Seven Bricks to Lay the Foundation for Productive Difficult Dialogues

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom, a new free report from Faculty Focus. Download here »
There are three basic ways that I hear faculty talk about difficult dialogues—in-class dialogues that were planned but did not go particularly well; in-class hot moments that were not anticipated and that the faculty member did not feel equipped to handle; and difficult dialogues that happen during office hours or outside of class.
In all three instances, faculty are challenged to use skills they may not have learned at any point in their disciplinary training. That lack of skill can actually cause them great angst, and in the most extreme situations, cause them to avoid addressing important issues directly.
This is not to anyone’s advantage, and many learning opportunities can be lost. In this article, I will focus on the first of these three instances. If challenging dialogues are to be an important part of a course, it is essential to develop, beginning the first day of class, the environment and skills that will allow you to capitalize on difficult dialogues as effective learning opportunities.
Think ahead about what topics you are teaching and whether hot moments might be triggered. If it is a course you have taught before, chances are you know when these moments might happen. Plan for structuring those moments intentionally. Are there readings that honor multiple perspectives on the issue? Are there opportunities to have students …