Insurgent Instruction: Teachable Moments and Targets of Opportunity

“The future is unwritten.”
Joe Strummer

Teachable moments are nothing new to the education profession. Generations of teachers have capitalized upon these. There have been journal articles written about them. Professional development workshops have filled summer days for generations.

After teaching for a decade, I have enjoyed my share of them. But the more interns as well as student-teachers and beginning teachers that I have had come through my classroom were not well acquainted with these…even as students.
Teachable moments are crucial to an engaging and successful classroom. These are the moments that make learning memorable. This is true not only for the students, but also for the classroom teacher as well. Just as these energize students through an arduous lesson, teachable moments sustain and inspire the teacher too. Along with successful learning and teaching objectives, these other outcomes are just as valuable.

Teachable moments are a crucial component to the learning and teaching strategy of Insurgent Instruction. A major part of Insurgent Instruction is to subvert the dominant teaching paradigm. Instead of approaching it head-on, Insurgent Instruction utilizes guerrilla tactics to achieve its aim.

Now, the tactics for achieving successful teachable moments are actually a fairly simple combination. The secret is not necessarily difficult. Preparation and timing are truly the two determining factors in the intersection of teachable moments and Insurgent Instruction.

Neither a teacher nor any conglomeration of students can create or force a teachable moment. These are purely organic and kinetic occurrences. For the prepared classroom teacher, teachable moments will arise out of an achieved stillness. In a certain way it can be somewhat Zen in nature.

But what does a “prepared teacher” look like?…Of course there are the natural, knee jerk responses. These include such items as completed lesson plans, having the entire necessary materials ready, as well as being competent in the content area. Answers such as these make it easy for administrators to “tick” boxes on evaluations, a walk through, and such. They also make educational professors beam with pride.

However, Insurgent Instruction demands that a “prepared teacher” move well beyond this point. Some of this will arise out of experience, some from reflection, and some equally from independent study. Teachable moments command flexibility from the classroom teacher that can be excruciating at times. This is primarily because these happenings push most teachers out of their comfort zone.

This is done first by moving and sharing classroom roles with the students. When this occurs especially lots of practice, the classroom teacher shifts into an equal role with their students. In this sense, there are only students in the classroom. At this point, it is the curiosity which guides the exploration. It is an excellent opportunity for experiential learning.

The second piece to balance out this description is a more traditional understanding of teacher preparation. This needs to be a true love for the content being taught. This is not a stern love to lord over students like a deafening threat. Rather, it is a love to know more than the standards and teach more than the textbook. With this love comes a caveat.

The classroom teacher should never be either ashamed or afraid to admit the limits of their knowledge. If you don’t know something, own it and admit it. The key is how these instances play out during the life of a lesson.
We need to utilize these moments when they happen…and they will happen, to learn with the students. There is not a better example of lifelong learning. Make a game out of it. Challenge the students to a race to see who can locate the answer first. Then, learning becomes as natural as breathing rather than more of a chore.

Insurgents utilizing guerrilla tactics have had to always be agile. No one plans for a target of opportunity to appear. The same is true for teachable moments. Agility of mind and body are crucial for success. This agility allows for adaptation. Adaptation to the environment as well as to the situation is vital. This is how to achieve victory…and many of the small ones are the most important.

Keeping the innate curiosity alive within the students is paramount. By utilizing the kindling of experience and exploration the classroom teacher can genuinely feed the flames of inquiry and innovation. This is the spirit of learning and teaching.

…Keep up the good fight!

12 Responses to “Insurgent Instruction: Teachable Moments and Targets of Opportunity”

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