Friday, 02 December 2011 21:50

Empowering Moments (2nd in an Occasional Series)

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Empowering Moments (2nd in an Occasional Series):

We are all familiar with the expression “teachable moment” 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 “learnable moment,” 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 student’s perspective.

In this blog series I introduce the expression “Empowering Moment.” An Empowering Moment is a classroom occurrence that affords teachers the opportunity to develop character, foster independence, and build students’ capacity for the future.


In this post I would like to share an Empowering Moment that occurred a few weeks ago during our school’s annual round of Parent Conferences. What begin as a five-minute exercise at the conclusion of each conference has grown tremendously since then and taken on a life of its own to become one of the core features of our team.

During each of my conferences I met with students and their parents for a half hour. We began by discussing a self-evaluation sheet the students completed in class regarding the 13 Habits of Character that form the foundation of everything we do. We then analyzed work samples and discussed each child’s academic progress in all the major subject areas. As part of our “Health Champions” science unit, we focused on nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise. So, the families and I also talked about the choices the kids were making in these areas. By addressing each child’s work habits, social skills, academic progress, and health, I know that I am being faithful to my own personal goal of teaching the whole child.

To tie these individual components together, I concluded every conference with a goal-setting activity, in which each child, with help from their parents and me, set 3-4 goals to guide our work over the next few months. The kids were free to set goals connected to their Habits of Character, health, academic progress, attitudes about school, or any other factor that significantly affected their learning. When setting their goals, the kids were asked to focus on only the most important factors affecting their overall progress and happiness.

When approached thoughtfully, goal-setting is perhaps the most empowering activity in which any of us can participate because it affords us the opportunity to choose our own path, look at ourselves in depth, and make worthwhile decisions. It is personal. It is meaningful. It is motivating. It can potentially be life-changing. Setting goals brings out our best and helps us envision our best selves. Goal-setting helps us address our weaker areas and turn them into strengths. Goal-setting helps us become more reflective, more self-aware, and more honest with ourselves. Sometimes it is uncomfortable for students, and it needs to be uncomfortable for them if we are going to step out of our comfort zones, produce genuine change, and form lasting habits.

I have asked students and their families to set goals during their conferences for many years. In addition, I have requested that families write or type the goals and put the sheets at home in a prominent place, such as on a desk, a bulletin board, or refrigerator, so that the kids would refer to them often. Nothing is more discouraging for a teacher than to take the time and make the effort to set goals and then have those goals be forgotten after the conference, and I wanted to do everything I could to keep the goals relevant and alive.

In the past, results have been mixed, with some students taking their goals to heart and making impressive progress and others making significantly less progress.

This year’s group of students, however, has approached their goals with great enthusiasm and determination. In next week’s post I will share what happened immediately after the conferences to help take our goal-setting exercise to a level I have never before experienced.
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