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How to handle sensitive issues in the classroom


How to handle sensitive issues in the classroom


Learning how to interact with and address sensitive matters with others is an essential component of a twenty-first-century education. Understanding how and when to discuss a tough issue effectively is critical. It's natural to feel apprehensive or reluctant about discussing sensitive issues in the classroom, but there are certain strategies that can assist you in addressing essential but potentially challenging content with your students. Through this, it supports a healthy learning environment and fosters personal growth among the class. Here are just a few tips on handling these issues.


Preparation is key

You can completely prepare your learners if you know ahead of time that you will be covering sensitive material. You can, for example, have them read about a topic before-hand, provide any appropriate context or information, and advise them that a strong reaction to the content is common. Being as transparent as possible about the aim of the lesson is also an aspect of preparing your students. It is vital to explain to your pupils why you are talking or studying a certain subject, in order for them to absorb the content in a meaningful way. Debates can be drawn from these topics, maintaining sensitivity and making sure boundaries are clear.


Consider human rights and inclusion

While it's definitely important to look out for everyone in the class, and recognise that each student has the right to their own views, intolerance to discrimination or disrespect is unarguable. This essentially means that it is okay for your students to differ opinions on certain topics. However, when sexism, racism etc at any level is implicated into one's opinion, the protection of your most vulnerable students must take priority. Your class may have a vast diversity, coming from many different backgrounds, and so making sure their rights are protected, is important.


Normalise different responses

Different individuals will have varying amounts of emotional engagement and sensitivity based on the topic, which is fine. Strong emotions are an appropriate reaction to many sorts of information, as long as they are not presented as insults toward others. In reality, creating a classroom environment in which children feel comfortable enough to express their feelings is a positive thing. Stay as empathetic as possible, allowing your kids to work through intense emotional responses. If they get overwhelmed, you may always allow them to leave the room for a few moments or enlist the help of your school's counsellor.


Finishing off the lesson

Spend a few minutes at the conclusion of class to summarise so that no one is unsettled when they leave. It is also important to encourage additional reading and thinking, and praise your students for good behaviour, as it is not at all easy to do, with such an intense lesson. 

The process of going through sensitive discussions relies thoroughly on maturity, empathy and respect to others. If this is encouraged earlier on in the year, they will be well prepared for the lesson.