With everything that has gone on this week, I think it's important to consider how that effects the classroom environment. Giving students time to process critical/crucial events is so important and sets the tone for your classroom environment. If you don't allow for processing time in class with something that affects the whole school, then we need to reevaluate math.
A few of my professors gave time for us, as a class, to process the recent presidential election. For me, this was neither helpful nor hurtful and I am sure for others it might have been either as well. I left class reflecting on whether I thought that was a good idea or not, should there be class time to process big events that effect everyone? Fast-forward a few days, I was sitting at an intern meeting on Saturday morning and we were given time to discuss the same topic. But this time it helped tremendously. It was the same situation, a room full of 25 people with different views, but it was a different kind of discussion. So what was the difference? Why was one conversation better than the others and how does this relate to the classroom?
Everyone has his or her own opinion, views, and beliefs. I imagine this like the picture shown above, as the wind blows, the leafs fall from the tree and fly in all different directions. Then once the leafs have landed, if you don't rake them then they will remain spread out and scattered around the ground. Likewise, when an event occurs, that affects the school; the reactions among students can be very different. If you don't allow time for them to come together and process through the event, then they will remain scattered in their feelings and beliefs.
Giving students time to process can be beneficial or hurtful, depending on how the conversation is handled. These conversations can have no nothing to do with math, but in a way, still relate to math as a whole. These meaningful discussions allow students to learn how to engage in hard conversation on topics that they might not agree with at all. Understanding how to have a civil conversation with someone who might feel differently than you is a critical skill; learning to explain your reasoning on why and how you feel and then being an active listener when you are on the other end. Here are a couple ways to allow students to process events such as, death, nation wide event, or even, God forbid, a shooting.
1. Open Facilitated Discussion
I know it seems weird to have "open" and "facilitated" in the same title but it will makes sense in a minute. In order to have a positive outcome from an open discussion there needs to be a sense of how to share what you're feeling in a respectful way. This could be a 10-15 minute discussion on how the class thinks a positive discussion should look. For the rest of the time students could talk as a class, with partners, or in small groups about how they're feelings regarding whatever just occurred. This could also include talking points or questions to help stimulate discussion and deeper thinking. Then everyone is on the same page when the discussion takes place. This relates back to math because teamwork is such a huge part of mathematics and you have to know how to share your thoughts and feelings in a respectful way.
2. Word Vomit Filter
This type of discussion could help avoid someone spilling all their thoughts without thinking about their words. Just allowing time for students to write/draw what they're feeling could be very beneficial. You could even give the option of turning it in so you could have a better understanding of where your students are at in dealing with the event. This would be a time for students to organize their thinking and figure out what they are feeling and why they may be feeling that way. Some people may just need to sit in silence and evaluate all their thoughts, which would be a filter option as well. This could be just a space for students to really think about their thoughts and the way they are feeling. Again, this is crucial in mathematics as well. Being able to identify all your thinking and then organizing those thoughts is an essential skill.
So let's get back to the initial question. What was the difference between the discussions I had in class and the one I had on Saturday morning? The conversations in class were just lots of opinions being spoken and more anger and frustration building because there was no sense of peace in it. There was no direction and guidance, therefore the people who were most outspoken rambled on while others sat back and were consumed by their thoughts and opinions. The discussion on Saturday was much different; it still was people's opinions being shared but in a different way. It was a peaceful discussion that was spoken in feelings more than anything else. We didn't all agree on everything but it was rooted in understanding that we probably wouldn't all agree. Everyone was given the opportunity to speak/share, it created a powerful environment that ended in a peaceful closing statement, which included the realization that coming together as one we would be much powerful opposed to dealing with things on our own.
Essentially, having these discussions are crucial for the classroom. When an event happens that affects many students, you can't just pretend like it didn't happen. Students are human, we all need time to process our thoughts and feelings. You are setting them up for failure if you expect them to snap back to reality with no time to try understand what's going on. Allowing your classroom to be a free space to explore your thoughts is a powerful move for a teacher. Your room is then viewed beyond the enclosed four walls of a school building and it opens up doors to connect with students a different level.
We are all human. Students have needs too.