Strategies for Safe, Productive Classroom Conversations on Race, Religion, and National/ World Events: It’s Not If, It Should Be When

Strategies for Safe, Productive Classroom Conversations on Race, Religion, and National/ World Events

It’s Not If, It Should Be When

Dear Colleagues,


   Earlier this month, the coach from the Roosevelt High School Early College Studies’ girls basketball team and one of its players were dismissed because of actions during their game against The Leffell School’s girls basketball team.

   Roosevelt High School is a public charter school in the Yonkers (NY) Public School District, the fourth largest school district in New York State which is located immediately north of New York City. The District has approximately 25,500 public school students from 100 cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities. Demographically, 73% of the District’s students are considered Economically Disadvantaged, 13% are English Language Learners, 62% are Hispanic, 16% are Black, 15% are White, 5% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 2% are Multi-Racial.

   The Leffell School, is a kindergarten through 12th grade independent Jewish day school that serves approximately 800 students in Hartsdale, New York—just north of Yonkers.

   CNN’s January 8, 2024 report described the incident as follows:

During the third quarter, members of The Leffell School team were injured by what Leffell player Robin Bosworth called “the other team’s physical style of play” according to an op-ed for her online school newspaper, The Lion’s Roar.

Players on the opposing team shouted “antisemitic slurs and curses at us,” Bosworth wrote, adding the Leffell School team ended the game early, after the third quarter.

“Attacking a team because of their school’s religious association is never acceptable, but especially due to the current war in Israel and the world’s rise in antisemitism, this felt extremely personal to me and many members of my team. If a team shows blatant disrespect towards my team and our school community’s values, it should not be tolerated or forgotten immediately following the game,” Bosworth wrote.

Since fighting intensified in early October between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, there have been troubling spikes in reported antisemitic—and anti-Arab or anti-Muslim—incidents in the United States.

There were more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents reported in the two months after October 7, a 337% increase over the same period last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. And the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported more than 2,000 requests for help and reports of bias following October 7.

(After investigating the event,) Yonkers Public Schools Interim Superintendent Luis Rodriguez and Mayor Mike Spano said in a statement condemning the incident, “The Yonkers Public Schools along with the City of Yonkers sincerely apologize to the students and community of The Leffell School for the painful and offensive comments made to their women’s basketball team during a recent game with Roosevelt High School- Early College Studies.”

“Collectively, we do not and will not tolerate hate speech of any kind from our students and community. The antisemitic rhetoric reportedly made against the student athletes of The Leffell School are abhorrent, inappropriate and not in line with the values we set forth for our young people.”

“Along with Mayor Spano’s convening of religious, educational and civic leaders, Yonkers Public Schools also will administer further counseling and guided training sessions amongst the school community so to prevent this from happening again.”

In addition to removing a player and dismissing the team’s coach, restoration efforts between Yonkers Public Schools and The Leffell School are underway, according to Yonkers Public Schools spokesperson Akeem Jamal, who added the two schools will soon meet to discuss those measures.

How Many Schools Wait Until These “Abhorrent” Events Occur?

   The current political atmosphere in some states aside, I know of few districts across the country that don’t have a mission statement that includes:

“ensuring that all students (a) develop the knowledge, skills, and character necessary to achieve their goals, and (b) become engaged and contributing members of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, pluralistic society"

or the equivalent.

   And, as they become more nationally prevalent, I know of few “portraits of a graduate” that don’t have complementary statements requiring students to acquire and demonstrate the social awareness, understanding, and interpersonal skills needed to accomplish the mission statement fragment above.

   At the very least, what has happened to good sportsmanship and sportswomanship, and the “athletic code” of honoring “the game” and respecting your opponents?


  • Should schools not be progressively teaching these social awareness, understanding, and interpersonal skills to all students from preschool through high school?
  • Shouldn’t these skills be applied, from the beginning, to respecting not just opponents, but the individual differences across every school’s student body—across gender and different gender-identifying students, race and multi-cultural background, religion and ethnicity, socio-economic and “nuclear” family status? and
  • Wouldn’t these skills and this instruction not encourage more positive school and classroom climate and safety, student group engagement and collaboration, and individual student (self-)discipline and mental health?

