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Discussing Critical Incidents

In our last blog, we highlighted ways you can support your students though the simple act of acknowledging that you are aware of the range of thoughts and emotions that people may be experiencing around current events. Here, we would like to share some thoughts about ways to respond if, in your class, one or several students want to discuss a recent incident involving, for example, hate or bias.

You may begin by acknowledging the students who raised the issue, maybe by thanking them and pointing to the importance of their concern. You can note that people may have different feelings and thoughts about the issue and affirm your own and the institutions commitment to the values of diversity, civility, and respect. As you consider whether you are ready to discuss the issue right away, it may be helpful to make some of your thinking transparent to your students, acknowledging, perhaps, that you are torn between wanting to make time for the conversation and wanting to honor your commitment to teaching your subject. You may also want to get a sense about the interest and willingness of other students to share their perspective on the issue. You could do so after class by sending out a Google form in which students can state their preference anonymously. (You can also use this technique proactively when an incident occurs, signaling that you are thinking about students, even when they are not sitting in class.) If you and your students want to engage in a conversation, you can schedule it for a later class period, or a time outside of class, and suggest ways for everyone to prepare. If you schedule the conversation during normal class time, you may consider offering students the option of opting out of the conversation to make room for those who may have good reasons for not wanting to participate in a difficult dialogue.

Our colleagues in Michigan break down the actual process of facilitating a difficult conversation in into nine steps including

  • identifying a clear purpose for the conversation
  • establishing ground rules
  • providing a common base for understanding
  • creating a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow
  • including everyone in the conversation
  • being an active facilitator
  • summarizing discussion and gathering student feedback
  • handling issues that involve the instructor’s identity
  • and identifying university resources.

This guide helps you to consider each of these steps in detail.

As always, we would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

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