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By Annie Soisson, Associate Director, CELT

Difficult Dialogues

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.

Difficult Dialogues

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.

Planning for in Class Dialogue

In Seven Bricks to Lay the Foundation for Productive Difficult Dialogues, Annie Soisson describes how to prepare for difficult dialogues in the classroom.

Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education is a handbook that covers ground rules, rhetoric, debate, race, class culture and more. It helps faculty reflect on “how such discussions connect with larger learning goals” and provides “specific strategies and resources that teachers can use to create more productive conversations in their classrooms.” It is available as a free download.

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 Behavior: 9 Common Mistakes

Managing Unanticipated Hot Moments

One of the resources we find most helpful for thinking through challenging moments in the classroom is this printable set of suggestions called Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom by Lee Warren from Harvard University.

The University of Michigan’s teaching and learning center has compiled numerous resources you may find helpful in responding to difficult moments.

“Navigating Hot-Button Campus Issues in the Classroom: A Few Recommendations”

Finding Common Ground

One way to set the tone of respect and civility in the classroom is to show how people who seem very different can find common ground. This Danish TV ad video “All that We Share” does just that. There are similar classroom activities that take little time and are also illustrative of commonalities and differences.

In The Danger of a Single Story, “novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

Online Etiquette

With feelings running high on social media, we need to remind our students of how to make their online dialogues constructive. Take a look at these two articles:

Civility on Social Media

Ground rules for online discussions

Responding to Current Crises, Supporting Students and Ourselves:

An article written by CELT staff that provides resources for supporting students after a crisis.