Teachable Moments

The answer is love, unconditional love. So I wouldn’t talk to the child about her fears or concerns ... I would draw out the love.
— Elsie Spittle

The teachable moment – that place where in the moment, conditions are perfect for learning to occur.  They are simple, natural and full of promise.  When the teacher and the students are “there” the perfect opportunity arises for deep learning to occur.

Are these just moments of happenstance or can we, as teachers, create them?  Sometimes they just happen.  We can be in the midst of working with our students and something serendipitous occurs: the perfect moment to share information or to note the outcome of a set of circumstances.  

But, teachers can create an environment where the opportunity for teachable moments can occur more frequently.  It is all about the teacher’s state of mind.  In a positive and affirming space, the teacher is more likely to create a learning environment where students are willing to take chances, to “give it a go,” to answer a question, to experiment with their understandings in ways they wouldn’t dare if the teacher was in a judgemental and negative frame of mind.

This was very evident in a learning resource room situation with Harriet, a young woman with a math phobia.  Harriet looked like a deer in headlights when she thought about math in any form.  She had reached fourth grade without any sense of numbers, what they were, the actions you could do with them – it completely eluded her.  The resource room teacher could see that every time this student came to join her, the fear escalated the moment she walked in the door.

What to do? What to do?  Fortunately for this young woman, she encountered a teacher who understood that to meet with success, this student would need to believe she was successful.  This was going to take baby steps but those seemingly miniscule movements would become the foundation stones for her learning.

This teacher knew that spending time with this student in a pleasant and non-threatening atmosphere was the secret to tackling her math phobia.  Did they talk about numbers and math?  Not at the beginning.  They swapped stories:  stories about playing baseball on the weekend, about playing with cousins, about being on the swim team.  Our wise teacher drew out the confidence and love that Harriet carried inside her and when the time was right, when she saw the teachable moment, she began to introduce some number concepts.  

These were simple at first – incidental learning at its best.  Questions about the timing at swim meets, how the score was kept for each inning in baseball, how many cousins she had in town and out of town.  Soon Harriet’s comfort level had increased to where she demonstrated how timing was done at swim meets.  She brought in a stopwatch from her mother’s timing kit to show how it was done.  Next step was to bring in her personal best timesheets.  Before long, Harriet was comparing her personal bests and figuring out the difference between one week and the next.  

By tapping into her place of comfort, confidence and passion, the learning resource teacher allowed Harriet to reside in a state of mind that produced positive thoughts and good feelings.  She kept pushing the envelope a little further each day until by the end of six months, the deer in the headlights feature of Harriet’s visage had disappeared completely.

And what was the essential curriculum that this teacher taught by creating teachable moments and drawing out the love? 

  • that we live in the feeling of our thinking
  • feelings mirror our state of mind  
  • home sits inside us all the time because we reside in wisdom.