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Workshop Topic Detail

Preparing for Difficult Classroom Conversations: Strategies for Expert and Novice Facilitators


Difficult classroom conversations can arise in any discipline. Contentious current events, challenging course content, and events on campus and in students' lives can all be the impetus for unexpected comments, a challenging turn in dialogue, or a need to proactively acknowledge an issue. How can you lead conversations that create a more supportive, respectful course climate? How can you tie these discussions to your course content? How do you navigate such circumstances without derailing your lesson plan? During this workshop, you’ll discuss how the structure of classroom discussion, classroom ground rules, and your facilitation skills all work together to help you navigate difficult conversations while creating a positive course climate and enhancing student learning. These strategies are designed for faculty in any discipline with any level of experience, from skilled facilitators who regularly teach topics involving difficult conversations to those who have little disciplinary training or experience in navigating tough topics.

By the end of this workshop, participants know or be able to:

    • Reflect on experiences and challenges with difficult dialogues.
    • Learn strategies for creating a positive course climate.
    • Brainstorm how to create and use course ground rules.
    • Create discussion structures that lead to deeper listening, respect, and equitable participation. Apply insights into how course climate, ground rules, and structured conversations can work together to help you navigate unexpected difficult conversations.

Plans for Audience Participation and Interaction:

This workshop is almost entirely hands-on. Participants experience many of the strategies that they can immediately put into practice in their courses. --Structured small and large group discussions about past experiences with difficult conversations. --Hands-on activities for creating a positive course climate and ground rules. --Jigsaw discussion on four discussion strategies for difficult conversations. --Applying strategies to case studies.


Facilitator Photo

Dr. Jennifer H. Herman has developed, facilitated, or overseen hundreds of research-based faculty development programs around teaching and scholarship. Jennifer’s presentations, workshops, and research focus on faculty development programs and center development, course design, teaching strategies, learning theory, teaching for inclusive excellence, student learning outcomes assessment, and online education. Her publications include Creating Engaging Discussions: Strategies for “Avoiding Crickets” in Any Size Class and Online (Stylus, 2018; with L. Nilson). Jennifer teaches courses on teaching, assessment, learning theory, and curriculum development for the Health Professions Education CAGS and doctoral program. Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in higher education from the University at Buffalo and a M.A. in international training and education from American University and is the executive director for the Center for Faculty Excellence at Simmons Univeristy.