   And yet, how many schools are not doing this. . . at all or effectively? And how many schools are just avoiding these issues, discounting their importance, taking the easy way out, or waiting until they experience “another abhorrent event” that is “broadcast across the world”. . . forcing them into a reactive and defensive mode?

   Said differently:

When schools are forced into restoration and reparation, they eventually need to evaluate their preparation and anticipation.

A Primer on Leading Safe, Productive Classroom Discussions on Challenging Topics

   Clearly, I believe that all districts and schools should have a scaffolded, multi-disciplinary preschool through high school curricular map with a scope and sequence that integrates (a) social-emotional skills training with (b) selective classroom discussions on the history, facts, controversies, and conflict prevention and resolution strategies related to:

Gender and different gender-identifying students, race and multi-cultural background, religion and ethnicity, and socio-economic and “nuclear” family status.

   But, I also believe that these need to be planned and prepared curriculum-based trainings and discussions. . . and that the teachers involved need to be trained themselves in how to facilitate the discussions at different age levels.

   Indeed, from this curricular perspective, I have long advocated that districts create a “Health, Mental Health, Diversity, and Wellness” preschool through high school scope and sequence. . . just as they have similar scope and sequences in English, Math and Statistics, Science, History and Civics, and the Arts.

   But now, I am also advocating. . . as part of their professional training, coaching, and supervision. . . that districts and schools prepare teachers in how to facilitate safe and productive discussions—especially when they include potentially challenging or controversial topics.

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Components for Preparing and Facilitating the Discussion

   The remainder of this Blog focuses on the important components and strategies that teachers (and others) need to consider as they prepare for and then actually facilitate a challenging classroom discussion or unit.

   None of these components assures a successful discussion, but the recommendations will help minimize “discussion blow-ups,” while maximizing the educational outcomes desired.

   These recommendations are synthesized from an extensive review of many K-12 and university research and practice experts in this area. We most heavily “leaned” on the following:

  • University of Michigan Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
  • Harvard Business Publishing—Education [How to Encourage Respectful Discord in Your Classroom: Strategies to Help Students Navigate Conflict Thoughtfully; Meira Levinson, George Soroka, and Christina Villarreal (February 22, 2023)]
  • Judy Pace, Teaching Controversial Issues: A Framework for Reflective Practice
  • University of Indiana Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
  • Lauraine Langreo, “How to Talk About the Israel-Hamas War: Resources for Educators,” Education Week, October 13, 2023
  • Mike Reese on the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation’s The Innovative Instructor Blog (October 18, 2023) “Facilitating Difficult Conversations During Class”

   The components are organized in the following areas or phases detailed in the sections below:

  • Phase 1. Preparing the Discussion/Unit Content
  • Phase 2. Choosing the Lead Teachers
  • Phase 3. Preparing Students for Challenging Conversations
  • Phase 4. Providing Lesson Advance Organizers
  • Phase 5. Setting Guidelines When Introducing the Lesson
  • Phase 6. Within-Lesson Discussion Strategies
  • Phase 7. Post-Lesson Discussion Strategies

Phase 1. Preparing the Discussion/Unit Content

   The development of the lesson or unit plan that includes challenging content or discussion sets the foundation for all of the elements and preparations needed to ensure that the challenges are appropriately presented and discussed, and that the lesson’s instructional goals are met.

   Within this context, the educators who design the discussions can carefully make sure that the concepts, information, questions, and activities are clear and accurate. In addition, their lesson plan can anticipate and prepare for areas of confusion or misinformation, historical or current bias and prejudices, and areas where issues are in limbo, unresolved, or are legitimately contested.

   The lesson should describe (a) the readings and resources that will provide students with the contextual foundations needed; (b) the content and questions to encourage critical thinking and check understanding; and (c) the boundaries and ground rules for discussion and debate.

   Discussion activities should use small and whole group formats as needed, allowing as many student perspectives and voices as possible to be heard. The activities also should reinforce the relevance of the discussion area to students’ lives—motivating their interest and understanding.

