Identifying and Addressing Hot Moments

What Are Hot Moments

We’ve all experienced those cringe-worthy moments when someone says something controversial or offensive and can feel the tension rise in the room or feel ourselves getting “hot.” These moments of tension and/or conflict are hot moments. But, hot moments don’t necessarily have to feel tense or hot, especially if group-think is present in a given environment. In other words, if a statement would be controversial or offensive (i.e., create tension and/or conflict) in another environment, then the instance when the statement is said can be treated as a hot moment.

In the classroom, hot moments are those that can derail learning. Or, hot moments can be those instances when, without intervention, a learning opportunity will be missed. According to Harvard’s Lee Warren, “Hot moments occur when people’s feelings—often conflictual—rise to a point that threatens teaching and learning. They can occur during the discussion of issues people feel deeply about, or as a result of classroom dynamics in any field” (see Managing-Hot-Moments-in-the-Classroom-Harvard_University.pdf).

Regardless of how hot moments present themselves, intervention is required.

Intervening in Hot Moments


In the case of hot moments in the classroom, you must intervene. Not intervening can send a message of being unaware, complicit, or neglectful and can lead to increased harm. Do not intervene because you are curious. Additionally, do not avoid intervening because you might be uncomfortable or disinterested in the topic.


When a hot moment has happened in the classroom, individuals in the class will tend to default toward natural tendencies to either wonder about the person’s intended meaning or to focus, instead, on the immediate impact of what was said. For example, say you’re examining race in your course and a student says, “I don’t see color.” It’s conceivable that some of the students in the class might immediately think of the INTENT behind that statement, while other students immediately think of the IMPACT that such a statement can have. Your goal in intervening in this hot moment is to first clarify INTENT and then address the IMPACT.

If you’re not quite sure what to do next after addressing the Intention and the Impact, remember that you can always come back to it, and you don’t have to address the situation alone. Again, make sure to intervene in the moment, but it’s okay to say something like, “I need more time to pull together some resources, so be on the lookout for a Canvas announcement from me, and we’ll pick this up next time.” Or, “I’m going to arrange for a guest speaker to come in to help us think some more about this topic.”

Most of the time with hot moments, we see that they stem from false logic or naivete’, and asking a student to start with clarifying their intention  can help us address this as a learning moment. However, it is feasible that, in asking a student to CLARIFY their statement, we find that the student was not well-intentioned. In this case, you are dealing with a behavioral issue, which may require asking the student to leave the class or pursuing student conduct measures.