Safe learning spaces allow students to explore issues of racism, politics, and more in an honest and open manner

4 ways to help students talk about tough topics


Safe learning spaces allow students to explore issues of racism, politics, and more in an honest and open manner

In a year where the U.S. has been rocked by a global pandemic, the impact of systemic racism, and acts of political violence, many educators have wondered how to create a “learning space” to address difficult subjects.

A “learning space” is both safe and brave–one where students are supported in expressing their views, as well as in challenging them and coming to new conclusions.

As an instructional coach who works closely with many educators, one concern I’ve heard recently is that teachers are afraid to address social issues without seeming to impose their views.

I help them grapple with the following question: How can we enable students and staff to meaningfully talk about racism, politics, and current events in a way that pursues racial justice and enables all stakeholders to remain engaged?

Exercising discussion muscles and embedding identity, oppression, and resistance into curriculum are just a couple ways to get started:

Practice #1: Make dignity non-negotiable

As Jonathan Gold explains in this article, making dignity non-negotiable is not as simple as including multiple perspectives. He writes, “Talking about perspectives without talking about power can imply an equivalency of viewpoints that brings with it a very real danger of erasing…injustice.” We can have disagreements in our classrooms, but we need to specify that a person’s or group of people’s humanity is not up for debate.

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