How We Can Help Our Students Heal From a Divisive Election

This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Chris Buckler

Over the past couple of days, we have all felt a wide range of emotion about the election cycle and its result, which we learned about early Wednesday morning. Students may ask you questions about how things might go. Here are some suggested talking points you can use with your students:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-should-we-tell-the-children_us_5822aa90e4b0334571e0a30b

We as a public have endured about a year of constant mud-slinging, insults, and all manner of personal attacks designed to get out the vote against the other person. As a result of this, as well as other factors, the discourse in our country is arguably the worst it has ever been. Sure, there have been heated arguments about policy before, but I believe the anger and divisiveness has hit record highs in our nation. Regarding the future of our political discourse, our students are watching what we as adults do and say. They see the same TV reports, news articles, and social media posts that we do. If we want things to improve, I believe that we should start with ourselves and model the traits that we want our students to exemplify.

I believe that we as teachers can help, as much as our schedules allow, to shape the way our students interact with one another. If we can model tolerance, respectfulness, and a willingness to hear what others have to say, we can make a difference. Implementing this, however, can be a challenge. I have been searching for some tips on strategies to facilitate these qualities, and here are a few things I found. **Note that these tips and strategies are not just for this election, but they fit in very well with what we are trying to do here at OMHS.

A reflective classroom environment is one where we can make a difference. Not only can such an environment help students express their points of view in an appropriate manner, these strategies can also be used to help students guide their own learning. Here are a few ideas from Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations:

  • Create a sense of trust and openness
  • Encourage participants to speak and listen to each other
  • Make space and time for silent reflection
  • Offer multiple avenues for participation and learning
  • Help students appreciate the points of view, talents, and contributions of less vocal members

To set up such an environment, here are some things that we as teachers can do:

  • Set up a classroom contract – set in stone some clearly defined rules, as well as clearly defined consequences for when these rules are broken
  • Provide opportunities for silent reflection, such as a journal
  • Establish a safe space for controversial topics
  • Implement teaching practices such as “Big Paper”, “Save the Last Word for Me”, “Barometer”, and “Four Corners”. **For more info about these, I can send you a copy of the resource I used while compiling this article.

Again, these things are easy to suggest, but require a great deal of thought to implement. The biggest things are:

  • To be intentional about these strategies – try them out, get feedback, and improve; be willing to take a risk!
  • Be mindful of your own actions to be sure they’re in line with what you hope the students will exemplify.
  • Set clear expectations and guidelines beforehand, and be ready to act in case something does not go as planned.

It may take a few tries to get this kind of environment to work properly, but I believe that such environments are necessary to help our students express their views appropriately and respectfully, which is key to reducing the craziness of our current ways of expressing our opinions.

Resource used for this article: Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations, found at http://info.facinghistory.org/civil_discourse/nea.

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