Ep 11 - How to Respond Effectively to Students During Difficult Discussions: Five Tips for When You Feel Overwhelmed

Even experienced educators who consider themselves decent discussion facilitators can get stressed out during difficult discussions, and are always looking for ways to improve their skills.

In today’s episode, I focus on the kind of discussions that are difficult because a class is talking about injustice of some kind, and privileged students and facilitators (unknowingly or not) perpetuate the injustice through their means of engagement.

This oppressive behavior creates conflict, as the students (or facilitators) who are targeted by the injustice are forced to defend themselves against harm or disengage.

It might be tempting to say that the “difficulty” lies in everyone’s experience of the conflict, but that isn’t so.

Such conflict may be “difficult” for privileged facilitators and students who are uncomfortable as they figure out how to navigate through a process of preventing or resolving the conflict.

But for the students or facilitators who are targeted by the injustice, the conflict isn’t simply “difficult.” It can be traumatic.

So while everyone in a discussion has the ability and potential to contribute in ways that positively influence the dynamics of a group, those with relative privilege carry a great deal of the responsibility for doing so.

Despite a commitment to creating classroom spaces that disrupt unjust patterns and that inspire transformative change, facilitators can still find it daunting when such difficulties emerge. And it can be equally challenging to know how to respond effectively to students when that happens.

So in today’s episode I talk about how to respond effectively to students during difficult discussions, and I share five concrete strategies for what you can do when you–particularly as a facilitator with comparably more privilege than your students–feel overwhelmed.



At the end of the episode, I share information about a free PDF I created for you which includes the text of class discussion guidelines I wrote and have used on a number of my course syllabi to set the stage for the responsibilities students have towards one another. If you would like an idea of how you might word your own such statement, feel free to copy mine in its entirety, or revise and adapt it for your own needs.

Get your free copy: Sample Community Guidelines Statement