Phase 2Choosing the Lead Teachers

   The lesson development process above should include descriptions of the background, expertise, experience, and skills needed by the teachers who will teach the unit or facilitate its lesson(s). Schools need to recognize that not every teacher—while qualified on paper or by certification—has these prerequisite pedagogical characteristics. . . or the emotional temperament, and the intuitive or instantaneous ability to redirect or reverse a challenging discussion that is headed toward disaster.

   Indeed, the teachers who may possibly lead a challenging unit should be given the opportunity to self-reflect, self-evaluate, and recuse themselves when they don’t believe they have the expertise, skills, objectivity, or temperament to do an effective job.

   Moreover, some challenging discussions may require or benefit from co-instructors. . . where they, perhaps, seamlessly alternate the role of leading the discussion versus the role of processing the climate and classroom dynamics during the discussion.

   The age and backgrounds of the students who will interact with the teacher(s) during the lessons (and any potentially-challenging discussions) also must be considered in order to prevent disruptions and maximize educational outcomes. Indeed, students sometimes make assumptions about teachers—for example, based on age and gender, race and culture, past experiences or observed interactions—and these may add another tenuous layer to the dynamics of a challenging discussion.

   For example, if students attempt to bait or manipulate teachers into unsound or controversial statements, or emotional or defensive positions, teachers should be prepared so that they can model sound problem-solving and collaborative resolution skills.

Phase 3Preparing Students for Challenging Conversations

   Virtually all classes include classroom discussions of some sort. As such, educators cannot assume that students understand the ground rules for these discussions or have the skills to abide by these expectations.

   Indeed, teachers need to describe, teach, and practice the skills embedded in each ground rule. . . so that students learn, master, and can demonstrate them under different conditions. Moreover, teachers need to practice prototypical situations with their students, so that they see and experience how teachers will handle students who are struggling with or violating the ground rules.

   These ground rules should be taught at the beginning of the school year, and then reinforced throughout the year. They should be discussed (and expanded, as needed) well before a challenging unit, lesson, or discussion actually occurs. . . discussed, as recommended in the next section, as part of the lead-up to the lesson.

   Many times, it is helpful to have classes generate their own ground rules. This increases their commitment to abide by them, and teachers can always guide students toward important ground rules that have been missed.

   Relative to examples, the University of Michigan Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning suggests the following ground rules:

  • Listen respectfully, without interrupting.
  • Listen actively and with an ear to understanding others' views. (Don’t just think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking.)
  • Ask questions when you don’t understand; don’t assume you know others’ thinking or motivations.
  • Allow everyone the opportunity to speak.
  • Critique ideas; do not criticize individuals.
  • Commit to learning, not debating. Comment to share information, not to persuade.
  • Avoid blame, speculation, inflammatory language, and name-calling.
  • Avoid assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups.
  • Don’t expect or ask any individuals to speak on behalf of their gender, ethnic group, class, status, etc. (or the groups they perceive them to be a part of).

   With some overlaps, Mike Reese on the Johns Hopkins University’s The Innovative Instructor Blog (October 18, 2023) suggested the following ground rules:

  • Support your arguments with evidence. Use known facts, published research, relevant readings, and previous arguments to support your argument.
  • Use “I” statements. It’s OK to articulate your perspectives, feelings, or relevant personal experiences, but don’t try to speak for other people in the class.
  • Do not generalize about groups. This relates to the previous point. We can make arguments with known actions or statements by groups, but we should not make overgeneralizations about them.
  • Allow students to speak without interruption. This requires people to listen more to others. My only caveat is that as the instructor, I have the right to nudge students if they talk too long or I feel their points are drifting.
  • Listen actively. We need to do more than not interrupt. We need to pay attention to what is being said so we can respond appropriately. Taking written notes on what others are saying is a good way to practice active listening.
  • Keep an open mind. Our goal is to learn from each other. I share that my own opinions and beliefs on numerous topics have evolved over time thanks to engaging with others in open discussions including with students in my class. Give specific examples of this when possible.
  • Name-calling, sarcasm and inflammatory accusations are not permitted. We need to maintain respective dialogue when we are debating ideas from different perspectives.
  • Take a break. If the discussion becomes too heated or intense, suggest a five- to 10-minute break to allow people’s minds to reset and disengage from threat mode. Getting water, a snack, or taking a short walk can all provide just enough respite to bring the temperature down in the room.

