Can occasionally saying "I don't know" make me a better teacher? If so, why?
January 20, 2011 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Can occasionally saying "I don't know" make me a better teacher? If so, why?

I teach composition/rhetoric to college undergrads. On my way to class the other day I was reading David Brooks's article "Social Animal" in this week's New Yorker. At one point, he presents the following hypothetical situation involving a teacher:

What mattered most was not the substance of the course so much as the way she thought, the style of learning she fostered. For instance, Ms. Taylor constantly told the class how little she knew...Ms. Taylor was always reminding the class of how limited her grasp of any situation was. "Sorry, I get distracted easily," she'd say, or, "Sorry, sometimes I jump to conclusions too quickly." In this way, she communicated the distinction between mental strength (the processing power of the brain) and mental character (the mental virtues that lead to practical wisdom). She stressed the importance of collecting conflicting information before making up one's mind, of calibrating one's certainty level to the strength of the evidence, of enduring uncertainty for long stretches as an answer became clear, of correcting for one's biases (28).

Reading this reminded me of something I'd come across previously in Ken Bain's great book What the Best College Teachers Do. Bain's surveys suggest that students are often more reassured and engaged when a professor admits to not knowing, but shows the desire to know, than when he or she firmly asserts an answer no matter what.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and I'd like to explore the topic further. I'm wondering if others have experience with this, and if anyone can suggest other readings.

When I looked up Bain's book on Amazon just now to make sure I had the title correct/author correct, I saw a book called Teaching What You Don't Know, which appears to be about how to teach outside of your field. This isn't what I'm wondering about. Not knowing the material is one thing, and that, of course, doesn't seem advisable. What I'm talking about is expressing uncertainty for something that might come up in a class discussion, something outside of the immediate scope of the day's class, something that I, as a teacher in my field, might still be grappling with and don't yet have a firm answer to.

I asked two of my classes about it today because we were in the middle of discussing how writers develop credibility. I asked them how my saying "I don't know, but let's try to figure it out," would affect my credibility. Some said it would make me seem less professional, which makes sense, but others did seem to feel that it would make me seem more involved in the material at hand.

Again, any other relevant experiences from other teachers would be appreciated, as would suggestions for further reading on the subject. I know that lots of people, from John Keats to Pema Chodron, have written about the value of uncertainty, but I'd especially like to read about it in terms of its utility in the classroom.
posted by 6and12 to Education (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I should also add that this is something I already do. I don't want to give the impression that I've never had to say "I don't know," or that I'm skeptical of doing so. On the contrary, I find that it often helps in a number of ways.
posted by 6and12 at 6:07 PM on January 20, 2011

I asked two of my classes about it today because we were in the middle of discussing how writers develop credibility. I asked them how my saying "I don't know, but let's try to figure it out," would affect my credibility. Some said it would make me seem less professional, which makes sense, but others did seem to feel that it would make me seem more involved in the material at hand.

Asking them isn't the same thing as just doing it.

If forced to have an opinion on the matter, lots of people who wouldn't even notice that you'd admitted your ignorance are going to claim it makes you seem less professional. Because, you see, that's what ignorance is supposed to do, right?
posted by Netzapper at 6:10 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

As long as you follow it with, "...let's look it up," or, "...I'll find out and let you know," or even, "...Does anyone here know the answer?" I think it's okay.

There's nothing worse than knowing the teacher doesn't know what he/she is talking about because you (as the student) do, and he/she lies about it.
posted by cooker girl at 6:12 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Put it in the Parking Lot. We did a giant software upgrade where I work, and people would ask 'what if xyz abc?" I had no clue, so I was taught to say 'let's put that in the parking lot' which was a giant flip chart where we wrote down their issues and maybe got back to them.
posted by fixedgear at 6:15 PM on January 20, 2011

I think the idea is to model someone who is passionate about learning. You can't be passionate about learning if you already know everything.
So it's not necessarily important about whether or not you're literally admitting "I don't know." It's a whole stance towards being a knowledgeable person (there's a reason you're up there in front of the class, not sitting in the back row) who is still constantly growing your own knowledge and understanding and interpretations.
posted by keener_sounds at 6:16 PM on January 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

I've had fantastic teaching experiences when students have asked questions that really confronted the limits of my knowledge. I've also had terrible teaching experiences that resulted from the same thing.

