I Don’t Know The Answer


I do not know what the next big thing in education is going to be.  I do not know what new technology devices are coming around the corner or the future impact they will make in our classroom.


At times, I do not know what will be the best way to help that struggling student. A teacher needs help; I might not know what to tell them to get them going in the right direction.  There are times I do not know the answer to a question from a parent or director.  


There have been hundreds of times in my career when I could hear myself thinking, “I do not know the answer.” During that brief moment, it feels depressing to think that I may not be able to help, encourage, direct, or lead.


I think we all have been in that situation where the pressures and challenges around us bring us to a point where we tell ourselves, “I do not know.”  My friends, I am here to tell you that not knowing is not the end of the road.  You do not strike out when you reach the phase of uncertainty or discomfort.  As long as we try and keep trying, we can still make an impact. We might not know the answers, but we can always try.  


As educators, we face thousands of decisions each day.  There is no doubt that we will come to a challenge that makes us step back, pause, and more than likely, doubt ourselves.


The most significant thing that I have learned during my time as an educator is not to give up.  There are going to be days that seem to just make us want to give up because we do not have the answer.  I do not have the solution to help you if you face this challenge, but the following mindsets have helped me in the past.


Make decisions on what is best for kids

Common sense.  We are in this business for kids.  Everything we do should be to help our children become their personal best.  Every decision should be base on helping each child learn at high levels in a safe and secure environment.  What other reason are we in education?  Our focus should always be on what is best for the children that enter our doors each and every day.


Todd Nesloney, a good mentor and friend of mine, said, “It is common sense, but is it common practice?”  We need to make it standard practice to make any and all decisions based on our children.  When we do not know the answer, think about what would be best for your students.  In the end, they will be the ones who will reap the benefits of your decisions.  When you do not know the answer and are not sure what to do….think about what would be best for your kids.


There are no problems, only challenges.

An old mentor and friend always told me this.  She reminded me that we need to stop focusing on things as problems.  Look at them as challenges.  Challenges can be overcome while problems, stay as problems.


Each day we may encounter challenges in our classroom or school, yet they are only challenges. Sure, some challenges can be conquered in mere minutes, while others seem to take days or weeks.  The underlying, common factor…they can be overcome.  Try to focus on challenges for what they are — an opportunity for you to discover a solution.  Remind yourself that if you run into a question you don’t have an answer for it is simply a new challenge; a chance for you to shine.  In time, if you persist, you will overcome those challenges.


Two Heads are Better Than One

We are better together.  We need to stop looking at challenges as our own and embrace the idea that those around us might be able to offer insight or advice that may help.  When we open up and seek input from others, our challenges often become easier to overcome.  We have become a society where asking for assistance is seen as a weakness.  There have been plenty of times in my career when I kept my mouth shut in fear that I would be looked down upon or viewed as incapable. I still feel that way at times, but at least I am learning to welcome insights from others.


At times it is others that are asking the questions and seeking our input.  Why not put our heads together and find a solution. Collaboration involves people looking for solutions.  Along the way they learn and grow together. We become a better team when we work together to overcome a challenge.  We do not have to have the answer to every question, we just have to be willing to work together to find solutions.  


It is key that we surround ourselves with people who understand that collaboration involves two parts:  (1)  providing assistance and (2)  asking for assistance.  We become stronger when we share our ideas and learn from one another.  I might not know the answer, but someone in my PLN might have an idea.  If we seek input, we find input.  When we learn from others, we can share what we learn, and the process never ends.  Keep seeking out others you can grow and learn from.  If we do not know the answer, then take time to learn about the answer from others.


Go for it

Sometimes it is not that we do not know the answer, it is that we fear what it takes to get the answer.  We fear the steps that are required to approach the answer that might help us.  It is a risk for us to take.  


The real fear of all of us should not be the fear to take the necessary steps but, instead, the risk of not taking any steps and being stagnant.


Education is full of risks.  Try it, do what it takes to help the kids, ask others for their opinion, but no matter what, go for it.  A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what it was made for.  Set sail into the face of challenge.  Yes, there is a possibility that we will not be successful. However, failure is guaranteed is you never try.  Going for the answer to one question may lead to more questions, but it may also lead to the answer to questions you didn’t even realize you had.  You will never attain the answer unless you first try.


