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.

How to Approach Our Mission With Bravery

Everything I’ve accomplished in life would be void if it weren’t for the people in my life, specifically my classroom teachers, who pushed and challenged me to go to the next level.


I am a product of those who have invested their entire heart into me.


Now, when I say classroom teachers, you may be thinking of a typical room where the learning takes place, but watch what happens when we broaden the horizon and adjust our scope.


My case and point:

To my one and only high-school principal, who spent the time to actually know me and challenge me as I sat in his office explaining how I felt lost- thank you for hearing me.


To that one college professor who gave me a second chance when I was undeserving- I truly give thanks for everything you believed that I could become. As I sat in your office on the last day of the semester, completing makeup work, something shifted inside of me.


To Nick, who took me aside in a dorm room to teach me about leadership and to channel my inner strength- I honor you and give thanks for your willingness to share.


To Drill Sergeant McKeaver and Kinard, whose classroom was the rugged terrain in which we worked, slept and toiled in, day in and day out- I thank you both for instructing me on how to lead with actions.


To Paul, who took me aside in an engineering office in downtown Fort Worth and shared his stories of success and failure- thank you for opening up and being real; you continue to inspire me.


There are many different “classrooms” we opt into in our lifetime, whether self-chosen or not (and no matter your career path in life), and they all amount to the total and complete you.


Pause and realize the many classrooms you have grown in. Pretty humbling, right?


These relationship-driven leaders viewed me not only as an employee, a private in the Army, a colleague or even a student. It is so refreshing and powerful to learn that they sought to give me

growth down to the core of my true self and that they had set this as their mission.


Life empowering change can occur anytime or place as we approach our mission boldly. This is a core concept I bought into early on that I challenge you to take hold of.


We are on a mission.

We are on a mission to build relationships with kids, teachers and our fellow world-changers (and yes- I said world). We are being called and relied upon to spark change, lead the way and step up for what is wholly good. We are the ones working long hours and unifying in numbers because we have caught a glimpse of the future. We have come to an agreement about the importance of our work, right now.


We are on a mission to change education and our destination is growth, perpetual-positive change, not a final “this is finished and we can relax now” thing… No!


We have all heard, felt and accepted this mission (if you haven’t realized it until now, then welcome to the movement!). We enlist into this the moment we understand why we teach and the immense gravity of it all.


If we are so passionate about education and empowering kids and educators, why are we still going about it in a way that questions those that want to be brave and try it out?


I decided early on that I will not be a part of that culture. I will approach this mission- our mission- with bravery.


Here are the 6 ways I encourage us all to look at our role and to begin approaching the mission with increased bravery.


Begin with relationships. Show students you can love and listen

No matter what, you have to be willing to stand in the gap for your students. Life will take a hold on them and cause hurt, pain and confusion, but through it all you hold the power to speak life to them. It takes bravery, not a planned response. Relationships aren’t always easy, but they are always worth it.


Guard your heart and your head

I experienced a setback in 2017, during my first year teaching, where I had lost my mentor and was left alone. At first, I thought I was in the wrong because negative self-talk had become my normal, but certain educators stepped in and cleared the debris that had accumulated. I can not say this enough, especially since it nearly ruined my first year, but you must form healthy relationships with those you can trust and never forget to trust yourself. You are good, you are capable and your worth is not determined by a mentor or a colleague that tries to maintain a hold on you.


Lead and Teach in a way that inspires others to want to join the movement

This is crucial. This is the very reason I switched career paths to become a teacher.


Find Your Niche

You may not know it at first, but you have a void to fill. What problems will you solve? What educators will you help and inspire? Find your niche and excel at it.


Celebrate Wins

This seems simple enough, but how often do we continue to stay busy and barrel our way through the week without stopping to admire the greatness happening at your school?


Try, Take Risks and Approach Everything With Bravery

Having a growth mindset is more than being willing to make mistakes. You must be open enough to share in the process with those around you.


Let’s keep focused on our shared mission and change the education landscape together.

If you have other ideas or ways we can increase our bravery, let’s talk about it and share. Collaboration is key to our continued success.


Stay Brave.


