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6 Strategies for talking with students the day after the election

Written by Ayodele Harrison

In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project surveyed more than 10,000 administrators, teachers, counselors and support staff about their post-election classroom and school environment. Survey data showed that half of teachers surveyed were uncomfortable bringing up the election and politics in their classrooms. 

Come November 4th, the day after the 2020 presidential election, no matter who America elects to the highest office, emotions will be raw and difficult to navigate. Your colleagues and students will definitely have something to say. With many schools operating virtually, you can more easily avoid conversations with your colleagues, but there is no avoiding students. 

Big Question #1: Are you ready? 

Recently, I created a short video sharing a list of questions educators should answer before engaging in difficult/emotional conversations with students (or anyone else for that matter). This list came from Tristan Hunter, a fellow Black Male Educator based in North Carolina, and his colleagues, Jaime Boston, Ashley Cooper and Shamara Hart.  

Big Question #2: What’s your plan? 

Tristan and his colleagues offer us 6 strategies for facilitating critical conversations and managing hot moments in the classroom:  

STRATEGY #1: HOT TOPIC QUICK WRITES

When a “hot moment” erupts in the classroom, have everyone take a break and write out what they’re feeling or thinking about the conversation. This can allow emotions to cool enough for the discussion to be respectful and constructive.

STRATEGY #2: ACTIVE LISTENING AND UNDERSTANDING

Ask that students try to understand each other’s perspectives before reacting to them. For instance, ask a student to listen carefully to another point of view, ask questions about it, and restate it before

offering his or her own opinion.

STRATEGY #3: HOT TOPIC 1-1’S

When necessary, talk with students outside of class about what happened. This may be especially important for the students who were most embroiled in the hot moment.

STRATEGY #4: MONITOR YOURSELF

Do not personalize remarks, and do not respond angrily or punitively to students whose positions you find offensive. This could increase the intensity of the conflict, and preempt the students’ learning.

STRATEGY #5: THE CRITICAL INCIDENT QUESTIONNAIRE

At the end of the day (or week, or unit, or other appropriate time period), set aside 10 minutes for the group to respond in writing to a few specific questions. (This may be especially helpful to do when a class session has been particularly difficult or tense). Google “Critical Incident Questionnaire by Stephen Brookfield”

STRATEGY #6: THE FIVE MINUTE RULE

The five minute rule is a way of taking an invisible or marginalized perspective and entertaining it respectfully for five minutes. Only those who can speak in support of it are allowed to speak, using the questions below as prompts. All critics must remain silent.

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