“I don’t know” is sometimes the right answer

Dennis Sparks

My criteria for a radio or TV talk show worthy of my time and attention include well-informed guests, diverse points of view, and a moderator who is able to bring out the best in those guests.

In addition, I appreciate talk show guests who are able to say “I don’t have information about that” or simply “I don’t know” when that is the case.

Saying “I don’t know” is also an essential skill for principals and teacher leaders.

Sometimes I joke with school leaders that they seem to believe that their job descriptions include a responsibility to know the answer to all questions and to be able to solve all problems.

Schools that have ambitious, stretching goals give their leaders lots of opportunities to say “I don’t know” because by their very nature such goals require school communities to invent their way forward. There are no right answers.

When school leaders don’t pretend to know everything, others in the school community have opportunities to develop their problem-solving muscles.

Plus, when teachers see principals responding honestly they are more likely to be vulnerable with their students and colleagues.

Fortunately, once you get the hang of it, it is easier and less stressful to be imperfect.

And, in the long run, our candor will be respected and appreciated by others.

Question: How have you and others benefited when you were able to simply acknowledge, “I don’t know?”

7 Responses to ““I don’t know” is sometimes the right answer”


  1. 1 mazdarx71987 February 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

    One benefit I have found to saying “I don’t know” is that it is an opportunity to build team by us searching for the answer together. Another is that it builds trust by being honest.

  2. 3 Patricia T. De Bello February 5, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I truly believe to develop life-long learners of youngsters, their family members, teachers and other school personnel, creating an environment of being able to say/admit “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand that” will change the status quo and “give permission” for tremendous system and personal change and growth. Patricia De Bello

  3. 4 Rebecca Morr February 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    In all walks of life, simply acknowledging “I don’t know,” can increase the level of trust. A few days ago, I asked the person who was installing a device on my home a question. He answered, “I don’t know.” Instead of decreasing my level of confidence in his qualifications, his honest response actually instilled more confidence that this was someone I could trust.

  4. 6 Ronni Reed February 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Another added benefit of saying ” I don’t know” is that it is another opportunity to say, “Let’s find out together.” Or, “Let’s have our collaborative team work on this.”


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