Chapter 3: Teachable moments

Encouraging and responding to questions

“I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to answer all of my students’ questions but over time, I realized it’s OK to say things like, ‘I’m not sure why that happened’. Or ‘There are mysteries in life we just don’t always understand’.”. - Teacher 

teacher with students

When a teachable moment presents itself, students’ natural curiosity may lead to many questions. To help them learn about dying and death in healthy ways, answer their questions openly and commend them for thinking and asking about such important topics.

Below are some suggestions for handling some of those ‘teachable’ moments. 

Click on each of the suggestions for more information about each.

Be honest.When you don’t have an answer, be honest about that.
Take time to think about your answers.It’s okay to let students know that while their questions are important and you appreciate them, you may need some time to think and then come back to the topic later. One way to show students that their questions are important and won’t be forgotten is to write it down and put it in a “question box” or “question jar” so it can be revisited once you are able to respond.
Check your library resources.School librarians are often aware of resources that can help educators navigate student’s difficult questions about life, death, and grief.
Keep in mind that some of life's biggest questions have no easy answers.

Questions about ‘why’, fairness, injustice, and spirituality may be particularly difficult to answer. It's okay to respond with: I don't know or to let your students know you are wondering about that too.

Create an open and respectful classroom culture.At times student questions around where a person goes when they die and other abstract concepts around death may lead to tricky classroom discussions of individual and varied cultural and/or religious beliefs. In most cases, even the youngest students are able to understand that different people have different beliefs/understandings about death. Teachers need to create a classroom culture where students feel safe to share their beliefs surrounding death, as well as respect others’ beliefs.
The word mystery can be helpful, even when talking with the youngest students.

It can be profound for children and youth to realize there are some unanswerable questions even for adults.

Rather than bring in your own beliefs, just wonder with kids.

When it comes to the non-physical aspects of death, even when you do have an answer based on your own belief system, as an educator it is better to just wonder with kids about these mysteries of life.

Click on each item on the left for more detail

See also:Encouraging and responding to questions