Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bricks and Mortar: Teachable Moments

The last piece of our Honor House at Calvert are the bricks and the mortar: teachable moments. Each day, our students make mistakes, push the envelope, say things they don't really understand (or things they do), treat each other poorly, and generally act like pre-adolescents act.

Hopefully, we who are working with these students are excited about the great gifts they bring to a school and our classrooms and, frankly, should enjoy being around them. As middle level educators we understand this age is not easy to deal with - there will be moments of frustration - but we see what kind of influence we have and take it very seriously.

Despite their outward appearance, these students are watching us closely - our reactions, body language, voice level and tone, collegial interactions, and overall demeanor are all under a micrscope. As such, we have a huge responsibility to model appropriate behavior and take every measure to "seize" moments when our students step out of the bounds of the Honor Code - big or small.

In her article, "Teachable Moments for Social Justice" (Independent School Magazine, Spring 2008), Mara Sapon-Shevin outlines a way for teachers to sieze opportunities for character education and social justice as they arise. Sapon-Shevin outlines four ways to seize these moments:

  • Build up knowledge in order to "improve our sensitivity to the occurrence of the teaching occasion"

  • Develop a "classroom community" that allows for productive responses

  • Develop responses for both reactive and proactive situations

  • Personally commit to maintaining a "democratic, inclusive school"

During our discussions on the Honor Code last year and the application to our students we used these ideas to develop a Toolbox for confronting sticky issues at Calvert. Within each realm described above we came up with a number of ideas of how to seize the moments in our classrooms at Calvert. That Toolbox can also be found to the left of this post under Useful Dean Links.

You can find some highlights below:

  1. Know the kids - social issues, surroundings

  2. Basic knowledge of world events - be prepared to answer tough questions

  3. Use Diversity Director as resource


  1. Advisories - provide a safe atmosphere to discuss

  2. Addressing it - quick is good, but know the answer and don't be afraid to bring in help

  3. Strategize for confronting issues arising outside classroom but seeping into it

  4. Take time to determine real issue - meanness vs. in/exclusion

  5. Pose issues back as questions - restate the issue

  6. Set ground rules for the classroom

  7. Extrapolate an ethical question from each lesson to build trust in discussion


First, make sure all responses are age appropriate. a reaction to a 5th grade is going to be different than a reaction to an 8th grader.


  1. Restate the statement as a question

  2. Code words to let them know you don't like it

  3. Conversation about acceptable situations


  1. Advisory time to expand definition of diversity

  2. Come back to Code word and discuss what caused it to prevent a reoccurence

  3. Rules in classroom cover a large amount of the things that come up

  4. Give them the tools to maintain beliefs and opinions, while still providing content on quiz/paper/etc.

  5. Find a list of famous people for particular situations: various religions, learning disabilities, diversity, etc.

  6. Role play and case studies

  7. Guest speakers


  1. Important to be human: we make mistakes and own up; acknowledge it - students want fairness and justice

  2. Put yourself out there, share personal experiences

  3. Bring it to students to talk and listen to their ideas - validate their insightfulness

  4. Model respect and team building

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