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Tips for Facilitating Difficult Conversations with Students

Helping young people feel secure in troubled times is a huge opportunity for educators and caregivers alike. Enabling students to feel safe expressing their thoughts and asking questions about important or difficult topics is essential to their learning and development.

Safe spaces for conversations that allow free expression, encourage students to share freely and openly, and make them feel heard, are challenging to create. How often do we express our problems to a friend because we need a kind ear, but come away frustrated because instead we receive unsolicited advice? We’ve all been there. Listening is an art form. And facilitating such a conversation in a classroom of kids can be downright difficult.

The team at Learning A-Z works with educators and social-emotional learning experts as we continue to develop our digital and classroom tools for teachers and students. We’ve compiled the most important takeaways from this work into downloadable guides to help you lead meaningful conversations. We hope you find these helpful tips useful when you’re working with students after tumultuous events.

Tips and Advice From Social-Emotional Learning Experts:

  • Tip #1: Help students name, understand, and manage their emotions. If a child is struggling to express an emotion, encourage them to draw or write about how they’re feeling.
  • Tip #2: Listen to each student’s ideas, concerns, and questions. Don’t minimize their concerns or offer solutions. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and concerns, and work with them to gain understanding.
  • Tip #3: Model the behavior you wish to see from your students, including positive communication, active listening, treating others with kindness, and taking responsibility when a mistake is made.
  • Tip #4: When students appear to be operating from a place of misinformation or ignorance about a topic, introduce accurate, objective facts for consideration in a positive, supportive way.

Don’t feel you have to function in the role of information provider or attempt to answer questions for students. You can engage with the conversation without positioning yourself as the “expert” on any given topic.

Check out the downloadable sets of guidelines available below! There’s one for students and one for teachers. Before starting a meaningful conversation about a sensitive or controversial topic, share these guidelines with your students. Try modeling and role-playing, and provide plenty of time to practice having discussions about fun topics.

Check out the downloadable sets of guidelines available below. There’s one for students and one for teachers.

Teacher Guidelines Student Guidelines

We hope these guidelines help you and your students engage in meaningful conversations to deepen shared understanding and build stronger, healthier, more inclusive classrooms.

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