Empowering Moments (1st in an Occasional Series):
We are all familiar with the expression â€œteachable momentâ€ that refers to those times in class when something happens that offers us an opportunity to impart a valuable lesson to our students. Recently, I first heard the expression â€œlearnable moment,â€ which basically refers to these same opportunities, but focuses on what the children are gaining, rather than what the teachers are sharing. I love both of these expressions, but I have to say that I prefer the latter because of its emphasis on the studentâ€™s perspective.
In this blog series I introduce the expression â€œEmpowering Moment.â€ An Empowering Moment is a classroom occurrence that affords teachers the opportunity to develop character, foster independence, and build studentsâ€™ capacity for the future.
The first Empowering Moment I would like to share happened a few weeks ago when my students were publishing their Writing Workshop stories in preparation for our upcoming celebration. In our class, celebrations are a big deal because they are the time when we share the projects we have worked on for weeks with our classmates, parent visitors, and administrators.
On the day before our celebration, one of my students (whom we will call Heather) was copying her edited first draft onto our nice green publishing paper while sitting on the rug. Accidentally, another student walked by her without realizing she was down there, and he stepped on her work. The sheet didnâ€™t tear, but it was noticeably bent and damaged. Heather is a conscientious worker who takes great pride in the appearance of her work, and she was understandably upset.
At this moment I needed to accomplish a few things. First, I talked with the boy who accidentally stepped on her paper to make sure he knew that Heather and I knew what he did was an accident. He understood that, remained calm, and then apologized to her. Next, I needed to speak with Heather. It is so easy for teachers for teachers to insert themselves into situations like these, take over, and make decisions. I didnâ€™t want to do that.
Instead, I wanted this to be an Empowering Moment for Heather. After ensuring that she was calm and willing and able to speak with me, I discussed two options with her. First, I told her that I know how much time and care she puts into her written work, and in this situation, if she wanted to finish her publishing on the damaged paper, I would understand and accept her project. I didnâ€™t want to require her to start over, especially since the celebration was the next day.
The second option was for her to get a new piece of paper and start again from the beginning. After thinking it over for a short time, she decided to start over. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to do this, and she didnâ€™t hesitate. She said she wanted to have a beautifully published project for the celebration. I have learned that in these moments, we cannot force students into the decisions we believe are best; we can only talk about their options, discuss the pros and cons, and trust that, over time, students will make good choices.
At the end of the period, I called the class together to share what had just happened. I wanted to take Heatherâ€™s Empowering Moment and have it be an Empowering Moment for the whole class. I explained to everyone that in this situation Heather had a choice to make, and it is a choice that all of us have several times every day. We can choose to take the fastest path to being done, or we can do everything in our power to make our work the best it can be, even though doing so may require extra time, extra effort, and personal sacrifice. With this example Heather could have chosen to finish the damaged paper and call it a day, or she could start again on a new piece of paper, even though she did nothing to cause the damage to her paper.
I made a big deal out of the choice she made, and everyone in the class looked at her with tremendous respect. I wanted to emphasize the great choice she made, and I also wanted her to walk away from this experience feeling like a winner, considering she easily could have walked away feeling like a victim.
Taking advantage of these Empowering Moments accomplishes a great deal in our mission to develop character in our students and build a classroom culture of quality.