Tips for Open and Respectful Dialogues in the Classroom

By: Christina Koch, NASP Manager, Professional Relations

Transitions can be difficult for all children. For student populations who feel marginalized by the current administration's controversial policies, many challenges have already come up in schools across the country. Teachers and school personnel are left with the tough job of handling classroom conversations and interactions around complicated issues.

Education Week's Research Center surveyed more than 830 K-12 teachers and instructional staff who are registered users of about how they handle controversial topics in a time of division. Of the respondents, 66% said they have noticed an increase in uncivil political discourse in their school since the presidential campaign began, as well as half reporting the number of bullying incidents related to national politics increased in the past year. About 30% of respondents said the spikes in bullying were related to immigration or language and race and ethnicity.

Many said they feel obligated to make sure all their students-regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, or religion-feel safe and secure, making conversations about current events feel necessary. Only 44% said their training adequately prepared them to handle these discussions, and 23% said they've never received such training.  

Now more than ever, schools across the country are welcoming and serving students from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, students from diverse groups that have experienced marginalization may be especially vulnerable to stressors. Many students who themselves are, or live in families with, immigrants, undocumented immigrants, unaccompanied minors, refugees, persons of color, Muslims, or LGBTQ persons, among others, are reporting feeling targeted and unsafe.

Feeling safe and secure in school is necessary for students' learning and development. As educators and school personnel are handling difficult conversations or interactions that may come up due to students feeling marginalized, it is important to understand exactly how these students need to be supported.  

NASP encourages open and respectful dialogue in conversations about current events. The following resources can help educators support students during trying times. As a school psychologist, please feel free to share these with teachers in your school to ensure marginalized students are getting the proper care they need, and offer to be a partner in cultivating school climate.

Additionally, NASP encourages school psychologists to become familiar with the Trauma Informed Care for Families Act that was introduced in both the House (H.R. 1757) and the Senate (S.774) last week. This legislation would address mental health services for students who have experienced trauma or victimization. You can read more about this legislation-and other bills NASP is currently supporting-in NASP's Public Policy Platform.

School psychologists are uniquely positioned in schools to foster trusting relationships among students and staff and provide mental health support to students who may be feeling marginalized in school. Additionally, school psychologists are trained to develop and integrate programming to foster school climate, prevent violence, and balance physical and psychological safety. During this time, it can be difficult for children to understand exactly what some controversial issues happening in our nation will mean for their future. It is an important time for us to come together, work together, and respect one another.