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Diversity and Inclusion

Responding to Challenging Classroom Incidences

“Hot moments” in the classroom are those times when a conversation can become unproductive and harmful to people in the classroom. Faculty are in position to manage those moments and must do so to ensure that our classrooms remain a safe environment for all people to learn. Sometimes the hot moments can be an opportunity for productive discussion of which the instructor can take advantage. Other times, discussion can escalate to a point where faculty must take action to maintain a safe learning environment. Here are some resources to help you manage those “hot moments.”

When moments happen, address them

Although your initial instinct may tell you that we should “call out” these behaviors, the most effective intervention action is to send a message of disapproval without damaging interpersonal relationships (Nelson et al., 2011; Plous, 2000) in order to create a climate for dialogue and learning.

The Speak-Up program from the Southern Poverty Law Center lays out four easy steps for intervention that we can use in the classroom:

  1. Interrupt – speak up against hurtful remark to start a dialogue
  2. Question – Ask simple questions to find out why the speaker made the comment
  3. Educate – Explain why the remark could offend people. You may want to keep asking questions as you have the teaching moment.
  4. Echo – If someone else speaks up, acknowledge their remarks

The most important thing is that you are ready before an incident happens. Use this pocket guide to build your own strategy and practice before an incident occurs in your class.

Additional tips for intervention include:

  • Stop the discussion or class and count to 10 before you start speaking. This will help us calm our emotion and come up with a better intervention strategy.
  • “Calling in” instead of “calling out” – it is important to keep dialogue open and to call in to invite to hear students’ perspectives.
  • Clarify what you heard. “I want to make sure I heard you correctly. Did you say…?”
  • Explore their intent behind making the comment. “Can you please help me understand what you meant by that?”
  • Share your perspective on the probable impact of comments of this nature. “When I hear your comment, I think/feel…” Appeal to their better instincts, “We are working toward being fair-minded and inclusive, in this classroom we _______ so we can focus on learning.”
  • Decide if you can make this a teachable moment on the spot or if you need time to think about how to deal with the problem. Be clear with students that you are dealing with the incident but need to consider the best course of action (Souza, 2016, p. 4).

After the moment, consider what action you need to take...

  • ...about difficult conversations that could potentially lead to dialogue about social issues
  • ...about comments that deliberately and negatively affect the learning environment
  • ...when a comment is a threat or slurs that become harassment

What it looks/sounds like

  • The comments made in class are due to misinformation or thoughtlessness of students
  • An opinion or stance is expressed that might be considered a microaggression against another student 

What to do:

What it looks/sounds like

  • Discussion has gone beyond civil and a teachable moment and the learning environment is disrupted
  • Student’s behavior could be a violation of ISU’s Student Code of Conduct

What to do:

What it looks/sounds like

  • Intimidation- a person uses words that threaten another’s safety
  • See ISU PD’s definition of Hate Crime

What to do:


Nelson, J. K., Dunn, K. M., & Paradies, Y. (2011). Bystander anti-racism: A review of the literature. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 11(1), 263–284.

Plous, S. (2000). Responding to overt displays of prejudice: A role-playing exercise. Teaching of Psychology, 27(3), 198–200.

Souza, T. J. (2016). Managing hot moments in the classroom: Concrete strategies for cooling down tension. In M. Bart (Ed.), Faculty Focus: Special Report - Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom (pp. 4–5). Retrieved from

Warren, L. (2006). Managing hot moments in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

2019-01-03T14:16:56.26-06:00 2019