The literature on difficult classroom conversations recommends that faculty prepare by reflecting on their own attitudes and experiences with diversity and sensitive issues. Even if you do not plan to create difficult lessons or engage with current events in your classes, you may find it helpful to prepare for difficult discussions that could emerge unexpectedly, or hot moments. See The Diverse Classroom to prepare for difficult conversations by becoming familiar with best practices in the welcoming classroom.
Suggestions for Reflection and Advance Preparation
- Reflect on what topics in your discipline might create conflict and controversy from your students’ points of view. Your reflection may help you to respond more productively if conflict arises.
- Consider how the tense topics in your discipline can contribute to your learning outcomes. For example, if one of your outcomes requires students to analyze multiple viewpoints related to key concepts, then a discussion may be a useful way to explore a range of opinions.
- Learn about microaggressions and consider how they might emerge in classroom dynamics. UMBC’s Women’s Center and Workplace Learning and Wellness offer training. Or use this worksheet from University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.
- Think about how you will help students to approach difficult conversations, so they can achieve the course’s learning outcomes.
- If you know your course will require students to delve into topics that may cause discomfort, tension, or emotional responses, tell students in your syllabus, in early class meetings, and in advance when you are preparing to work on those specific concepts in class.
- Encourage students to reflect on ways that controversial discussions can help them learn and grow.
- In addition to setting ground rules, consider enlisting Brave Spaces Guidelines. At UMBC, the Women’s Center relies on these guidelines to create conversational spaces where participants can challenge themselves, be respectful of others, and cultivate a community space.
- Practice. Research suggests that interactive role-playing or reading and discussing case studies can help faculty to build expertise in responding effectively to hot moments in the classroom. (To practice on your own, take a look at these possible responses from http://www.effectivefaculty.org/.)
- Boston University Dean of Students. (2016, November 9). Tips for engaging in self-care. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/dos/2016/11/09/self-care-tips/. Offers self-care tips designed to help us manage our feelings and contribute to a health community and civil discourse. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/dos/2016/11/09/self-care-tips/.
- Harlap, Y. (2014). Preparing university educators for hot moments: theater for educational development about difference, power, and privilege. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(3), 217-228. Harlap’s small sample of faculty reflections, written after participating in short interactive sketches of classroom interactions, suggests that this reflective work “seems to have influenced participants’ awareness of difference” (p. 225).
- Hughes, B., Huston, T., & Stein, J. (2010). Using case studies to help faculty navigate difficult classroom moments. College Teaching, 59(1), 7-12. doi:10.1080/87567555.2010.489076.
- Pittman, C. (2016). 10 in the moment responses for student incivility & other “uh oh/sigh/say what now” classroom moments. Retrieved from http://www.effectivefaculty.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/10-responses-for-classroom-incivilityb.pdf.
- Rockquemore, K.A. (2015, May 6). Dear Kerrie Anne: Radical Self Care. National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. Retrieved from http://www.facultydiversity.org/news/230091/Dear-Kerry-Ann-Radical-Self-Care.htm.
- University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). (2016). Diversity issues for the instructor. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/gsis/p3_2.
- University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). (2016). Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: some options. Retrieved from https://docs. google.com/document/d/1M7lAlGcKaSHSGVcu1HJGWVjtKHmWY_hwsmB9xAn_INc/edit.
- University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). (2016). Teaching and learning in a tense election season. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/node/92763.
- Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. (2017). Difficult dialogues. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/difficult-dialogues/.
- Warren, L. (2017). Harvard University, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://bokcenter.harvard.edu/managing-hot-moments-classroom.
- Warren, L. (2017). Harvard University, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Tips for Dealing with Hot Moments. Retrieved from http://bokcenter.harvard.edu/tips-dealing-hot-moments.