Josh Strickland is a second year educator teaching 4th grade in Anna, TX. When not in the classroom, Josh is a proud dad, husband, and serves in the National Guard. For more by Josh check out joshdstrickland.com

Shifting Leadership Paradigms

I believe the opportunity is before us to inspire a movement within our schools. We all have unique desires for our school campuses. From school culture to innovation, it’s our teachers who have the ability to cause a ripple effect of change. Consider what teacher leadership looks like at your school. Often times, it’s not defined. Some teachers have leadership roles, but they end up stifled by constraints, or a top down approach. Other teachers develop as leaders by pioneering, sharing successes and failures, leveraging the strengths of individuals around them, and motivating colleagues in their district.


Traditional hierarchal structures may send a message that teachers are to be compliant and wait for instruction before proceeding,Shifting Teacher Leadership however, The Teacher Leader Model Standards “imagine school cultures in which teacher leaders and administrators have reciprocal relationships, supporting one another’s work and sharing responsibility for outcomes.” As we consider the vision for our respective schools, how can we ensure that we are headed in that direction? How do we excite our teachers and get them charged up to imagine possibilities, and empower them to turn those possibilities into a reality? Teachers are the key to creating significant momentum of change within schools, and empowering them through leadership opportunities is critical.


Why Teachers Leaders?

In this era of education, teaching has become more complex. With an increase in available edtech to enhance learning, designing relevant yet rigorous learning opportunities, and expectations to personalize learning, teachers are seeking a new way to balance the demands. What teaching really requires today, is leadership. Leadership puts us in control of how we collaborate toward specific targets and scaffold learning with intention.


The advantage is that teachers have the opportunity to connect daily with colleagues through authentic relationships on personal levels. They often share the same students and plan for what individuals need using collective input. Teachers hear from their colleagues first-hand about what the bona fide struggles and successes are. Due to developing a rapport with one another, they tend to be transparent, develop trust, and are able to reflect together on a deeper level. This nurtures professional growth and ultimately impacts student success. We need to seize the opportunity to develop our teachers as leaders in a genuine way that inspires them.


Teacher Voice Transcends Student Voice

There’s great value in amplifying student voice to co-design learning. The question is, how does the students’ voice make its way into conversations within committees where decisions about what’s best for students are taking place? When teacher voice is empowered it transcends student voice. Teachers are direct advocates for students. It’s our teachers who are connecting what’s taking place within the classroom and providing committees with valuable student input to connect all pieces of the puzzle.


Empowering Teachers

Every educator has unique strengths that can be leveraged. Consider who the influencers are within your school. Who will take risks without fear of failure? Who takes the time to check in and connect with colleagues about topics that are both school and non-school related? If we want to see the most growth in our schools, our building and district leaders need to intentionally work in a collaborative manner with teachers, foster authentic relationships and provide ownership to them as leaders.


Contemplate how impactful teachers could be as leaders in your school. Teacher leaders listen to and are cognizant of students’ and colleagues’ needs. They assess how they can best engage in reflective conversations to support the development of others. When the objective of teacher leaders is to empower others by adding value to colleagues, and helping them to identify their individual strengths in order to view themselves as a leader as well, we all become more impactful. By restructuring traditional protocols, we can provide opportunities for autonomy which leads to increased integrity.


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Risk Taking and Innovation

Today’s leaders are expected to communicate with clarity, collaborate and share best practices, continually pursue professional development, and be forward thinkers. Teacher leaders model and promote risk taking, and are eager to share failures for others to learn from. If we want to ignite innovation in our schools, we need to champion both teachers and students as risk takers.


While teachers have the ability to lead without seeking permission, some still look for approval. Principals inspire a culture of innovation by empowering teachers as they listen to them with intent, provide collaboration time as well as ongoing support, and work alongside teachers in an encouraging manner that’s non-evaluative. Collaboration time within a culture of yes, where teachers have autonomy is critical. New ideas develop due to the synergy amongst educators who are passionately working toward a shared vision. Teacher leaders empower their colleagues to be risk takers and this creates unsurpassable energy within a school.


Rethinking Leadership Pathways

Traditionally, teachers who are identified as leaders are encouraged to take the next steps to go into administration. While that may be the ideal path for some teacher leaders, it’s essential that we retain talent in the classroom by providing support as well as leadership opportunities for our teachers. We need to shift our culture to value the role of teacher leaders and the impact they are creating beyond their own classroom as they influence colleagues. Schools that intentionally utilize the expertise of teacher leaders rather than moving them into a new pathway are strengthening the foundation of their culture of excellence.


I envision vibrant schools filled with connected, driven teachers who join hands to overcome any barrier in the best interest of students. Teacher leaders have the ability to collaboratively cultivate this mindset within their school’s culture. What will be your role in making this happen? We all entered the field of education to make some kind of a difference. This is our time to step up and lead forward.


