Friday, 09 December 2011 21:50

Empowering Moments (3rd in an Occasional Series)

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Empowering Moments (3rd 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 pick up where I left off last week when I began describing how my current students have enthusiastically embraced the goal-setting process that was the highlight of our recent parent conferences. Specifically, at the end of each conference, I helped the kids set 3-4 goals to guide our work for the next few months. The goals could pertain to academic areas, work habits, social skills, their health, or any other factor that could significantly impact a child’s learning or overall school experience. Though this process has led many children to make substantial progress in previous years, this year’s group seems to be approaching their goals with an uncommonly high level of commitment.

Each year our school creates a conference schedule that gives one pupil free day for these meetings plus five consecutive minimum days leading into the Thanksgiving holiday. I believe that the pivotal moment in this goal-setting exercise came the day after our pupil free day, the day on which a majority of the students had their conferences.

On that Thursday morning two students brought their typed list of goals to class, and I asked their permission to share these sheets during our morning circle. I was thrilled to share these lists of goals with the group for several reasons. First, this type of sharing creates a strong sense of momentum and gets the endeavor off to a great start. All important team initiatives need initial momentum and early successes to thrive and grow, and I wanted to capitalize on this moment and use these goal sheets as a catalyst to spur further action.

Second, I had a feeling that the students who hadn’t yet had their conferences were going to be intrigued with this exercise and impressed that two students had already followed up on their conferences by bringing in the goal lists so quickly. Third, once students saw the first lists, I sensed that once we recognized those early efforts, the kids would then be eager to find ways to make these lists even more effective.

That is exactly what happened.

We discussed how great it was that some students were already taping their goals to the top of their desks for easy reference. But then, we talked about how we could make these sheets even more effective. Our class does quite a bit of reflection and self-evaluation, and continuous improvement is one of the foundational ideas in our class mission statement. Over the next two days, some students began bringing in sheets that not only included their goals, but also contained sections where the kids could write down daily evaluations. Some kids chose to evaluate with our 1-4 scale, while others drew happy, neutral, or sad faces to rate their performance that day.

Other kids jumped on this idea, and each day several more students were bringing in new and improved goal sheets that included mini-calendars where they could record daily or weekly self-evaluations. Each time new sheets came in, I shared them during the morning circle, and the commitment and enthusiasm for goal-setting kept growing.

Every day the bar kept getting raised, not in a competitive way, but with a spirit of cooperation and continuous improvement. In my opinion, when the kids are learning from one another, innovating, and finding ways to take our work to the next level, it is one of the best things that can happen in a classroom. It is one thing for teachers to talk about how everyone matters and how everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the group, but throughout a process like this one, the kids see this idea in action. Team bonding grows. Mutual respect increases. Expectations grow. Children become genuinely excited about finding ways to do better in school. Kids take pride in the fact that something they did influenced how other kids approach their school work. Students do better in school because of something that someone else brought to the table. It’s voluntary, it’s contagious, and it’s awesome.

Next week, I will share photographs of many of these sheets and describe how one student’s sheet led to the next generation of goal-setting sheets that is now gaining steam in our classroom.
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