Tough Conversations

I think we can agree our country is in conflict. That might, however, be all we can agree on. As the political climate intensifies, as we walk through a complicated and confusing pandemic, and as we watch those around us rise in protest, the differing beliefs and opinions among us are many. As a teacher, it is challenging to know what my role is amidst such chaos and unrest.

After the death of George Floyd in Minnesota this summer, when riots emerged around us and social media erupted with negativity, aggression, and hate, my role became clear. We need to learn how to have tough conversations without demolishing every person and relationship in our path. I decided to start with racism.

Let me be clear. As their teacher, I do not ever attempt to impose my own beliefs or opinions on my students. I do not strive to change or alter their ideas. I DO hope to open their eyes and their minds to ideas other than their own, to listen to the words and experiences of other people, and to seek to understand from where others are coming. I encourage them to be willing to change their minds – not to change them. There is a difference.

Since day one this year, I have been prepping my classes for the coming days and weeks where we will be joining in some tough conversations together. We will address certain instances that have occurred in recent days, and we will reflect on events from the past. We will view these incidents from differing perspectives to try to gain insight and understanding, and we will pull from our own backgrounds and experiences to discuss our personal reactions and responses.

In order to get comfortable with the inevitable feeling of discomfort that accompanies these tough conversations, we had to set some ground rules. First, students anonymously shared the fears they had about what could happen while discussing racism together. I encourage all readers to look closely at the lists you see below and ask yourself if you have had any similar feelings in recent months. I have. And I do. I understand the gravity of my role as facilitator of these conversations. I admitted to my students I share similar fears. I worry I will say the wrong thing or that feelings will be hurt. It scares me, but I believe this is why we need to do it.

Next, they anonymously shared what they hope does happen while discussing racism together. Here I urge readers to notice the courage that exists in the words you see below.

Finally, we agreed that setting some group guidelines would be helpful in doing our best to avoid the fears listed while nurturing and encouraging the hopes. Imagine social media platforms in a world where all members were cognizant and mindful of the following guidelines. My students offer hope, strength, maturity, and respect at a time when those traits feel forgotten and misplaced. The future looks to be in good hands.

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