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   Part of the preparation process for challenging conversations also involves teaching and practicing the words signaling “discussion agreement” and “respectful disagreement.”

   Relative to the latter, for example, students should learn to comfortably use such phrases as:

  • “I’m not sure I understand or agree with your point of view. Can you rephrase it, or explain it to me in a different way?”
  • “I see your point. However, another perspective might include. . . ”
  • “I respectfully disagree with your position, and would like to share my point of view, and why I have it.”
  • “It seems that this issue is important to you. Can you tell me how you arrived at your conclusions?”
  • “I believe that I have carefully listened to your point of view. I would like to tell you about my different beliefs on this issue?”

   Just like other social skills, these phrases should be taught by (a) directly teaching and discussing their rationale, intent, and importance; (b) demonstrating or modeling them during actual discussions (periodically pausing to highlight their conscious use); (c) setting up discussion roleplays or controlled conversations where students have opportunities to practice these phrases—with positive or corrective feedback as needed; and (d) scaffolding these phrases into progressively more challenging discussions.

   For example, after initial instruction, teachers could set up situations where students must consciously use one or more of these phrases when engaged in a “mock” challenging discussion.

   At the middle or high school level, for example, some these situations could focus on what to do when:

  • Seeing a classmate cheating on a test, or knowing that a classmate has used AI to complete an assignment or report.
  • Witnessing someone stealing from a bookbag or locker.
  • Discovering a wallet on the ground with money inside.
  • Hearing a rumor or seeing a social media post about a friend that could potentially harm their reputation.
  • Seeing someone being bullied, or a group of students being overlooked or disrespected during a social event.
  • A friend wants to borrow money from you, but you know they won’t be able to pay you back.
  • You need to respond to an invitation to a party where there will be underage drinking or drugs present.

   The point in all of this is that, in order to prepare students for challenging conversations, we need to (a) share the expectations and the operational behaviors with them; (b) teach them the behaviors (like we teach an academic skill) ahead of time; (c) practice with them so that they have mastered and are able to consistently apply the skills without effort; and then (d) transfer all of this training to situations where they need to demonstrate the skills during truly challenging discussions.

Phase 4Providing Lesson Advanced Organizers

   When challenging units, lessons, or conversations are about to unfold (e.g., one to three weeks prior to their actual initiations or occurrences), students need to receive both content-related and process-related advanced organizers.

   The content-related advanced organizers include:

  • Discussing the academically-related content goals, expected outcomes, and activities of the upcoming unit, lesson, and/or discussion; and
  • Asking students to complete an assignment that provides an introductory overview of the content, along with its history and context, issues and opinions, and questions that need to be discussed.

   The process-related advanced organizers might include asking students:

  • To read first-hand, primary source statements/accounts from different individuals who share their experiences and perspectives on the challenging topic(s) that will be discussed later in class;
  • To write a brief on the degree to which they agree and/or disagree with the perspectives above, and then to share their experiences and perspectives on the challenging topic; and
  • To practice—using one or more of the “respectful disagreement” phrases discussed above—how they would disagree with one of the primary source authors in a classroom discussion, resulting in an appropriate voicing of an alternative perspective or position.

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   Another advanced organizer to consider before beginning a challenging unit, lesson, or discussion involves the need to reach-out to students’ parents or guardians.

   Assuming that the district or school’s administration has approved the unit during Phase 1, teachers—in a letter or e-mail co-signed by the Building Principal—might inform parents as to the content, goals, and expected academic outcomes, offering a parental opt-out if necessary.

   Critically, the letter should emphasize that lesson goal is not to convince students as to what they should believe relative to a challenging topic, but to help students think critically about the issues at-hand, examine the multiple perspectives available, and form their own opinions and conclusions.

