The Importance of the Teachable Moment

These days, schools all over the country are following trends and throwing around buzzwords like rigor, highly effective, and growth mindset like candy.  But honestly, what does it all mean? How do these really manifest themselves in our classrooms? What impact is the implementation of these practices really having?  Or are they just words?


There are apps and programs dedicated to teaching children to have a growth mindset, to work hard, to believe in themselves.  I find it worrisome that we need to explicitly teach these things, and even more worrisome that because of the focus on numbers and testing (rigor and being highly effective), that somehow, character building curriculum (growth mindset) has to be taught in isolation and not intertwined with our daily plans.  I remember, early on in my teaching career, spending a week on the book, “A Bad Case of Stripes” with my third graders, through which I taught reading strategies, theme, context clues, and narrative writing. Even more importantly was the way that the book naturally lent itself to conversations about not caring what others thought, empathy, and loving oneself.  Those conversations were powerful, resonated with the children and me as we got to get to know each other better, and made for awesome teachable moments.


Unfortunately, there’s little time for teachable moments, but those unexpected, maybe tangent, points in the day where a student takes the conversation outside of the planned lesson makes for important and necessary learnings.  As I have discussed in a previous blog, allowing for these conversations builds trust and a strong classroom community, but is also an implicit way to teach growth mindset and character building skills. Reading is one of the best ways that I experienced this; whether it be discussing how to speak up when you are treated unfairly (through “Sideways Stories from Wayside School”)  or the importance of being nice to each other (“Wonder”). However, there are really easy and natural ways to create teachable standards-based character building moments, even when that is not the explicit goal. Some examples: Word problems teaching addition and subtraction can be used as an opportunity to teach little ones about sharing; science experiments with assigned roles to promote collaboration and leadership; debating key ideas in history to teach respect of one another’s differing views.  


It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out lecture, but bringing attention to how these moments can help our students become really awesome people, is worth the time.  When planning, give an extra minute or two (or ten), to figuring out how the lesson lends itself to a character building trait, and allow for the unplanned teachable moments.  In the end, you’ll be helping to mold well-rounded learners who are ready to take on academic and social-emotional challenges, and the latter will help them be even more successful in the future.

Brenda Matos

Former teacher turned product designer on a mission to continue the work of making a difference in the lives of children by providing teachers with the right tools.

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