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How do I prepare for tough class discussions?

oct 6, 2020

Building a sense of community in your classroom is an important part of achieving equity and inclusiveness for all students. But how do you maintain that community when the divisive rhetoric that students hear outside of class bleeds into your otherwise happy space?

Students at every level are being exposed to strong opinions associated with politics, race, and social and economic inequality. And when these hot-button issues become discussion topics in the classroom, teachers often struggle with how to handle it. Should we talk about sensitive topics? Do we ignore what we heard?

While it might be easier to avoid these conversations, it’s important to acknowledge what is happening in the “real world” because it does impact the students in your classroom.

One way to address these tough topics is through structured class meetings facilitated by the teacher.

Here are four tips to consider when preparing for such a class meeting:

1. Don’t rush this. Wait until relationships are established. Students need to have a common respect for one another and the classroom norms before being asked to weigh in on a topic that could make them vulnerable. If students aren’t prepared to engage in a respectful conversation, focus on building this skill first.

2. Use open-ended questions. As the facilitator of a class meeting, the teacher can direct the conversation with the right kind of questions. What do you think about this? How does that make you feel? What are you most concerned about? What are your ideas for solutions?

3. Set a time limit. Tell the students how long the class meeting will last. This way, when you end the conversation, they know it is due to time and not because you didn’t want to give them the opportunity to share.

4. Administer an exit ticket. A great wrap-up to this particular activity is the 3, 2, 1 Exit Slip (i.e., 3 things I learned, 2 things I still have questions about, and 1 action I’m going to take).

Effective class meetings can help you facilitate conversations that impact change while helping build a sense of equity and inclusiveness in the classroom.

Students learn from viewpoints different than their own when everyone is given a voice in the classroom. This helps every child to feel heard and respected.

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