Phase 5Setting Guidelines When Introducing the Lesson

   On the (first) day of the challenging unit, lesson, or discussion, the teacher(s) should reiterate the objectives, goals, and expected outcomes, and provide an overview of how the lesson—including its activities and grouping patterns—will proceed.

   The classroom norms and expectations should also be reinforced, along with the expectation that all students are and feel heard. Finally, the discussion ground rules, as well as the previously-taught discussion agreement and respectful disagreement phrases, should also be reviewed . . . and they, perhaps, should be posted on the wall (see Phase 3).

Phase 6Within-Lesson Discussion Strategies

   As the lesson commences, it is essential that teachers remain engaged, observant, responsive, and conscious about the need to actively facilitate and manage the discussion. Teachers should be ready to prompt students to clarify, expand on, and provide evidence on important points. And they should remind students of the discussion ground rules, reinforce students for well-stated discussion agreements and disagreements, and give students opportunities to re-state disagreements when they are too contentious.

   To keep the discussion on-task, goal-oriented, and productive, teachers can (a) reword questions posed by students; (b) correct misinformation; (c) pull in readings, materials, or questions from advanced-organizer assignment(s); or (d) summarize areas where there is consensus or an “agree to disagree” decision.

   Teachers also can periodically offer their own opinions. . . not to influence students’ thinking, but to model how to verbalize one’s viewpoint in a controversial area, or to disagree “agreeably” to a contested point.

   The University of Indiana’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning suggests the following strategies to maintain the focus and flow of a potentially-challenging discussion:

  • Begin the discussion with clear, open-ended, but bounded questions that encourage discussion.
  • Avoid double-barreled questions that simultaneously pose two problems, or “hide the ball” questions that are designed to elicit a specific answer.
  • Ask questions that prompt multiple answers, rather than short, factual responses or simple “yes” or “no” replies.
  • Prepare specific questions to use if the class is silent or hesitant about speaking. Some examples include: “What makes this hard to discuss?” and “What needs to be clarified at this point?”
  • Use probing questions to encourage students to share more specific information, clarify an idea, elaborate on a point, or provide further explanation.
  • If the class is stuck in a single or rigid line of thinking, the teacher might play the devil’s advocate, or ask different students to argue for one or more teacher-chosen alternative viewpoints—even though they may not agree with them.
  • Allow students to share ideas or ask questions about a challenging issue anonymously by writing them on notecards and passing them in at the same time.
  • When students raise points that are extraneous to the focus, note that these are important, but tangential. Write them on the white board or newsprint, and review them at the end of class as other topics to think about or to integrate into a future discussion.
  • Recap the key discussion points, decisions, or issues at the end of class, in writing if possible.

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   Teachers also should strategically use different grouping patterns to engage their students, maximize their active participation, and facilitate student learning and lesson goals. While whole-group discussion is important, there also are benefits to small break-out groups or small-group strategies.

   For example, some students participate more easily in small groups. . . especially when (a) they are intimidated by the size of the entire class; (b) they are unsure of the “worthiness” of their perspectives or contributions; (c) their opinions have been marginalized in the past; or (d) they can’t get past peers who are dominating the discussion.

   While it is difficult for teachers to monitor, process, and facilitate discussions when there are too many break-out groups, one or two students in each group could be assigned as “process observers” to ensure that ground rules and ways to appropriately disagree are followed.

   Short of using break-out groups, the University of Indiana’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning suggests the following “small group” strategies:

  • The Round-Robin: Give each student an opportunity to respond to a guiding question without interruption or comments. Provide students with the option to pass. After the round, discuss the responses.

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  • Think-Pair-Share: Give students a few minutes to respond to a question individually in writing. Divide the class into pairs. Instruct the students to share their responses with group members. Provide students with explicit directions, such as “Tell each other why you wrote what you did.”
  • After a specified time period, have the class reconvene in order to debrief. You can ask for comments on how much their pairs of views coincided or differed, or ask what questions remain after their paired discussion.

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  • Sharing Reflection Memos: Prior to discussion, have students write a reflective memo in response to a question or set of questions that you pose. As part of the discussion, ask students to read their memos, and/or share them in pairs or threes.

