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How can I manage difficult dialogues in my class?
There are three basic ways that we hear faculty talk about difficult dialogues: in-class dialogues that were planned but did not go particularly well; in-class “hot moments” that were not anticipated and that the faculty member did not feel equipped to handle; and difficult dialogues that happen during office hours or outside of class.
In all three instances, faculty are challenged to use skills they may not have learned at any point in their disciplinary training. That lack of skill can cause them great angst, and in the most extreme situations, lead them to avoid addressing important issues directly. This is not to anyone’s advantage, and many learning opportunities can be lost. We have put together some resources to help support faculty efforts to engage with students in productive and meaningful dialogue.
A Brief Note
In in any of these discussions, it is crucial to reflect upon how our own identities and experiences may influence the dialogue. Depending upon our identities and topic of discussion, students may respond differently to these dialogues. For example, there is research that indicates how women of color are more often challenged in the classroom and must spend time legitimizing themselves. Similarly, students bring in their own histories and stories into the classroom. For these reasons, it is imperative to be cognizant of these histories and recognize how our actions and words may reinforce feelings of marginalization for some students, even though that may not be our intent. The tips below should serve as a guide, and may not be appropriate for all faculty depending upon your identity and context of the course.
A Few Tips for Planning Difficult Dialogues
Identify a clear purpose for discussion
Establish ground rules
Provide a common base of knowledge
Create a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow
Find ways to include everyone or as many different voices as possible in the discussion
Determine how active you will be in the discussion
Have a summarizing discussion and gather feedback
Identify university resources at the end of the discussion
(Excerpted from University of Michigan CRLT)
A Few Tips for Managing Unanticipated Hot Moments
In the Moment
Take a moment to consider if you are prepared to handle the issue immediately or during the next class
If appropriate, clarify the student comment
If possible, try to depersonalize the comment
Remind students of the discussion guidelines
Invite students to move around the room or write quietly
Encouraging Civil Behavior in Large Classes, by Mary Deane Sorcinelli, acknowledges that faculty who teach large classes face different challenges. This article offers ideas on how to create a constructive class climate and deal with troublesome behavior.
Often in difficult conversations our defenses are up, emotions are high, and we or our students may misstep. As faculty, it’s important to remain in control, and to understand what is happening when things get derailed. Read this short article from the Harvard Business Review to help you identify what not to do, and how to identify where things go off-track: Difficult Conversations: 9 Common Mistakes