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Challenging Situations in the Classroom

It is not uncommon for challenging situations or discussions to arise in classrooms as we navigate controversial topics and differing perspectives. These situations can be turned into opportunities for student learning and growth. Faculty and instructors can reflect on how their courses might be a space to promote civil discourse, critical thinking, and respect for different perspectives and values. 

Questions that often arise in University of Utah faculty discussions around classroom civility include:

  • What are some strategies for facilitating challenging discussions?
  • How do I address disruptive, or even aggressive, students?
  • What do I do if a student says something disrespectful in class, and I don’t know how to respond?
  • What support is available related to faculty safety in the classroom? 

Consider the following strategies and resources to facilitate difficult discussions and effectively address challenging situations in the classroom.

  • Define the objective of your discussion and explain your role as facilitator of the discussion
  • Role model respectful language and behavior
  • Anticipate your (and students’) triggers
  • Address emotional responses from students early on
  • Refer to established discussion guidelines
  • Intentionally guide the discussion
  • Respect silence and ask to hear new voices
  • Connect the discussion to course content
  • Allow time for student and self-reflection
  • Follow up with students after class
  • Debrief with a colleague

Click here for a more detailed outline on Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or Controversial Topics (University of Michigan)

References and Further Resources


Last Updated: 8/2/22