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When Discussions (Unexpectedly) Go Bad

   As part of their active monitoring, teachers need to recognize the “early warning signs” of a discussion with the potential to “go bad,” or respond quickly when it spontaneously does go bad.

   According to the experts we have researched:

  • Be ready to defer a discussion. If a discussion gets too heated, teachers will want to draw on techniques that will allow them and the class to step back and gain perspective (e.g., naming the triggering issue, giving oneself time by asking students to do a brief writing exercise, working with the class to reframe or contextualize the triggering statement). If a teacher needs to let such a moment simply pass by, it is important to find time later to talk through the experience, and to address the triggering issue with others outside of the class.

Another alternative is to reach some sort of closure relative to the immediate discussion, and defer the emotional part of the discussion to another class period so that everyone can prepare.

Be certain to explain the purpose of this deferral, and give students some resource or assignment that will help them prepare to discuss the topic in a more meaningful way within the context of the course and discipline. This is particularly useful in situations where the discussion was spontaneous, not planned.

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  • Confront inappropriate language. If a student makes an inappropriate comment—racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive—letting it go without intervention can seem like a tacit endorsement of those views. And whether the slight is intentional or not, the impact is the same.

Letting such comments pass unchallenged can seriously harm students' trust in you and their sense of belonging in the class. Have some responses ready for how you are going to address such comments, including language that interrupts bias by calling out the behavior while calling in theperson.

Responding directly to microaggressions and other inappropriate language may feel uncomfortable, but our discomfort as teachers has less impact than discomfort experienced by marginalized students.

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  • Discussion monopolizers. If the same students answer all the time, you might say, “Let’s hear from someone else.” Then, don’t call on students who have already spoken. Don’t allow one student to speak for an inordinate amount of class time. As part of your ground rules, set parameters for the frequency and length of student statements or contributions, and non-verbal cues that indicate that students are pushing those ground rules.

If needed, use proximity control to further cue students who are monopolizing a discussion. If needed, have a private conference later with the student, asking him or her to limit comments in class. If the student does not respond, tell him or her an exact number of times he or she will be allowed to contribute to specific classroom discussions, set up a “last comment cue,” and do not call on him or her after the number has been reached.

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  • When students introduce unexpected or controversial related issues. Even in the midst of a challenging discussion, a student might raise a related unexpected, even more controversial issue. When this occurs, the teacher needs to (a) acknowledge the student who raised the issue while noting that other students may have different opinions; (b) decide whether you are ready and willing to engage in the “new” topic right away; and (c) quickly assess whether the class would like to spend time sharing views about the new topic.

If students want to have a dialogue, and you want to wait on it, schedule a discussion for a later class and suggest ways that students could prepare.

For particularly charged, contemporary issues (such as war and conflict), teachers should not feel compelled to lead a discussion, especially if their own emotions or reactions make them hesitant to do so, if they have strong views that would make it difficult to relate to all students, or if they do not consider this discussion an appropriate use of class time.

Teachers can make a simple statement to the class to this effect, acknowledging the issue and validating what students are experiencing. This includes expressing concern for their well-being and a willingness to work with them if they need accommodations.

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  • When teachers share their own views. Teachers should be aware of the implications of sharing their own views. They need to weigh the impact of sharing their own opinions on an issue, knowing that they could inadvertently silence students who hold other views. If they do share their own ideas, teachers need to be sure to elaborate on their thinking process so that they can model the thinking they want their students to use themselves for challenging topics or discussions.

If one or more students try to draw a teacher into an emotional response, the ground rules for discussion can play a vital role, and the teacher can model constructive behavior by unpacking the heated moment by (a) reviewing what has led up to it; (b) pointing out differences between baiting, debating, and discussing; and (c) steering the discussion back into a more useful direction.

Phase 7Post-Lesson Discussion Strategies

   Toward the end of a challenging unit, lesson, or discussion, teachers should save time to (a) summarize the main content points; (b) provide feedback as to how well students handled the emotionality of the topic, and demonstrated adherence to the ground rules and their peer agreement and disagreement interactions; and (c) make both content and process recommendations for improvement and/or to sustain the successful outcomes.

