By Teachers, For Teachers
A friend of mine recently finished getting her degree in Early Childhood. While sitting around the lunch table in the teacher's lounge one day, we were discussing a few newly-used educational terms, including the term “intentional teacher.”
I laughed at this term thinking aloud, who “accidentally teaches?” Aren't we all intentional teachers? After a few snickers and silly jokes, my friend shared the definition of an intentional teacher.
What Is An Intentional Teacher?
Wow! That is quite the definition. As I thought about this for a moment, I realized I am an intentional teacher – or at least I strive to be.
Teachable Moments in the Classroom
As I thought more about this definition, I was stuck on the phrase “teachable moments.” Are teachable moments in the classroom the moments I had purposely planned and laid out for the week? Are they based on curriculum guides, classroom standards, pages in the textbook, assignments, and assessments?
I made my plans over the years, gathered my materials, and prepared to teach my lessons. If this was the criteria, certainly I had many teachable moments.
But what if I was wrong and these were mere lessons and not really moments? I decided to look up “teachable moments” and see for myself.
I discovered Beth Lewis' definition of a “teachable moment”. She writes: “A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students. It is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher.”
I wrote down and highlighted a few words; unplanned opportunity, chance, and fleeting as those stuck out in my mind.
As someone who likes to plan and be organized, you can imagine how surprised I was to find those words defining a teachable moment. Of course, this now made me wonder, how often have these moments popped up in my classroom and passed me by.
Was every question that did not pertain to the lesson a means to distract me or was there an opportunity to teach something? Have I squelched a child's thirst for knowledge?
Unplanned Learning Opportunities
The first words highlighted were the words unplanned opportunity. This means I do not plan for anything to happen; it just does! You need to let go of the control and let the students initiate the learning.
What could happen if I just let them lead? I decided to try this out.
I was teaching a lesson on measuring using millimeter, centimeter, and inch. Since we have yet to really start using these measures, I wanted to explain the millimeter and centimeter in comparison to an inch so students would have an accurate idea of the measure. I wrote the three measures on the board. I had out all my tools, a paper clip, a ruler, and a piece of paper.
I was all set to illustrate the contrast in measures when one of my students raised his hand and asked, “Why is it called millimeter and centimeter? Is it because it has a lot of legs?”
Normally, I would just answer no and move on but I thought, this might be an unplanned opportunity.
So, I asked him why he thought this.
He answered,“Because a millipede and a centipede have lots of legs and those words start with milli and centi too!”
It was as if a light bulb appeared over my head. Here is the perfect opportunity to explain prefixes and their meanings plus acknowledge his connection with the words. A teachable moment! That was so easy and it just happened to tie in with our lesson!
Chance Learning Opportunities
The next word I highlighted was chance. I have a chance every day to motivate my students, tap into their creativity, and develop a classroom of learners. Chance is something that happens unpredictably. If we miss it, we may not get it back again.
I wanted to be careful not to miss out on this teachable moment, so I listened carefully to what my students were discussing during a group project. We were making bird nests using natural resources the students had found on the playground.
As I walked around from group to group, I was able to pick up on some of the conversations. While one group was talking about last night's Dancing with the Stars episode, another was talking about how big they should make the nest. There was a discussion about which bird might live in the nest and how much room they should leave.
Not wanting to miss this chance to engage the students in learning, I simply made a statement that could be heard over all the groups. I said, “I wonder who will live in these nests.” Immediately, eyes turned to me, hands went up, and ideas were pouring out. While the students were talking, I made a list on the board of the different types and sizes of birds.
We then discussed where we could put the nests, how high they needed to be, if the birds would add to our creations, and so much more. I would have missed this chance to engage the students and add to our lesson on bird habitats had I continued to walk by or just sat at my desk grading papers.
Fleeting Learning Opportunities
The final word in Lewis' definition highlighted was fleeting. Fleeting means, “passing quickly”. If I had dismissed the question regarding the measures and tried to pick it up a day or two later, the interest may have been gone. I would have missed this moment.
I only have my students for ten months. This is but a brief time to create a love of learning and make a difference in their lives. This is my goal after all, right? To intentionally create learners. If I want to achieve my goal, I need to seize every moment.
I thought about these words as I wrote out my lesson plans and prepared to teach. I even wrote them on the top of the weekly chart. While I know these plans and instructional units are very important to their academic growth, they are not the only means to learning. They are simply the guides that direct the stages of learning.
I now think of them as the roads to greater learning. Yes, we still have to learn our multiplication, but if someone was to ask how they learned to multiply in the “olden days,” I might want to have my answer ready. I don't want to miss the teachable moment that just presented itself.
For more information on defining teachable moments, check out Beth Lewis' article at
Want to see if you are an intentional teacher? Check out this site.
Share your teachable moments in the comments section!