As an instructor, I refuse to give my students b.s. answers. The difference between the great teaching moments and the awful ones was how I followed up the answer of "I don't know." When I told them I'd find out and forgot... that turned out horribly, as expected. But when I followed it up with "That's a great question, and one I don't know the answer to. How do you think we should go about figuring out the solution to that problem?" it's led to incredible class discussions. And it's also led to students following up on their own, and reporting back to the class. The difference, I found, was really in my own confidence, and whether or not I was comfortable exploring this thing I didn't know. For me, that correlated with how experienced I was in the classroom. So I'd say that it works fabulously for experienced, confident instructors... and can really backfire on insecure teachers.
posted by amelioration at 6:21 PM on January 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

"Some said it would make me seem less professional"

These students will fall hard for con men. Seriously.

Be honest and forthright as a teacher. There is no way in Hell you can know everything. Admit it it honestly. Show your students that you are interested in figuring out or finding out the answer. Best of all, illustrate the process of learning - make an exercise out of finding the answer.

Some questions don't have answers, of course. My kids wanted to know why there were so many Ewoks in Star Wars. I gave a Calvin's-Dad response, I told them that Lucas' marketing department made them do that to sell toys.

Don't bullshit anyone.
posted by Xoebe at 6:24 PM on January 20, 2011

As keener_sounds says, it helps to foster the idea that learning is ongoing, and helps students to develop intellectual curiosity. The best teacher turned us onto a world of exploration that they, too, were enjoying - they knew more about the landscape and could help us learn to navigate, but not everything.

So, yes, saying, "I don't know, let's find out" when it's True can be tremendously helpful.
posted by ldthomps at 6:24 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pretty much everything that's been said so far confirms what I've suspected/witnessed in my own classes. With so much agreement, I'm wondering how much has been written about this. Anyone?
posted by 6and12 at 6:32 PM on January 20, 2011

I asked them how my saying "I don't know, but let's try to figure it out," would affect my credibility. Some said it would make me seem less professional, which makes sense, but others did seem to feel that it would make me seem more involved in the material at hand.

People giving the former answer are being immature. Their argument is a bit like saying that you should never disagree with anyone, because then people might not like you for disagreeing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:36 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pretty much everything that's been said so far confirms what I've suspected/witnessed in my own classes. With so much agreement, I'm wondering how much has been written about this. Anyone?

"When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know." - Socrates (by way of Plato)
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:37 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I am teaching and am asked a question I don't know, I use it as an opportunity to show the class my thought process and the resources I would use to figure it out. It sounds really basic, but I've been told it's helpful to see how I look things up - what words, resources and techniques are used by someone who knows a bit more than the class.

Ms. Taylor constantly told the class how little she knew

But this - I think this is always a bad idea. It makes students feel like you are wasting their time. Even if you don't know everything, you need to be a subject matter expert and you need to make them feel like there is value to being there.

I've observed a lot of trainings and without fail, when the instructor says they don't know anything, the students tune out.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:47 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Again, n'thing keener_sounds--it's all about modeling how a good learner (teachers are professional learners, yes?) go about tackling a new subject. What kinds of questions you ask, how do you go about identifying and evaluating resources, etc. In short, you model the inquiry model of teaching/learning, a technique that not only pays dividends in a more engaged student and deeper knowledge than traditional pedagogy. After all, isn't that what an advanced degree is: the result of documented, rigorous inquiry?

I used to be a high school English teacher, but for my first two years, they made all the Freshmen teachers teach health, too. I was really upfront with my kids that my knowledge of health largely came from my own high school health class many years ago, but that I was pretty good at learning things, so we'd figure this stuff out together. My classes of kids were fine with that, and they weren't an easy crowd. YMMV
posted by smirkette at 6:48 PM on January 20, 2011

Honestly, I'm a little shocked anyone who cares about teaching can even ask this question. The answer is of fucking course it makes you a better teacher, first because a teacher is not an encyclopedia of indisputable truths, and second (as has already been said) because your job is to "model" for them — to behave in their presence as an exemplar of — a scholar's careful, honest, and thoughtful relation to knowledge.

