Notes on The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences HaveExtraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath.
Isn’t this what we all strive for?
As a teacher, this is what I’m all about. I spend 18 weeks with you. We should have some extraordinary experiences and an incredible impact should be made. Otherwise, what am I doing here?
This was my approach when Coach Mumm did his “Thank a Teacher” night in 2016. The point was to have his senior players choose one teacher who has impacted them. Sure enough, Derick N selected me. I am not trying to be arrogant. I’m just putting my money where my mouth is – if I had spent all that time with Derick and hadn’t impacted him at all, well, I would have had to reconsider my approach to teaching.
The same thing happened where there was a minor scrum over several groups wanting me to be their chaperone for the choir trip. Reese told them it wasn’t a popularity contest. And it wasn’t. We had amazing chaperones, but I think kids who had me in class previously who wanted me as their chaperone, knew they were going to have fun in my group. That’s because I believe in having fun in class and making an impact on my kids.
Hence, why I chose this book.
The book opens with an example of two teachers, Chris Barbic and Donald Kamentz, running a school that devise a “national signing day” for their kids who are going off to college. This is a moment that began small but blossomed and grew into a monumental thing in their school. Now underclassmen see kids they’ve looked up to signing to attend college and they realize that they can do that too if they work hard at school.
Moments don’t just happen to us. We have to take advantage of the moments that come our way.
Great question –
The author offers these questions – “What if a teacher could design a lesson that students were still reflecting on years later? What if a manager knew exactly how to turn an employee’s moment of failure into a moment of growth? What if you had a better sense of how to create lasting memories for your kids?”
Moments like this – this is a text I got from a student who was responding to my final comments on her paper – are what I teach/live for.
The best part of the book is that they focus on how to orchestrate moments like this.
I really love this line – “Our lives are measured in moments, and defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories.”
I can think of two right off the top of my head. First, Amy Christianson, 9th grade English. She was first year teacher who had original assignments like I’d never seen before. One asked for us to write an ending to a story we read in class. This tapped into my creative writing love and my love for horror (I began consuming Stephen King novels in late elementary school). I spent hours crafting this piece and had a blast.
I turned the paper in, but Mrs. Christianson’s brilliance didn’t stop there. She stated that she was going to read her top three favorite ones in class.
And she did. The last one she read, which she said spooked her the most, was mine. Changed my life.
I wouldn’t be an English teacher if it wasn’t for that moment.
Second, Mr. Mueller, fifth grade. Mr. Mueller was using a camcorder to film us doing a live rendition of To Tell the Truth. As it happened, he assigned me the role of the game’s host.
I was terrible. In fact, I was going to switch with my extroverted friend, Dale. But Mr. Mueller wouldn’t let me. He said he chose me for a reason.
I went through the recording and I was boring. Mr. Mueller asked the class what was wrong with my job as host. Jenny Dennis said I was boring.
After that, I worked hard to be more engaging. I cracked jokes. I came out of my shell. I realized there was an inner-ham inside of me.
This showed me that I liked to entertain and be on stage. Combine that with Mrs. Christianson inspiring me to be an English teacher, and I have a job I love.
Why is it so important to try and build in great moments?
The author delves into the world of psychology for this. The author notes, “When people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length—a phenomenon called “duration neglect.” Instead, they seem to rate the experience based on two key moments: (1) the best or worst moment, known as the “peak”; and (2) the ending. Psychologists call it the “peak-end rule.’”
This is vital for teachers or parents or anyone! Students won’t remember every detail of a class. They will remember the peak moment(s) and the end. Now for me, this is troublesome for I tend to do a lousy job ending classes or units. Moreover, the peak moment(s) in any class are all dependent upon the student. I once texted several former students to see what assignment or project they enjoyed the most. I thought this would point me toward the one thing I do best. But it didn’t. The responses were all over the place. Naomi loved the mock TED Talk I had them do. Adam loved the Sticky-Note book report. Josh liked our in-class discussions. Sam liked the MGRP. This hammered home something to me: try to build in as many peak moments as possible so they resonate with kids as much as possible.
But it isn’t just peaks and ends that matter. For longer time frames, like classes, beginnings matter too. It’s funny that I just read that since one student responded to my question about what they liked most about class, and he talked about on the first day he knew that once I wrote my class rules on the board (I have two rules – Rule #1 don’t suck. Rule #2 – see Rule #1), he knew he was going to love College Comp.
A key line – “What’s indisputable is that when we assess our experiences, we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.” In other words, success hinges on customer service. And I’ve long believed in teaching/education we are in the customer service industry. If you don’t realize that, you’re not having the kind of impact on your kids that you should be (or that you could be) having.
Here is a great example of this. It doesn’t look as fancy as a five star hotel, but it’s expensive as one. Instead, they offer an experience that is so over the top, so rememberable that despite a modest look and facilities, they can charge as much as they want.
Isn’t this true for great teachers, coaches, and business?
This is true for Disney too, which is a great example of combining the best of both worlds (amazing facilities and amazing customer service).
The author explains how to craft peak moments –
There are four elements to crafting remarkable moments –
1. ELEVATION. Remarkable moments stand above the normal routine. This is often triggered by hitting a particular sense (like the popsicles served at the Magic Castel being delivered on a silver tray). I recall one remarkable moment I used to have in my 11th grade lit class when we read Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” As part of our intro to the story, I had students read this account on the Black Death. I recall how that document talked about how if you had the plague, you’d get these large boils in your armpits and groans that were full of blood and puss. They often were the size of apples. I don’t know why that description caught my eye, but it did. So when we began this unit, I’d have a good old Braeburn apple in my hand that I’d toss up and down once awhile. Then as students took turns reading the eye witness account, I’d keep tossing the apple and draw their attention to it. Then when they read the description about the boils, they were disgusted. I said, holding the apple up, “could you imagine having a boil this size in your armpit or crotch?” Then – without any hint at all – I’d bite a huge chunk of the apple out. Man! Kids would lose it! Ha ha. It was great.
2. INSIGHT. Remarkable moments re-wire our understanding of the world around us. I call these epiphany moments. Or as Gru would say, “Liiiiight bulb.” This type of moment still occurs in class. If you read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, you’ll have a moment of insight in your class. But if you pair that with this fascinating read, “Body Ritual Among the Nacerima,” you’ll pair one epiphany moment with another, even more shocking.
3. PRIDE. These moments catch us at our best. Moments that involve pride take a lot of prep and building up to. In other words, a goal has to be achieved. Seeing kids after a play, performance, or concert illustrates this well. One thing I discovered about this was on the choir trip when I was visiting with Megan. She was talking to some sophomores who would be taking College Comp in the fall. Megan talked about how much pride she took in her final paper, which she did a great job on. She said that when I tell kids that they have an 8-12 page paper due at the end of the course, she was horrified. But the way the curriculum is structured, you start small and before you know it, you’re cranking out 4 page papers and then you’re cranking out a 6 page paper, so the last 8-12 page paper is do-able.
4. CONNECTION. Defining moments are often social. Think about weddings, graduations, vacations, baptisms, and so on. How do you get your students to share and connect to help forge this type of moment?
The ELEVATION of students having their moment onstage, the INSIGHT of a sixth grader thinking That could be me, the PRIDE of being accepted to college, and the CONNECTION of sharing the day with an arena full of thousands of supportive people.
Remember, key moments don’t have to have all four elements. That’s fine. Just aim for at least one. Or if you can, orchestra your classes to hit all four.
This is one thing I find so remarkable about Teach Like a PIRATE. Burgess intuitively understands the need for this in his classes as a way to appeal to his hard to reach kids.