Image courtesy of North Charleston

I hate wristwatches and pretty much always have. I got my first watch for my sixth birthday that had a little boy with a dog on it. I loved the watch to look at, but I just didn’t like wearing. I am one of those strange people that hates having things on their wrist. Drives me completely crazy. As a result of my slightly obsessive behaviour, I was forced to rely on my ‘internal clock’ to keep me on time. I have honed that skill quite nicely, thank you very much, to the point that my wife thinks it is fun to test my from time to time. I am usually within about 10 minutes of the correct time, so I still have some room to grow. For more precise time, I rely on my cell phone, of course.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast that was talking about time and the speaker mentioned that the ancient Greeks used to use two main words for time: chronos for measuring time (ie. seconds, hours, days, etc.), and kairos which has a number of nuances to it, but generally means the quality of the time. It struck me as funny that these are the same two criteria that we use for research as well. We have quantitative data (things that can be measured and counted) and qualitative data (things that more subjective such as opinions, feelings, etc.). In research, there is a pressure to move to more quantitative data as it is more objective, although that can be debated as well. It is that there are too many variables and subjectivity to take into account with qualitative data. If we use a questionnaire, the participants who are taking it might read questions differently, be tired, rushed, or have some other motive behind their answers. Counting the number of participants, the number of times they did something, or the time it takes to do something is much more objective. In terms of society, we tend to lean towards things that are more countable, measurable.

Going back to the two words for time, there is even a linguistic pressure to the measurement of time. Most of the word collocations used in English are about the amount of time used. Terms such as lose time, spend time, make time, save time, and so on even show us how connected time is to money. All of those word combinations I just used could replace time with money. The connections between time and money go even further. We set our wages by the number of hours we work, not (usually) by the work that is done. Our university degrees are set by the number of credit hours (derived from classroom hours). We even set limits on what someone can do, such as drive a car, vote, and drink, based on the number of years someone has lived. That is the value our societies puts on time as chronos.

So what is kairos then? Well, to put it simply, it is more like what we would call moments in time. Remember the movie The Dead Poets Society? In that moment, the latin phrase carpe diem gained popularity with a new generation of people who wanted to ‘seize the day’. That idea of finding the opportune moment, that time when things come together and are ripe for plucking out of the stream of time is what kairos means. There is a wonderful blog post on the use of kairos in literacy written by McKinley Valentine that can be found here.

I began to think about how this applies to the classroom. For both teachers and students, we need to stop worrying about the amount of time it takes to learn something, and start focusing on making use of the moments that come along. I read an article about teachable moments that stated we can’t be prepared for those times, no matter how much we plan for it. I get what the author is saying, but I think we do need to be prepared to recognize and seize those moments as they come along. Teachers need to know how to respond when a student is ready for something and students need to recognize moments when things are coming together and be prepared to ask for guidance if necessary. I often say that the more I learn, the more I see what I don’t know. I can’t always verbalize what is missing until I learn enough to see those areas that are lacking. It is in that moment that I need to follow it through instead of putting it off. This can make lesson prepping a bit messy since we can sometimes be pulled off in directions we weren’t planning for in that moment, but in reality, we were. We strive to fill a need instead of filling a calendar.

What are some things we can do to make the most of our time together? How can we be prepared to recognize kairos when it comes along? As always, I turn it over to you.

4 thoughts on “Seizing

  1. Love the distinctions and the background. Hadn’t realized all of that! But as usual, we have to find some middle ground. Teachers ARE bound by deadlines. Students get very upset if they encounter a type of question (for example) that you haven’t taught them in class.There is a certain set of things that have to be covered and it comes at a price. Balance – leave some leeway to go dogme style with what comes up. But you can’t “let go” in a test based situation.

    1. Firstly, thank you for commenting and for sharing my post on Twitter and on Facebook!

      You are very correct. We are mandated to keep on schedule so as to meet the required guidelines of the program. Agree or disagree, this is the reality we work in. I think what I am trying to say here is that as teachers, we need to be prepared to grab hold of those moments when they come along. We wouldn’t be seizing those opportunities if they didn’t help our students in the first place. I am all for having goals and objectives. I think we need them to help set long range and short range targets. This is helpful for both students and teachers to know that progress is being made. The problem is that they should be more like hiking in the woods instead of being on a train set on the tracks. In nature, we can take different paths as obstacles or even opportunities come up. What if we see a beautiful waterfall in the distance that is not on the path? Do we keep on the path no matter what, or do we deviate a bit to take in the view? As long as we keep moving the general direction of the goal and we get there before nightfall, we have met the objectives.

      The problem is often how the goals and objectives are set. Programs who set the targets too tightly, don’t allow for ‘real life’. Just because one group was able to get through it in that time doesn’t mean ALL groups will. Some work faster, some take more time. Giving latitude in that schedule makes all the difference.

      I hope that makes sense.

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