Strategies to Support Challenging Conversations in the Classroom

Let’s start with the basics: the work of teaching is challenging, and it seems increasingly so. There is ample evidence to suggest that global, national, and local changes affect our students, our classes, and ourselves (Ahad-Legardy and Poon 2018), and rapid adaptation to these changes is the expected norm. Those who teach face pressures to guarantee student safety or cultivate “brave” spaces (Arao and Clemens 2013) that tax some students more than others (Ahenkorah 2023Marquez 2017). As Najeeba Sayeed noted in a 2024 panel discussion on civil campus conversations, “to live in community is to live in conflict” (The Chronicle of Higher Education 2024). While there is no single framework that guarantees a comfortable and conflict-free learning process in all classes (Schulman 2016; UMN CLA ODEI 2022), there are research-based practices that offer frameworks we can draw on to create spaces where we can engage productively with challenging topics, and, ultimately, work toward a better world.

We know that these conversations are possible because we see them and have facilitated them ourselves. This resource offers strategies relevant to navigating, planning for, and responding in the moment to challenging course conversations whether we are new to or experienced in navigating challenging conversations.

We’ve curated “Strategies to Support Challenging Conversations in Classroom” to include sources from scholars and practitioners who support effective teaching from a variety of disciplinary, pedagogical, and cultural perspectives. We draw on the abundance of resources developed by scholars and practitioners addressing the myriad dimensions of challenging or difficult conversations in the classroom, and encourage you to explore this resource to identify elements that align with your specific teaching contexts. Because the challenges and the resources are dynamic, we will regularly update the resources shared in this narrative and the bibliographic sections.

And, because your context matters, we welcome consultation requests to strategize about how best to design and facilitate challenging conversations in your classes.