Five tips on how to make a safe and brave space for controversial conversations in the classroom

As a teacher, it’s important to know how to deal with sensitive political, religious and controversial conversations, whilst making everyone in a classroom feel safe. Students of ITEPS and ITESS deal with children and young people with a lot of different cultural backgrounds in their teaching practice and future career. Therefore, students of our International Teacher Education community were able to join a guest lecture of two council members from Amsterdam, as a part of the ITEPS minor ‘intercultural understanding in religion’. Council members Sheher Kahn (muslim) and Itay Garmy (jewish) shared their insights on how to deal with controversial conversations in the classroom while keeping it a safe space. Here are 5 tips for all teachers, based on the insights of the lesson:

Tip 1) Create a safe and brave space to talk and meet each other
Tip 2) Have an open conversation and show interest in the other person
Tip 3) Humanize, don’t dehumanize
Tip 4) Set rules for the conversation
Tip 5) Use the six teacher roles to help build a safe conversation

Teachers play a key role when discussing issues and it is important to judge when, how, and if to express personal views and opinions. As a guide line there are six roles of a teacher approaching controversial issues:

1) Be commited: Share personal views, encouraging students to challenge them, with awareness that this may lead to biased discussions.
2) Be objective or academic: Provide an explanation of all possible viewpoints without expressing a personal stance.
3) Be the devil’s advocate: Deliberately adopt an opposing stance to ensure all perspectives are covered and challenge existing beliefs.
4) Be an advocate: Present all available viewpoints and conclude by stating your own posi􀆟on with reasons.
5) Be an impartial Chairperson: Ensure all viewpoints are represented without expressing a personal stance.
6) Declared interest: Declare your viewpoint to allow students to judge potential bias, then present all positions as objectively as possible.

In conclusion, creating safe and brave spaces for controversial conversations is essential in today’s diverse classrooms. By following these five tips and leveraging the six teacher roles, educators can foster an environment where open dialogue, empathy, and understanding prevail. Addressing controversial topics becomes an opportunity for growth, learning, and building connections among students from various cultural backgrounds.

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