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How to Respond to Hostile, Inappropriate Comments in Class

Classroom Management

How to Respond to Hostile, Inappropriate Comments in Class

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When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire. How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (Adapted from Obear, 2010): Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions.
  • “I want to make sure I heard you correctly.  Did you say…”
  • If they disagree with your paraphrase, you could end the conversation. If you suspect they are trying to “cover their tracks,” you may consider making a statement about the initial comment.
  • “I’m glad to hear I misunderstood you, because, as you know, such comments can be…”

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When hot moments ignite in the classroom, it is important to engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a supportive communication climate. Managing hot moments is a complex endeavor, and it is our responsibility to maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire. How to intervene when someone makes a blatantly inappropriate remark (adapted from Obear, 2010): Ask clarifying questions to help you understand intentions. If they agree with your paraphrase, explore their intent behind making the comment. Explore the impact of the comment. Share your perspective on the probable impact of comments of this nature. Ask them to rethink position or change behavior. If personally triggered: If a student acts hostile toward you: If the situation escalates: How to debrief after a hot moment or difficult dialogue using the Four F Debrief Framework: Facts, Findings, Feelings, Future. References Cheung, F., Ganote, C. M., Souza, T. J. (2016). "Microaggressions and Microresistance: Supporting and Empowering Students." In Faculty Focus Special Report: Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom. Magna Publications. Downs, J. R. (1992). Dealing with hostile and oppositional students. College Teaching, 40(3), 106–109. Lasley, M. (2005). Difficult conversations: Authentic communication leads to greater understanding and teamwork. Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, 7, 13–20. Copyright by the authors and the International Association of Facilitators. Obear, K. (2010). How to facilitate triggering situations. Alliance for Change: Boston, MA. “THE EXCELLENCE EXPERIENCE.” (n.d.) Learning Forum SuperCamp. Retrieved from http://www.supercamp.com/OTFD.aspx. Placier, P., Kroner, C., Burgoyne, S., & Worthington, R. (2012). Developing difficult dialogues: An evaluation of classroom implementation. The Journal of Faculty Development, 26(2), 29. Rosenberg, M. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. PuddleDancer Press. Schwartz, R. (2002). The skilled facilitator. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Souza, T. J. (2016). Managing hot moments in the classroom: Concrete strategies for cooling down tension. In Faculty Focus special report: Diversity and inclusion in the college classroom. Magna Publications. Souza, T., Vizenor, N., Sherlip, D., & Raser, L. (in press) Transforming conflict in the classroom: Best practices for facilitating difficult dialogues and creating an inclusive communication climate. In P. M. Kellett & T. G. Matyok (Eds.), Transforming conflict through communication: Personal to working relationships. Souza, T. J., Dallimore, E, Pilling, B., & Aoki, E. (2010). Communication climate, comfort, and cold-calling: An analysis of discussion-based courses at multiple universities. In L. B. Nilson & J. E. Miller (Eds.), To improve the academy, 28, (pp. 227–249). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Tasha Souza, PhD, is the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and a professor of communication at Boise State University.

Adapted from the Magna Online Seminar titled How to Create a Transformative Learning Experience for Students by Managing Hot Moments and Difficult Discussions in the Classroom.