   From a content perspective, the teacher might give students a follow-up homework assignment that asks them to synthesize information related to the topic, and to reflect on the classroom discussion. This helps determine if the lesson and discussion accomplished their pedagogical goals, and to what degree the activities and discussion contributed.

   The discussion of the three areas above could be supplemented by asking students to take the last five minute of class to complete a survey or write answers to the following questions:

  • What are the three most important points you learned today about our topic?
  • What important questions, about our topic, remain unanswered for you?
  • What did you learn specifically from what someone else said that you would not have thought of on your own?
  • How well did the class adhere to the ground rules, and how well were disagreements communicated and discussed?
  • How comfortable were you when participating in today’s discussion? What made you feel comfortable?   Uncomfortable?  What could have been done to increase your comfort level?

   The survey responses or answers could then be reviewed after class by the teacher, and they could be summarized during the next class. Relative to the last two questions above, the class could then engage in a brief discussion on how to improve the group process during challenging discussions.


   The inappropriate, antisemitic interactions by members of the Roosevelt High School Early College Studies’ girls basketball team during its game against The Leffell School should never have occurred.

   Whether the team received social skills, diversity, or sportswomanship training before the season or even before this game, it does not matter.

   The situation occurred, it now must be addressed retroactively, lives have been impacted, and the entire event should be a(nother) cautionary tale. . . for educators and coaches at all levels across the age spectrum.

   Part of the cautionary tale should be that all schools need to:

  • Progressively teach social awareness, understanding, and interpersonal skills to all students from preschool through high school; and
  • Apply these skills to the individual differences that exist across every school’s student body—across gender and different gender-identifying students, race and multi-cultural background, religion and ethnicity, and socio-economic and “nuclear” family status?

   This is not a political agenda.

   This is a productivity agenda. . . to benefit students during their school-aged years, and across their post-graduation years and adult lives.

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   As noted, to maximize districts’ and schools’ success—as they engage in these sometimes challenging academic and social units, lessons, and discussions—the curriculum needs to be systematically and pedagogically planned and prepared, and the teachers involved need to be trained in how to facilitate discussions at different age levels . . . so that they are safe and productive.

   To this end, we outlined seven phases of curriculum development and provided a descriptive primer on how to prepare teachers and students for challenging discussions, how to facilitate these discussions, and how to debrief and improve these discussions after they are over.

  • Phase 1. Preparing the Discussion/Unit Content
  • Phase 2. Choosing the Lead Teachers
  • Phase 3. Preparing Students for Challenging Conversations
  • Phase 4. Providing Lesson Advance Organizers
  • Phase 5. Setting Guidelines When Introducing the Lesson
  • Phase 6. Within-Lesson Discussion Strategies
  • Phase 7. Post-Lesson Discussion Strategies

   While not “the” exhaustive list of components and strategies, we hope that the blueprint provided will motivate districts and schools to discuss, embrace, and apply them to the challenging units, lessons, and discussions that already exist in different areas of their curriculum.

   At the very most, we hope that this Blog’s discussion will empower districts and schools to expand what they are now teaching in important socio-cultural and diversity areas. . . areas they may be avoiding for fear that challenging discussions will lead to calamitous outcomes.

   And, at this time, we want to “add value” to this discussion for you and your colleagues by giving you immediate access to an Education Talk Radio interview reviewing this Blog’s top (and more) that I did with Host Larry Jacobs on January 16, 2024.

   Feel free to share this interview as Larry and I discussed the “real world” applications of the importance of teaching teachers and students how to have safe and productive challenging conversations on, for example, race, religion, and national/world events.

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   We hope that this discussion, while—perhaps—challenging itself, will help you approach challenging discussions in a more planful, confident, and successful way.

   As we move into the new semester. . . and even begin planning for next year. . . know that I remain available to you and your colleagues if you would like to discuss this or any of the school improvement, curriculum and instruction, discipline and social-emotional learning, or multi-tiered intervention areas where I can provide assistance.

   Let me know how I can help.