Teachable Moments…Taking Advantage of Challenges

goals2“The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry” is one of the most quoted literary texts in conversational situations. It is from the 1786 Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse” which was the inspiration for the title of the 1937 novel “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. It tells us that sometimes no matter how much we work and plan, things still don’t always turn out the way we had wanted.

I am a planner; I am so much of a planner that I even schedule time on vacation. I am comforted when my schedule is known and eager to attend to daily tasks. I have proudly said, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

My own obsessive planning issues aside, some of the greatest learning experiences take place when plans go awry. The ability to be flexible in the face of adverse conditions or to problem solve when a schedule must be scrapped is an essential life skill.

Our 8th grade students are visiting Washington D.C. during the government shutdown. While there are some landmarks that are closed due to the shutdown, our students are part of a unique time in our nation’s history. Few other Americans visit our capital in a time when lawmakers are struggling through the process of governing. Representative Steve Stiver has arranged to meet with our students – an opportunity to hear directly from a lawmaker about the shutdown. Yes, much of the itinerary remains intact and our students will have a great educational experience. Yet the shutdown has created a teachable moment … a unique experience to be part of our nation’s history.

As classroom instruction becomes increasingly dependent on technology I often hear, “technology is great … when it works.” The best designed lessons can be turned into chaos when the internet is down or bandwidth prohibits access to the desired resources. It is often these lessons, where the teacher engages students about flexibility and problem solving that create an opportunity for authentic learning. As adults, we model handling frustration, overcoming obstacles and creating meaning out of failure.

Those beach vacations disrupted by the rainstorms, the holiday gathering extended by a blizzard or a blackout during a sleepover are all teachable moments. While the best laid plans have the chance to go awry, the chance to model positive behavior for young people provides endless opportunities for creating meaningful memories and helping them to be ready for tomorrow.