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Running Class Discussions on Divisive Topics Is Tricky



When humans feel threatened, they often go into fight-or-flight mode in which their ability to think critically is compromised. When conflict happens in the classroom, teachers must help students get unstuck from this instinctive fight-or-flight response. This article discusses the Reflective Structured Dialogue, a system developed by marriage and family therapists that helps people change their response to a threatening situation. 

Key Points

The basic steps for creating a Reflective Structured Dialogue in class include:

  • The dialogues have a facilitator who guides the conversation along pre-agreed lines.
  • Participants are encouraged to reflect before they speak.
  • Focus on asking "curious" questions in a highly structured format, with people taking set turns to speak and doing so under a time limit, with the facilitator following a script.
  • Open the dialog by having participants share a story that informed her or his position.
  • Discuss the values that underlie the experiences.
  • Share how one might be pulled in competing directions regarding the issue.

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