Establishing the right mindset
Leading students through a meaningful discussion requires planning. This is especially true with controversial topics. The key is to manage expectations by setting the right tone for a productive conversation. Students should learn the difference between unhelpful, angry arguing and valuable, analytical argument based on logic, fact, and respect. Teachers can navigate students through thoughtful, civil discourse through guided questions, graphic organizers, and sentences starters. You can best prepare your teachers to lead students by offering professional development that zeroes in on best practices for:
- Managing classroom discussions
- Creating structures for student reflection and input
- Approaching supercharged topics respectfully
Check out this A Pass curriculum sample.
The question sometimes arises: Should teachers share their political opinions? The truth is teachers should strive to be impartial. In such a heated political environment, sharing personal viewpoints could be misinterpreted. Focusing on facts and the analysis of facts allows students to arrive at their own understandings. Sharing personal biases potentially deprives students of the opportunity to form independent opinions.
Professional development needs to prepare teachers to present arguments without revealing personal biases. Ideally, teachers should act like moderators at a presidential debate. In the end, we want students to form their own judgements. Students need to learn to think for themselves, and not just parrot what teachers say.
Teachers can find political discussions with students daunting. As a result, many avoid topics they think could be too controversial. However, events like this year’s election cycle are great teaching opportunities.
In addition to supporting teachers through professional development, teachers need encouragement. They need to hear it’s not only okay to talk politics; it’s vital. With the right encouragement, your teachers will jump into political waters with their students in an appropriate way. Remind teachers that talking politics is a super way to teach:
- Civics and civility
- Argument development
- The political process and history
Our current partisan political climate might deter teachers from taking on politics in their classrooms. If teachers withdraw from uncomfortable subjects, students are likely to detach as well. However, through carefully planned professional development, teachers can be prepared to confidently tackle these subjects in an educational tone. Take the time to consider how you can best prepare teachers to support students as they engage in democratic discourse.