“A developmental task is a task which is learned at a specific point and which makes achievement of succeeding tasks possible. When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.’ It is important to keep in mind that unless the time is right, learning will not occur. Hence, it is important to repeat important points whenever possible so that when a student’s teachable moment occurs, s/he can benefit from the knowledge.”
- Robert James Havighurst – Educator
When we think about “teachable moments” we often think of the unexpected opportunities that arise in life when something happens or a question is asked and we realize that we have been presented with an opportunity in the moment to make this a teachable moment, a moment where we can seize the opportunity to impart a lesson. We often associate teachable moments with children. Parents and teachers are often presented with a moment that unexpectedly presents itself where the student is open and ready to receive an unplanned lesson.
An example of a teachable moment may be when we are in the checkout line and the cashier gives us more change back then we are supposed to receive and as our child stands there observing we speak up and hand the money that is not ours back to the cashier as we explain her mistake. This can become a teachable moment for the child where we talk about integrity and doing the right thing, not accepting that which is not rightfully ours and not taking advantage of others mistakes.
When we are aware we recognize that there are many teachable moments when raising and teaching children. Teachable moments however are not limited to our interactions with children. As we interact with the adults in our life there are also times when a teachable moment arises.
A very public example of a teachable moment among adults involved President Obama a police officer and a college professor . President Obama invited the police officer and professor to the White House to sit and talk over a beer and to hopefully have a teachable moment for them and one that would radiate out and impact the world at large.
“My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what’s called a “teachable moment“, where all of us instead of pumping up the volume spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity” – President Obama
Did President Obama achieve a “teachable moment”? Some will say yes, others will disagree. The reason it may not have been a teachable moment is because it was sort of forced moment. Even though it was an orchestrated moment, it may well indeed have been a moment that people used as a teachable moment among their families, friends and collogues
One of the keys is to discern what is and isn’t a teachable moment. When we review the definition of Robert Havighurst, the key element is that the timing is right, that is the student must be ready for the lesson. To me this also means the environment must be right, meaning that rarely can one have a teachable moment when one or both parties are upset or in some state of conflict. If I am in conflict with you and my defenses are up even though the lesson is in front of us and it appears to be a teachable moment I am not as a student ready to hear you. If in the moment I am the teacher and my emotions are running high then even if the student is ready I am probably not in the best state to deliver the lesson.
To achieve a teachable moment the environment needs to be one where both parities are open and the moment is usually spontaneous, not orchestrated or contrived in any way. True teachable moments are usually the result of something happening and us having the awareness to be able to see the lesson in the experience at that moment and the student being open and ready to accept the lesson.
Know too that many teachable moments pass by us because we are “too busy” to take the time to take advantage of the moment. Parents are often guilty of this because they are engulfed in the game on TV or because they are doing the laundry. Know that with our children that some of these moments come but once. Take time to shut off the TV or take a break from the chore you are doing and be there to teach your children. At work we are often guilty of not taking advantage of a teachable moment because it is easier for us to get a task done than to so someone how to do it correctly or because we are too busy. Take the time to help your employees and your peers to grow.
Awareness is key. Be aware today of the teachable moments that present themselves as you interact with your children, your family, your colleague’s employees and even the strangers whom might touch your life today and be prepared and willing to capture a teachable moment.
A note of thanks to Lucky Ducky who is one of my readers for inspiring this writing.