Strategies for Teaching in Difficult Times


Strategies for Teaching in Difficult Times

Supporting Our Students’ Well-Being

When the world around the student is tumultuous, it’s quite possible that the world inside the student will be tumultuous as well. Particularly in difficult times, it’s important to keep an eye on how students are doing, and to be ready to share campus safety net resources, such as Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Education Services (HES), the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access (CMEA), the LGBTQ Resource Center, and Campus Ministry. You might also consider bringing well-being more explicitly into the classroom as a topic worthy of discussion, and perhaps relevant to the course material at hand. Could well-being be one of your goals for student development? For more on all this, see our Teaching Commons page on Teaching Well-Being.

Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

Difficult discussions may be daunting, but they can also be crucially productive moments in a semester—and sweeping such moments aside when they flare up can lead to problems, including students feeling unheard, alienated, and hurt—but you do have to work to make sure these moments are productive.

Handling difficult conversations comes in two phases. The first is the laying of a foundation for productive discussions. At the very beginning of the semester it’s helpful to acknowledge that these kinds of moments may crop up—you could even name particular topics that are likely to emerge or that are probably on people’s minds—and to give students guidance in advance on how to handle them, including possible ground rules for discussion (e.g., focus on ideas, not people; connect comments to course material; etc.). You might need to prepare yourself as well. What are your hot buttons? What’s likely to make you uneasy or upset? What will you do when your buttons get pushed? Once you’ve done the preparation, the second phase of handling difficult discussions is dealing with the discussions as they happen—whether you plan them or whether they flare up unexpectedly (e.g., reminding students of ground rules, using the blackboard to distance ideas from individual speakers). For more specific strategies—ideas for ground rules, ways to structure and manage these conversations, etc.—see our Teaching Commons pages on Inclusive Pedagogy and Difficult Discussions.