The students who said it'd make you less "credible" when you asked are telling you, quite honestly, about their current relation to knowledge — as they see it, they should be able to look to teachers as absolute authorities, dispensers of true and correct facts/ideas which it is their job to absorb. This is, of course, an authoritarian conception of teaching (and there may be traces of, or responses to, this expectation of authority in your own discomfort with the idea of admitting not knowing something to them).

This has already been said, but good teaching is not about successfully feeding students plausible explanations that you don't actually find convincing, nor asking them questions to elicit answers you already know. It's about engaging ina shared process of inquiry, asking real questions, honestly providing your own thoughts and responses, behaving toward knowledge and its boundaries in the way you'd like your students to learn to behave.

Good books which touch on these questions: Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years; Teaching as a Subversive Activity; Teaching with your Mouth Shut. I don't like the Bain book that much, honestly.
posted by RogerB at 6:49 PM on January 20, 2011 [12 favorites]

I've encountered several teachers in my educational career (high school, college, and two master's--I need to get a job already!) who were never willing to admit that they didn't know. Whether they knew the information cold or they had no idea, they had an answer to give, and nobody had better question that. The worst thing about this kind of teacher is that s/he stops questions cold. I stopped asking questions at all in a particular class, because it was clear the teacher knew nothing more than the (mediocre at best) textbook said, and any question asking for more information or how the information was applied was met with a regurgitation of what had already been said. I have seen it more in elementary schools, but this particular instructor was teaching a master's level class, so it does occur at higher levels.

My opinion is that some instructors, particularly in elementary grades, are self-conscious about their own education and their intelligence. They can't admit they don't know because, to them, that means admitting that they're not really very smart. At higher levels, it seems to me to be a result of lack of interest in the subject the instructor is teaching and/or a narrower or different focus than the scope of the course. They don't care that they don't know, and they certainly aren't going to look anything up, so they give a non-answer to shut the inquisitive student up.

I teach primarily at the elementary level. In my opinion, saying "I don't know," especially when that is coupled with research *with* the students, is a powerful tool. It shows the kids that adults don't know everything and shows them how adults find things out when they have questions. Just today I looked up caffeine in energy drinks vs. pop and the # of calories in a serving of pineapple.

Possibly related: In my social work education, we were taught a particular therapeutic strategy--the "not-knowing" stance. The idea is that we do the opposite of good trial lawyers--we ask questions without presuming we know the answers; we allow the clients to teach us what we need to know about their lives, experiences, etc. According to the theory (and in my experience), this leads to much greater client trust and engagement, because we are allowing the clients to be experts on themselves and not imposing ourselves and our ideas.
posted by epj at 6:51 PM on January 20, 2011

One of my professors is writing an article about teaching Theories of Justice, which is a class that's particularly frustrating to students because for a lot of questions he asks, there aren't really right answers as such, just ways of thinking about justice that are more or less logically consistent. There were a couple of useful parts to the course. First, it helps to identify the types of assumptions I had unconsciously accepted because I assumed that certain aspects of the justice system were the 'right' way of doing things. Second, it also forced me to evaluate information and form my own defensible opinions rather than learning how to most effectively repeat what he told me to say.

I think that there's a difference about trying to push students to hash out these types of issues on their own and not knowing more or less straightforward factual information in a class that you're teaching. I wouldn't be too impressed with a teacher who consistently didn't know the subject matter that they're supposed to be teaching.

I'll let you know if it gets published, I think that it's under review at the Journal of Criminal Justice Education, which might be a useful resource for this type of question in any case.
posted by _cave at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2011

You might like this book: Catching the Knowledge Wave by Jane Gilbert. She's a New Zealand educational researcher and I used her book as the basis for some research on 21st-century education (mostly primary/elementary but it's applicable at all levels).

