What to Do in a Challenging Moment

If you have taught a course that features challenging conversations, you have likely taught class sessions that did not go as expected, sometimes despite careful planning. We have the following suggestions to consider implementing should you find a class session “going off the rails.” 

  • Introduce a pause, and consider asking students to take some time to describe what is happening in the conversation, why, and how it might be best to move forward (see “Navigating HOT Moments in the Classroom” from the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning 2022).
  • Remind students of the expectations/norms if the discussion seems like it’s proceeding in bad faith, or consider revisiting and revising those expectations if needed.
  • End or redirect the conversation using the language you identified to close a conversation. You can say “let’s move on from this topic,” or “let’s return to this conversation if we have time later today, but for now let’s come back to the course materials.”
  • Avoid getting drawn into a debate, but do process your emotions with colleagues if you feel activated or targeted by the discussion. Seek support from your teaching communities.
  • Decide whether to follow up with any individual students who seem especially upset by the discussion. A short email where you share what you observed and note your availability to talk can be a way to open the door for that student.
  • If you are concerned about disruptive student behavior, many of the above strategies focused on design and facilitation will be helpful. Additional strategies may be found in this resource from the University of Minnesota Duluth and this resource from the University of Michigan.