On both Twitter and Blab, #LeadUpTeach is driven to empower teachers as leaders and connect educators in all positions as we take part in this movement.

Lean Out a Little Farther

Today’s post is by Sandy King, an innovative master teacher in South Jordan, Utah. 

The climb to the top of the cliff had been exhilarating. I ascended without fear. As long as I looked up, with my site on the goal, I knew that I could make it up to the landing. Going down was another story. I couldn’t go back down that way that I’d climbed. I’d have to rappel. I had my safety gear on, and I had instructors that I trusted. I felt reasonably safe considering that I was standing on a cliff. But walking closer to the edge made my heart pound! I listened intently to my instructor. My safety gear was checked once more and then I walked backward to the ledge. My life flashed before me. “On rappel!” I shouted.

“Lean out!” I heard my instructor say. I looked down with trepidation and leaned out farther. “Lean out a little farther!” he repeated.  I took a deep breath and leaned out a bit more.

I took my first step over the ledge and pulled my right hand up to brake. One step led to another step. It was awkward at first, but I kept going. My confidence grew as I took each successive step down the rock face. Words of encouragement motivated me to keep going. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom being congratulated by others in my group. I was excited by the thrill of this personal victory. I had conquered a fear!

“Lean out! Lean out a little farther!” often echoes in my mind. Take a risk! Challenge yourself! Raise the bar!

But trying something new is scary. Feelings of being vulnerable, inadequate, and incapable are common. You no longer feel safe. The human body responds physically by initiating the “flight or fight response” that causes the heart to beat faster, breathing to quicken, and palms to sweat among other things. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a risk.

The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity. –Keith Farazzis

In the quiet white space of self-reflection over the years, I’ve asked, “What can I do to improve my practice?” And I’ve heard the words, “Lean out a little farther!”

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received as a new teacher was to model lifelong learning by consistently acquiring new knowledge, but more specifically, to learn new skills. The difference between gaining knowledge and learning a skill is that learning a skill requires practice.

Name a skill that you’ve started to develop within the past month. Are you learning to play a musical instrument? Paint? Skateboard? Knit? Ski? Speak another language? Maybe you’re finding yourself in an all too familiar state of continually learning new information, but not necessarily new skills. Reading a book, attending a professional development class, conference, or even an edcamp facilitates gaining knowledge, but it doesn’t require practicing new skills. We ask our students to learn multiple skills every day. How long has it been since you have walked in their shoes?

In your mind’s eye, take a moment to envision yourself learning a new skill. How did you choose to learn? (book, video, teacher) Describe your level of success on your first attempt? Do you need to be shown how to do this skill more than once? Twice? What kind of feedback helps you learn best? How often do you need feedback? What motivates you to struggle, learn, practice, and improve? How important is growth mindset? How does “coaching” help you? What would make the learning of this new skill easier for you to learn? Describe the “zone” where you feel challenged but not frustrated.

Reflecting on teaching practices from the perspective of a learner opens the mind to possibilities. It cultivates empathy and compassion. Questions such as, “How will the reflections about my own learning impact or change my instructional practices?” brings metacognitive thinking to the next level. The reflection in the mirror may not be the most flattering. Do you need more patience? A change of tone? An ability to break down a skill into smaller parts? To be more encouraging? To give specific feedback? Being humble and owning what we know we need to improve is sometimes the most difficult. It requires action and accountability.

 The mediocre teacher or administrator will use any number of excuses like lack of time to avoid this step. But excellence takes effort! Great educators rise above the excuses, make an action plan, and have others (such as a PLN) hold them accountable. The status quo is not acceptable. If there’s room for improvement, the great educators welcome the challenge. They embrace the fear of being vulnerable with a positive attitude and courageously move forward.

So, I challenge you to “Lean out a little farther!” Get completely out of your comfort zone! Learn a new skill during the next few weeks. Put yourself in the position of a learner. Start a blog, record video of your attempts, or keep a journal of your progress. Share your mistakes, your learning, and your reflections. Let those that you lead see you as a beginner with all of the mistakes you’re bound to make. Lean into the discomfort.

Are you truly a life long learner? Will you walk the talk? Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth or back into safety.” Will you accept this challenge as an opportunity to stretch, risk, and grow? You have a choice. Greatness or Mediocrity.

You’re on the edge.
“Lean out a little farther!” 

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