In our current social climate, it can be tricky for anyone, especially a teenager, to talk about politics and the role of government. But as educators, it’s our job to explain the varying viewpoints that make up our political discourse. It’s also our job to foster an open, secure environment in which students feel safe to share their own opinions.

As an online instructor at a statewide public school, I’ve taught U.S. government and politics during two contentious election cycles. And although I live in California, a left-leaning state, I teach students from across the state whose core beliefs fall all along the political spectrum. From day one, I explain to students that respecting different viewpoints—even when you don’t agree—is part of building maturity. Here are three ways I build a culture of respect in my classroom.

1. Set guidelines
At the start of each session, I provide several rules for students about how we will discuss upcoming topics. Students must respect their classmates’ opinions and offer constructive criticism. I also remind them that I may revoke chat privileges if they do not adhere to these class rules.

3 ways to navigate American politics in the classroom. #medialiteracy #digcit #edchat

It’s no secret that this generation’s students are comfortable with communicating via social media. Unfortunately, this means many of them view aggressive and confrontational comments as the norm. To help cut down on this kind of behavior, I teach them to present their beliefs using facts and appropriate word choice. This not only helps others understand different sides of an issue, it can also make students more cognizant of how their own rhetoric affects others in their day-to-day life.

About the Author:

Toni Rivera Ramos is a high school social studies teacher at California Virtual Academies, online schools powered by K12 Inc.