A piece of advice I give to new teachers every year is to be willing to say “I don’t know” and “I’m sorry.” This is advice that bears repeating over and over again. Perhaps it’s human nature, but these are hard things for us to admit. As teachers we worry about saying that we don’t know for fear that we will look like we don’t know what we are talking about. Saying “I’m sorry” of course implies that I was wrong. Neither of these is appealing if I’m trying to come across as an authority to teach and guide students.
But the power of these phrases lies in their ability to build trust and relationships. When we say “I don’t know” or “I’m sorry” to our students we are making ourselves more vulnerable. We are opening ourselves up to them. We are proving to them that we are real people who make mistakes and can admit it. This builds trust, and actually increases our effectiveness as teachers. Our own ego that makes this hard is hurting us quite a bit.
I personally have always had trouble admitting when I am wrong, but I’ve been forced to do it over the years. Recently I taught my juniors about pronoun antecedent agreement. The lesson was thrown together a bit too hastily and my examples weren’t nearly as clear as they should have been. Half way through the lesson I had to stop and apologize for how unclear I was being. I wanted to just plow on. I wanted to blame them for not trying to understand. The reality was I did a poor job planning this and, as a result, a poor job explaining it. It was hard to stop and say that I’ve messed up, but it was necessary. Obviously at this point in the year, I have already established trust and relationships with my students, but to maintain those relationships, I had to do this. I tried to do it seamlessly; most of them probably didn’t even realize how hard it was to stop and admit my mistakes.
Learning happens when relationships happen. Relationships happen when trust occurs. To achieve that we must put aside our egos and say “I don’t” and “I’m sorry.”