Jan 29 2010

Teaching Students To Appreciate Life: A Lesson From The 2010 Earthquake In Haiti

By Lisa GarnerMartin-&-Penny-sad-face

The morning after a catastrophic 7.3 earthquake rocked the impoverished island-nation of Haiti, children across the world were already getting down to business searching for ways to raise money to help the millions of injured and homeless children in Haiti. In the grand scheme of things, their actions may seem like a small gesture, but it was an opportunity for children to learn how they could become part of a global effort to help those less fortunate.

Often times, the best classrooms are the ones without walls, an opportunity to let the “real world” in with hopes of igniting our students’ curiosity and expanding their knowledge beyond the confines of a mandated curriculum. We often refer to them as “teachable moments.” A teachable moment is a priceless and impromptu opportunity that arises when an educator has a chance to offer insight and guidance to their students.

Teachable moments are spontaneous and can be identified by observing and listening to your students. Yes, I mean eavesdrop. Observe the children’s behavior, notice particularly compelling conversations, and learn how to follow their leads. Engage them in dialogue by asking open-ended questions, listen to what they’re saying, and encourage them to discuss the topic in more detail.

You’ll notice during teachable moments that you may actually become more enthusiastic than your students. It’s that “aha moment” where you actually do see the light bulbs going off, which is the reason why we all became teachers in the first place. Trust me, the experience is worth it.

One morning before school, a group of children gathered outside my classroom. Instead of discussing the gifted and bizarre performances from the previous night’s episode of American Idol, they gathered in small groups and were discussing the devastating earthquake which took place in Haiti. As a result, I decided to scrap my day’s intended lesson plans to use that “teachable moment” to discuss ways in which we, as a school community, could raise money for global relief efforts already taking place. The students were totally immersed in the conversation and broke out into separate focus groups and spent 20 minutes brainstorming ideas on how to raise funds for the orphaned children of Haiti.

Regrettably, that catastrophic event provided me with the opportunity to teach some valuable moral lessons which never could have been predicted in advance. If acted upon, classrooms full of children were able to learn a priceless lesson on the importance of helping people in need. Those teachers who seized that fleeting opportunity were able to give their students the chance to learn an indispensible lesson not taught in a classroom but rather learned through life experience.

The significance of teaching children how to develop and adopt sound moral and ethical behavior is learning how to identify and capture those teachable moments. If you, as an educator, can help build character and foster empathy and compassion in your students, your children can develop a deeper understanding and awareness of the global, social, and ethical challenges they may face in the future.

As an educator, don’t be afraid to go with the flow. Although your intended lesson plans may be temporarily derailed, the teachable moment may even evolve into a full-blown lesson plan or unit of instruction in its own right. It’s a time when your students are most likely to learn and be profoundly affected by something powerful. Take advantage of their receptivity and capitalize on it; the rewards will be priceless.

If you are interested in more information on the earthquake in Haiti or international relief efforts, please see the links below.

« Guidelines for teachers from the NEA HIN
Earthquake Lessons Online

« Resources for Teaching and Learning About the Earthquake in Haiti


  • The  is participating in the Education International Solidarity Fund. This charity channels support directly to CNEH members in Haiti who have been affected by the earthquake. These funds are managed by Education International. For more information about Education International, please visit their website at www.ei-ie.org.

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