How to Equip Students to Handle Hot Moments

At times when asking a student to explain their intention, the student may lack awareness of the origins of their ideas, so you may have to ask follow-up questions that help the student drill down in their thinking. The following “ladder of interference,” created by Argyris and Senge for the business community, can be used to guide your sequence of follow-up questions and can also be shown to students to help them understand from where their beliefs and actions derive:

Preparing Students for Hot Moments

While the establishment of ground rules at the start of a course will help to create some of the expectations needed to deescalate any potential hot moment, you can prime students to attend to both INTENT and IMPACT in the class and beyond by having them practice asking questions about intentions before a hot moment or discourse occurs.

One way to practice this with students in the classroom is to give the students a typical microaggressive/aggressive statement like, “I don’t see color,” (or a statement more typical to your course or discipline) and have students break into “intent” and “impact” groups that come up with all of the potential positive intents and negative impacts behind such a statement.

An effective way of getting students to take on a mindset that is atypical for themselves is to have them group according to their natural tendencies (those who tend to focus first on intent and those that tend to focus first on impact) and then give the intent-first group the task of coming up with all of the potential negative impacts and the impact-first group the task of coming up with all of the potential positive intents behind the statement. After students share their lists with the whole class, lead the students in practicing questions to ask when addressing the INTENT and IMPACT of the statement.

By utilizing this type of INTENT v. IMPACT activity early in a course, students can practice social perspective-taking and intervention strategies that can interrupt their conditioned responses and improve their communication around challenging topics.

Thinking about your own teaching and courses:

  • Make a list of some microaggressions/aggressions common to your course/discipline/students in general.
  • Generate a personalized list of question/response stems from which you can draw on when addressing intentions and impacts.