn't the process as important as the end result? Are we just teaching them content and not skill? I would argue that is 1950s thinking, not 2014 thinking. What kind of worker is needed right now? One that can recall simple knowledge or one that knows that same knowledge and can solve problems as well? Who would you hire?
     I don't know. What if we said this more often because we designed lessons that made the students investigate, explore, wonder,  and inquire? Instead of having students lather, rinse and repeat why don't we ask them to create something, to fix something, to actually solve a problem. By doing this, though, we have radically changed our role from the pronouncer of information to the guide who says I Don't Know often. I get it. I get it. Students want to be told here is the information repeat it later. Yes, it is a scary thought as a teacher to really not know where your lessons might take students.

Let go.

Tell your students, I Don't Know.

Help them discover the answer. They will learn. You will learn. But if you hold on to that notion, that tradition of always being right, how will you grow? How can you expect your students to grow? Model that growth. Be a student yourself and show them that being wrong or simply not knowing is a part of the process. It's powerful. If knowledge is power then not knowing is the fuel to that power.

Or maybe, I'm wrong.

I don't know......


  1. Welcome to the Reflective Teacher @TeachThought blog challenge! Great to have you in the community. I loved reading your post and couldn't agree more. A few years ago my students created a motto that I hold onto even now - "We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environments." Absolutely loved it. Says it all really - if we think we know everything and have nothing to learn, then we're probably in the wrong profession.
    The kids who created this motto were only 8 - 10 year olds so I was pretty proud of them and their wise words.
    Look forward to reading more of your posts. Enjoy the challenge!
    Justine :-)