She writes primarily about the way we value and perceive knowledge and teachers, and how "old-school" teachers were expected to know all the answers and have a one-right-answer framework. Her book is about how postmodernity is leading to a situation where there is not always one right answer and where technology and knowledge is shifting so rapidly you can't know all the answers. Teachers are learning all the time, sometimes alongside their students...and that's not only okay, it's great.
posted by tracicle at 7:01 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nothing wrong with I don't know. But prefer: I am not sure, or I don't know the specifics...but I will find out, I will look it up, I will certainly find out and let you know. Students respect
that and are suspicious if you don't know but try to bluff. They see through it.
posted by Postroad at 7:03 PM on January 20, 2011

But prefer: I am not sure, or I don't know the specifics...but I will find out, I will look it up, I will certainly find out and let you know.

I disagree. As a student, I hate it when a professor/teacher just says "I'm not sure, I'll look it up". To me, it feels like I'm being brushed off because I know that it probably won't ever happen. The suggestions above about involving your students in finding the answer or reasoning the answer to a question work much better in a classroom.
posted by kro at 7:21 PM on January 20, 2011

As a student, I definitely respect teachers who are honest about what they don't know (though this means nothing if they're the type who don't appear to know anything), and who emphasise the processes of learning, thinking and finding things out. But I think you have to stay aware of those students who think that kind of thing makes you look unprofessional (and I suspect, weak?), because they do exist, and you'll lose them if they don't trust the model of academic authority you present them with. I don't mean anyone should suddenly go around proclaiming a lot of nonsense they don't know about - but they can't just barrel on either as some of their students quietly lose faith. Teachers sometimes have to make a conscious effort to show those students how their method is better, and how it makes your work (as well as your character) stronger to graciously admit you don't know sometimes, and to go about fixing that. A lot of people never learn to do it, and it would be so much better for everyone if they did. However,

"Sorry, I get distracted easily," she'd say, or, "Sorry, sometimes I jump to conclusions too quickly."

You can definitely go too far with this kind of thing. Nobody wants to hear all about how much you suck, especially if you believe it, and just as especially if you clearly don't.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:35 PM on January 20, 2011

I'm an academic librarian and I've also taught a lot. When I give information literacy workshops to students I have them give me research topics and then we play with formulating better questions before I start showing them the library's online resources. The professors I work with in these classes get into it, we're both modeling the way research is conducted, and some of the students get into it too. Sometimes a challenging (and relevant) question can also become a class assignment. Like, wow, cool question, let's all see what we can find and share it in our next class.
posted by mareli at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2011

As a student, I hate it when a professor/teacher just says "I'm not sure, I'll look it up". To me, it feels like I'm being brushed off because I know that it probably won't ever happen. The suggestions above about involving your students in finding the answer or reasoning the answer to a question work much better in a classroom.

That's only if the professor doesn't follow up, though (admittedly, many don't.) The ones who do just gain more credibility, I think, since it demonstrates that they respect the students' abilities to come up with valid, important questions. (And while talking through the question is a good approach, it's not always practical; some questions will require going to an outside source for information.)
posted by kagredon at 7:43 PM on January 20, 2011

Kids tend to have decent bullshit detectors: admitting ignorance can be the best choice if only because any effort to fake it will often be transparently weak. At the same time, being unctuous and exaggerating the extent of one's fallibility is just another kind of bullshit; a lot of teachers seem to think that in doing things like this, they are conveying some kind of important life lesson, but you really don't need to patronize your students this way.

Just be honest. If you genuinely don't know something, say so; but don't make a show of your humility, either.
posted by Maxa at 7:51 PM on January 20, 2011

"I'm not sure, I'll look it up"

As a recent student, I found that this approach worked really well as long as the teacher followed through and did it. I had a professor who would write down any questions that came up in class that he couldn't answer, and at the beginning of the next class he would have answers. It was fantastic. I had another professor who would say, "I don't know. Let's both look that up for next week and get back to the class with what we find." I personally liked this approach, but I think it scared some people out of asking questions for fear that they might end up having to do more homework.

I also had professors who would BS their way through if they didn't know the answer. Not only did this make me respect them less, it made me suspect everything else they said. I learned very little in those classes, because I never felt like I could trust the information I was given. What's the point in paying attention if you're not sure the information being conveyed is even correct? Being honest when you don't know the answer maintains your integrity, as does following through when you promise to get an answer.
posted by vytae at 7:52 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The question you posed to your students wasn't what you're really asking here. The question should have been "If I don't know, should I say "I don't know, but...." or "I don't know" or make something up.

