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Teaching in the Current Political Climate

PLAN to Effectively Facilitate Hot Moments

You will be able to facilitate Hot Moments more effectively by preparing for them. Advance planning can surface self-knowledge and create strategies essential to minimizing vulnerable feelings that can occur when you are caught off-guard. Here are some reflection questions to support your planning:

Reflection Questions

  • What course features, content, or activities might produce “hot moments” during class? 
  • How and when will you acknowledge tensions? In the moment or later? It’s important not to ignore them. 
  • How can class plans be flexible so that you can devote more or less time to an issue?
  • What are your biases? What might “push your buttons” and cause your analytical thinking and student learning focus to shut down? What are some quick personal “reset” strategies you could employ to ensure that your (re)actions support student learning?
  • What prior knowledge might be helpful for your students should this particular issue ignite tension? How can you surface this prior knowledge to scaffold and support learning in hot moments?
  • How do your discussion or participation guidelines in the class address hot moments? If they don’t, consider adding a guideline that specifically addresses moving beyond hot moments (e.g., no personal attacks, being open to the opinions of others, personal accountability for what we say and how it affects others). 
If the class collaborates on the creation of a group agreement, how will the agreement contribute to facilitating hot moments when these arise?

EXECUTE Moves That Support People and Learning During Hot Moments

Here are some facilitation strategies for hot moments for your teaching toolbox.

Facilitation Strategies

  • Take a Cool Moment. When tensions arise, give yourself a “cool moment.” Pause before reacting/speaking. Use the cool moment to decide when the issue should be addressed: now, the next class meeting, or somewhere outside of the classroom in between.
  • Invite Students to Take a Cool Moment. Break the tension and change the climate in the room by asking students to take a few deep breaths, take a walk around the room, or write or sketch quietly.
  • Prepare To Turn Down the Heat. Should you decide that it would be better to deal with the topic, question, or comment that ignited the moment at the next class meeting, announce that the class will revisit it. This will give you time to prepare to best handle the issue from the hot moment. One strategy that can be used for hot topics (or any topic, for that matter) is the parking lot. Section off a small part of the board and keep sticky notes on hand. Write down topics that arise that need to be addressed later. This keeps the class focused on the current learning goals while acknowledging important and related ideas raised in class. If this strategy is in place, be sure to strongly prioritize a parking lot topic that arose from a hot moment. 
  • Remind Students of Discussion and Participation Guidelines. Here’s where the planning really helps—remind them of the specific guideline for Moving Beyond Hot Moments.
  • Seek Clarification. When and where it’s appropriate, ask questions to clarify student comments that have created conflict or tension. As students struggle to understand a new perspective or experience intellectual discomfort when having their familiar views challenged, they can say things that are inadvertently insulting or marginalizing. Consider giving the student the opportunity to explain their thought process behind their remark. Examples: What do you mean by Y? I heard you saying X; is that what you meant to say? You can also ask them to rephrase their statement or question if they understand they made a misstep. Example: Do you want to try saying that differently? It is productive to then discuss why such phrasing can be problematic and why it is important.
  • Give Students the Benefit of the Doubt where possible. When they use words and phrases that seem to devalue or discount other perspectives or people, your words can give them the benefit of the doubt while surfacing and explaining the potential impact of language choices. Examples: You may not realize how this sounded ___. It seems you’re trying to make a joke, and yet ___.  The word ___ is a label that’s frequently objected to by those it’s used to describe because ___.  I could easily imagine that your use of that metaphor/analogy/description would feel like an insult to classmates who ___.
  • Help Students in Conflict Find Common Ground. Identify shared values while acknowledging the source of the conflict. Example: I hear that you both care deeply about achieving X, but you have strongly divergent ideas about how to get there. Alternatively, ask the class to compare and contrast the perspectives. Example: What do these perspectives have in common? How do they differ?
  • Depersonalize Positions of Disagreement that emerged among students. This can minimize unproductive defensiveness and maximize participation. One strategy is to refer to the content of the disagreement rather than linking the content to a person. Example: Disagreement about _______ rather than saying what student A said. Another strategy is to ask for additional possible points of view to move the conversation away from speakers to the ideas or perspectives they raise. Lastly, you can depersonalize by first acknowledging when a widely-held view has been raised and second by asking why others may object to or feel disrespected by this widely-held view.
  • Give Students Extended Introspective Time. Beyond the cool moment, invite students to gather their thoughts in writing. This is particularly helpful when students tend to respond to conflict or tension in silence. You may wish to collect students’ anonymous writing samples to support instruction should you revisit the topic. Example prompts: Why is this topic so difficult to discuss for you and for your classmates? What do you think or feel that you cannot say aloud right now?
  • Connect the Hot Moment to Course Learning Goals. If the big emotion in the room relates to the importance of the topic you’re teaching, consider how course materials and activities can anchor and inform what happens in class following a hot moment. Think about learning objectives related to critical thinking, perspective taking, or precise framing of an argument and how these processes can be reinforced through engagement following a hot moment.
  • Provide a Basis for Common Understanding by establishing facts and questions about the topics raised in the tense moment. You can share key information yourself or invite students to do so. You might write categories on the board (“what we know,” “what is disputed,” “what we want to know more about”) and elicit items for each category. You can also explain or have the class identify why a given topic or language choice feels high stakes, especially if you think some students do not understand or respect other students’ emotional responses. 
Guide Reflection on the Hot Moment. After recovery from a hot moment, invite students to reflect on the issues raised, the perspectives they heard, what may remain unresolved, and what they learned. One idea is to use a questionnaire to collect these ideas and share aggregated results.

LOOK AFTER Students and Yourself Following Hot Moments

Here are some follow-up strategies to practice self-care and support your students after a Hot Moment event in class.

Follow-up Strategies

  • Check On Students. For the students most directly involved in the hot moment, check on them outside of class. Use these times to learn more about their experience in the moment, show your commitment to their course success, and support their learning from the experience.
  • Seek Support From Your Own Networks. If you felt targeted or perhaps personally affronted by the hot moment incident in your class, check in with trusted colleagues or friends. Reach out to your department chair and/or request a confidential consultation with staff from the Center for Teaching Excellence. Tell them that your goal is to process your reactions to the incident and return to your class with confidence and optimism.

Adapted from this outstanding resource: “Hot Moments Handout:” from the University of Michigan Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Fall 2020. Last accessed 8/15/2023 at

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