The Magic is in the Margins

Are you teaching in the moment or in the margins?

This is a very important question to educators need to ponder through out their teaching career, which I plan on revisiting this question by the end of this blog post. So what do I mean by teaching in the moment vs. teaching in the margins? This distinction is the difference between genuine learning and grazing the surface in the classroom.


Teachable Moments

In the classroom, there are so many opportunities for teaching in the moment. There might be a fantastic discussion going on in the classroom and all of the students are engaged. This would be considered a teachable moment. Teachable moments are those that come about in the heat of curiosity or in the lull of confusion. These moments are prompted, expected. They are, no doubt, an incredibly important part of teaching, but teachable moments are only a small part of teaching in the margins.

Teaching in the Margins

The word “margin” is defined as “an area, state, or condition excluded from or existing outside the mainstream” by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In the classroom, this is the atmosphere of genuine inquiry and unaccustomed academic development. Teaching in the margins of the classroom entails operating outside the box of expected responses and controlled thinking. Teachable moments may occur in the teaching atmosphere of the margins, but teaching in the margins is more of a setting to operate your classroom rather than just a defined moment in class. Teaching in the margins would be pushing your students to talk about some of pressing issues that seem like taboo topics in other settings of their daily lives; particular to science, an educated discussion about climate change and its repercussions takes place in the margins of the classroom. The margins are a place of growth and substantial learning for both the students and their teachers.

How to Teach in the Margins

  1. Encourage students to say how they feel on a particular subject
    • Students need to feel comfortable to be uncomfortable in the margins of the classroom. If they feel that their opinions or thoughts will be judged, they will be less inclined to participate and thus will not be able to flourish in the discussion.
  2. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable
    • Not even in a perfect world will all people agree on everything. We, as educators, need to facilitate discussion that push students to share their own opinions/thoughts in a respectful and educated manner which will allow their peers and teachers to learn from their point of view. It is okay to have differing opinions, to not know something, and to consider changing your original beliefs on topics. This is all part of teaching in the margins.
  3. Encourage students to be open to changing their minds
    • Another way students can feel comfortable with being uncomfortable is to allow themselves to take other’s thoughts into account. Urge them that it is okay to change their minds on a topic. Allow yourself as an educator to be affected by your students thoughts; be open to changing your mind too.

Real learning and genuine curiosity occurs in the margins of the classroom. The place where discussion can lead to “new areas, worlds, places, and potentialities” (Haley-Oliphant, 102). So, I ask again, are you teaching in the moment or are you teaching in the margins?


  1. Hi Lauren,

    I really enjoyed reading what you had to say in this blog post. Getting students to be comfortable outside of their comfort zone and speaking what they want to share is really important for creating a positive learning environment. How would you personally handle a situation where two students are getting heated over a particular topic since most classes in grades 7-12 are around 55 minutes. Do you think that’s enough time to teach and resolve conflict that may arise from teaching in the margins or does it require time outside of the classroom?

    • Hi Jay!
      Thanks for responding to my post! You ask some great questions in your comment that are great for me to think about before embarking on my teacher journey! Of course I want to be able to allow my students to have an open and honest discussion with each other, but I do want to make sure that the discussion is respectful. I would make sure to facilitate the discussion in a way where students are able to share their thoughts and feelings while also listening to all of the points their peers have to make. I feel like I could ensure this by being apart of the conversation myself, students would be less likely to talk over each other or me if I am directly involved in the conversations. I also feel that discussions can always be picked up the following class, it might even be good for students to have some time to ruminate on their thoughts about the discussions in class! Thanks again for your questions jay!!

  2. Hey Lauren, I really liked your ideas on being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s something that I think can go along way to better not only your students but society as a whole. If we can teach our students to speak their mind and have tough conversations, I the world would probably be a better place. We’d be able to solve our problems a lot easier if everyone was able to just sit down and have an honest conversation about it. Some people may think that science classes are not the place to have these conversations, but I think they’re wrong. There is plenty of controversy that we can discuss in the science classroom that would be great practice for out students to have these conversations.

    • Hey tommy!
      Thanks so much for responding to my post, I really appreciate it! I completely agree with you that sitting down and having an honest conversation about certain topics would help us all solve our problems SO much easier! And like you said, I think science classes are perfect environments to foster these sorts of conversations; it’s where we encourage curiosity and inquiry and students feeling comfortable enough to bring these aspects into conversations is so important for their overall education and understanding! Thanks again for your input!

  3. Hi Lauren! I really enjoyed reading your post. Your treatment in the description of the differences between teaching in the margins and teachable moments is so throughout and clear. If anyone had any misunderstandings of what these two definitions meant I would send them your way! I also really like how you said that teaching in the margins you need to encourage your students to be open to changing their minds (along with yourself as the teacher). Can you envision a time where you would have to discuss with students to remain open minded? How do you think you would approach that conversation?

    • Hi Colleen!!
      Thanks so much for replying to my post! I really value the questions you asked in your comment, I feel that they are very important to think about before I have an actual classroom of my own! I feel like when a student might be sharing their opinions on a certain issue and other students might have differing view points, it would be important for me to remind all students to be open minded and open to suggestion. A specific example could be if the topic of climate change arises in the classroom; it is very possible that students may have differing opinions on the topic, but it is important to discuss nonetheless. Thanks again for your comment and questions, I appreciate it!

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