Try and Try Again

We fail.  We fail and fail again.  No matter if we take a risk, ask others for input, see things only as challenges, and put kids first….we can still fail.  Our lives are full of failures, but if we look closely, it is also full of us getting back on our feet and trying again.  

Sometimes the answer we chose will not be the right one.  We will make a mistake.  Don’t let that stop you.  Don’t let that cause you to say I do not know the answer.  Keep trying.  As great educators, we see failure as a learning opportunity.  Those that are knocked to the ground only remain a failure if they stay there.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back into the game.  


“I do not know the answer” is not a final statement.  We have other opportunities to seek out the answer and learn from our experience.  I do not doubt that there will be many more times when we face a question or situation where I do not know the answer.  It is not the end, only the beginning.  I do not know the answer…..but I will persist and seize the opportunity to learn, forge forward, and become stronger in the process.



Michael Ogg is the principal at @AltonElementary in @BrenhamISD.  Michael is a husband and father of two beautiful girls. He is beginning his blogging adventures at Culture of Potential. Follow Michael on Twitter at @PrincipalOgg.

The Distance Between Decisions

Jon Harper is a passionate Ed Leader, talented blogger, and Vice Principal at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Maryland.


Many of us make hundreds, if not thousands of these a day. Some are easy and require, little to no thought. While others are difficult and can oftentimes push us to the brink. But how often do we stop and think about the distance between the decisions that we make each and every day?

Do we suspend a child or do we try restorative practices instead?

Do we use last year’s lesson plan or do we take a chance and try something different?

Do we ask for help or do we go it alone?

Do we spend time with our family or do we finish preparing for our next school project?

Herein lies the dilemma. We can’t usually do both. And thus our brain is forced with engaging in a mental tug-of-war, if you will. And it can be very exhausting!

So what happens next? I believe what happens next is what separates good leaders from the truly great leaders. Because traversing the distance between two decisions is not easy. In fact, it is often very stressful if done correctly. This is because, as leaders, people often depend upon us to make numerous decisions each and every day. Others trust that we are making the right decisions. And they needn’t have another thought about it. Because they weren’t the one that made the decision.

Those relying on us to make the decisions have not had to travel the distances we have. This is not a complaint. It simply is not their role. We knew when we signed on to be leaders that we would be forced to travel great distances in the course of a day. Distances that a Fitbit can not possibly track.

But does there come a point when the mental mileage logged in a week simply becomes too much? Does there come a time a when self-doubt begins to creep in and we find ourselves unable to take the last few steps? When does the fatigue of having to travel great distances have a detrimental effect on the day-to-day decisions that we must make?

I wish I had an answer to this question. But I don’t. What I know is that I am going to continue to travel the distance between decisions as I always have. To the best of my ability.

There are days when I leave school feeling like a warrior who has traveled many miles, but has made the right decisions. Then there are days when I feel like one of the Spartans from 300 who has fought the good fight, but still ended up defeated.

I don’t think that there is a simple solution to this conundrum. As long as I am in a position of leadership, as many of us are, I will have to travel great distances between decisions. And it can be exhausting. And it can be frustrating. And it can be deflating.

But you know what?

It can also be invigorating!

To know that there will be times that I will have traveled great distances, and as a result of my travels, I was able to make the right decision. A decision that positively impacted a life. A decision that inspired. A decision that would not have been made, if not for the miles I put in.

Yes, I will continue to travel great distances between decisions. And yes I will make wrong decisions. And there is no doubt in my mind that fatigue will kick in from time to time.

But you know what?

I am a leader.

I am strong.

I will not stop.

And I can do this!

So know that at times you may feel all alone. And afraid. And defeated.

But take solace in knowing that we too are traveling this distance with you.

You may not see us.

But we are there. Wishing upon the same stars. And taking comfort in knowing that you are gazing up at them too.

“March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns or the sharp stones on Life’s path.”

Kahlil Gibran