Almost everyone would go with the first option.
posted by kjs4 at 7:56 PM on January 20, 2011

That article in the New Yorker was drivel. A bunch of vague platitudes about neuroscience strung together, and in the end the less-than-average fictional protagonist from-a-privileged-background confidently chooses the cloudberry-flavour.

His insights about pedagogy are actually quite stupid. He's just making all of this up. His imaginary protagonist has an imaginary teacher who just keeps sayin' "I dunno!" all the time, and he finds it inspiring. No. It's stupid.

The world is full of things we know, and things we don't know. You teach what you know. You are allowed to say "I don't know" occasionally. If you say it too much, you shouldn't be teaching.

(Actually, the world is full of indeterminacy, but that is another course).
posted by ovvl at 7:57 PM on January 20, 2011

I teach engineering at two colleges and I make a point of trying to put myself into situations where I have to say "I don't know, let's figure it out." I have seen many, many, many students who have no concept of how to independently learn, or even that knowledge is something that's acquired through some kind of process. This is totally baffling until you realize that by the time someone gets to college they have had 12 years' (and something like 30 separate teachers') worth of exposure to Infallible Sources Who Never Had to Learn Anything.

I'd recommend a fairly new book, How Learning Works, which goes into a lot of detail about this kind of thing. I was at a talk to about 50 engineering faculty given by Susan Ambrose a few months ago, and I'd guess that 2/3 of us spent the second half of her talk revising how we taught all of our classes. The "modeling good behavior" aspect many other posters have mentioned seems to be an invaluable part of teaching that we very, very often leave out entirely.

(I'll add that, when I say "let's figure it out," we then proceed immediately to publicly figuring it out if at all possible.)
posted by range at 8:22 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

"That's an excellent question. Let's see how we would go about finding the answer."

I feel that would make it more about setting up an expectation that we're all in it to learn together and less about what anyone does or doesn't know. I've used this with some success in the few times I've found myself in front of a class room.
posted by nathanfhtagn at 8:25 PM on January 20, 2011

This question all depends on style. Let me tell you from the point of view of someone who has forever keenly been aware of what information they don't have, that if you often foreground the gaps in your knowledge or your inability to decide because of needing more information, it does make you less authoritative and also -- if not less professional, then into a "professional" who needs to report to someone else who can show up to meetings and talk about what they can say authoritatively and what they do know.

On preview, I agree with ovvl. There are things you know and things you don't know. So I'm not saying "bullshit people," I'm saying "know things, and foreground what you do know." I realize that it may be different for teachers, as you're modeling how to learn. But in that case, again, what's working is that you're teaching what you do know (how to find answers), not that you're blithely admitting what you don't. A lesson about how to find answers would probably be most assured of going well if you actually had a pretty good idea of what they'd discover if they took the research steps you were suggesting.
posted by salvia at 8:27 PM on January 20, 2011

I use "I don't know" or "I made a mistake" as a therapist with kids very often! Not only does it normalize and legitimize not knowing everything and not being Utterly Perfect, but it models the concept of asking for help (for adolescents, this is particularly important--imagine what an impact it can make to help teens understand how to ask for help instead of killing themselves because they're so overwhelmed with misery because another kid's bullying them).
posted by so_gracefully at 9:05 PM on January 20, 2011

this xkcd is about this.
posted by wayland at 9:18 PM on January 20, 2011

It seems to me that this issue seems to interact with gender, race, age and other social categories in unfortunate ways. A teacher who is perceived as powerful and all-knowing who admits to NOT knowing something becomes more humanised to his students. A teacher who is already perceived as lacking in ability or authority puts herself on shaky ground. Unfortunately students tend to automatically assume power and knowledge of people who match their stereotypes of what a professor should be: old white males, on the whole. It is much harder for a young black woman (for example) to gain and keep her students' respect. (Take a look at academic blogs by young women or people of non-white races teaching in America if you haven't experienced this for yourself!) This disadvantage makes the "I don't know" game a more dangerous one for young people, women, or anyone else who doesn't conform to the "professorial stereotype" to play.

Just something to bear in mind with regard to this issue, particularly if you are ever trying to compare how this strategy works for you versus how it works for other teachers you know.
posted by lollusc at 9:45 PM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks to all for the suggested readings.

ovvl, I agree that the New Yorker article wasn't particularly satisfying or cohesive, and the fact that he didn't have any research to back up his claims about teaching is partly why I wanted to ask about it here.

And again, just to be clear, this is something I'm already doing comfortably in the classroom. I was asking about it mainly because I wanted to read more about it from a theoretical perspective. I know that it works for me, but I want to hear others articulate why they think it works for them.
posted by 6and12 at 3:57 AM on January 21, 2011

I freely admit I don't know but if it's an interesting question, it's turned into a one point extra credit question - the whole class is told to go look it up. Since it's extra credit, it's optional so students don't get "punished" with extra homework. By the end of the semester we've always managed to ask enough interesting questions (with judicial massaging) that a student can cancel out a missed quiz with the extra credit.

Why I think it works:
1) It teaches the students to question authorities (me, or whatever article or scenario we're discussing at the time.) (side note: lollusc, I started teaching when I was 22 - I've never had a problem being perceived as the authority in the classroom. I'm not a POC and can't speak to that, but my experiences watching other young white women is that it's my choice whether or not I wish to be the authority and that comes down to my bearing.)

2) It teaches the students to think about the limits or implications of the addressed problem.

3) It rewards them for questioning *and*answering*. That's a two part process, you can't oxidize unless you reduce.

4) I learn interesting things from these questions.

5) The questions asked help me keep a finger on student interests. I can address examples in lecture to match those.

6) I used to look up the answers for them but stopped doing it. They need to learn to take an active role in their learning. I won't be there, after they graduate, to look things up or interpret for them.

7) Usually when they look things up, they turn to google. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the quality of information found through various sources.

8) The students get a big bump in confidence when their questions and ideas are judged interesting.

Problems with it:
1) All the strong students take advantage of it. The mediocre students only take advantage of it half the time. The weak students almost never take advantage of it. This is a teaching moment that isn't reaching the students who most need it. I'm thinking about dealing with this by making a close-the-loop to have some of these questions on the exam. I'm still thinking about how that would work and haven't implemented it yet. Given that the weak students don't understand that they have to take notes (if it's not on the powerpoint, they don't have to know it fallacy, and yes, I do remind them that at least once a week), I worry that this would just be one more way to widen the divide between the strong and the weak in a nonbeneficial way. I currently believe that at the college level, students should be allowed to make their own choices and if that results in failure, so be it. However, we're getting some pressure that students shouldn't be "allowed" to fail from higher up, so I've been spending a lot of time thinking about that. I'm also waiting to see if "no right to fail" is just the latest pedagogical fad (active learning, anyone?).

2) The personality type that likes to shout out random questions and comments feels "rewarded" if one of their questions is actually on topic and gets selected to go to extra credit. As I've gotten more experience teaching, I've gotten better at dealing with it rather than "letting it go."

3) As time goes on, it's harder for the students to find the things I don't know (beginners tend to ask the same things.) I've had to say "That's an interesting question, but we don't have time to go into it" if it's something I know they'll have a lot of fun reading about on their own. They don't seem to mind but honesty is an important part of my class and I don't want them to feel that I'm pandering in some way. 3b, this means the weak students miss out on the really interesting stories.

This is long, but I spend way too much time thinking about how to teach.
posted by arabelladragon at 6:27 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love "I don't know!". I am coming at it from the same sort of angle as epj and so_gracefully, in a socialworkeresque role with young adults. They are so used to being told how things are, that me saying I have no idea, without shame or discomfort, really breaks up their routine reactions. Very hard to ignore or discount.
In my experience it increases my credibility. My kids know that if I don't know, I am not going to make shit up, when I say something I mean it. That I might be honest and confident but wrong doesn't appear to have crossed their minds unfortunately/thankfully.

Not seeing yourself as the holder of all knowledge, to be portioned out meanly to only the most deserving, really tends to give good results. Disparaging yourself and your knowledge like in the earlier example however is to be strongly avoided.
posted by Iteki at 9:42 AM on January 21, 2011

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