The Morning After- How I Had Tough Conversations With My Students

The workshop yesterday at AFSE on Restorative Justice with Erin Dunlevy was well timed.  As we participated in the morning training, I honestly didn't think I would need to be using some of the tools I learned to soon.  But last night, I along with all of you, watching the election results and America broke my heart (though not unexpectedly- as we all like a bad boy, right?)

I finally fell asleep around 2, wondering what I would say to my students in the morning.  My first period class on Wednesday is my AP Lang class.  We just spent a month thinking about language and rhetoric in politics as well as reading Thank You For Arguing. The 11th graders have begun to think critically of language and word choice and how a writer or speaker can use language to achieve a goal.  I knew that combining a content circle and keeping the discussion grounded in the content I would be able to get through a 60 minute class with out crying.

Before class started, I asked a few of the kids who arrive early to create the circle in the space, moving the desks out of the way.  I was grateful that they were willing and able.  Erin had been right- kids understand the unspoken rules of circles.   I posted the discussion norms on the board:

  1. Only talk when holding the Talking Piece
  2. Respect for all perspectives
  3. You can pass.
  4. If you aren’t sure, pose a question to the group.
  5. It you want to save it for later, write put it in the parking lot.

We then did two rounds.  Round one, I asked each student to share one word that described how they were feeling in the moment.  Each student passed a small button around the circle, sharing their words with the group:
Confused. Scared. Frightened. Angry. Confounded. Lost. Why? Frustrated. Powerless.
It was clear that this had been the right move.  The tone of the room was somber, but these are kids I have built a relationship with over the last few years and they knew the room was a safe place (even for our one vocal Republican). 

In the second round I asked kids to write one question they had.  That it may not be answered, but something they wanted to pose to the group and the universe. 
Here are some of their questions: 
  • How did Trump successfully get the majority of the votes?
  • What did Hillary do differently than Trump?
  • Why did 31% of hispanics, 38% of asians and 8% of blacks vote for Trump?
  • What do you think Trump's first move as president will be?
  • Why do you think the number of women that voted [for] Trump was so high?
  • Do you think Hillary would have won if the people who voted for Bernie voted for Hillary?
  • Are you ready to be drafted for the war?
  • Will he do anything to change our educational system?
  • How do you think having Trump as president and the Senate and House being Republican will affect new and past laws? 
  • How did you react to all the red on the map?
  • Does this mean we are living in a mostly racist world?
We can tell from looking at the list of questions where their heads are.  They are grappling with the same confusion that I watched the news commentators and analysts sort through late into the night.  They are at a loss, as are many of us.

We then came back to the language.  I had heard a commentator on the news talking about the effectiveness of "Make America Great Again" and what it did for the campaign.  I posted the following slide on the board, asking them to examine the language itself and what it did for each campaign: 

The shares were again thoughtful and insightful.  My one Trump supporter was asked to begin the share- as the first thing he said as he had stormed into my room earlier in the period was, yes, you guessed it, "Make America Great Again!"  The nice thing about the protocol is that it is not about debate, it's about sharing and being heard.  The space was safe, nonjudgmental and all voices and perspectives were able to be heard.

At the end of the hour, we had all participated in a thoughtful and reflective conversation that helped us to think about one narrow aspect of why? and to challenge our thinking and push our own understanding of the complexities of our country and it's citizens. I made it through the class with out crying.

Hours later, as I sat with my 9 advisees- all young women, all minorities, and I finally cried.  I cried because in hearing their fears, I became even more aware of my own privilege and what it allows me.  I cried because I had wanted so badly for Clinton to shatter the glass ceiling and for these 17 and 18 year old young women to see the first female president.  I cried because I want them to not fear the rest of the country, but in reality- red= danger in many of their minds. And I cried because for many of them their instinct is to protect others, to advocate and stand up for injustice, because they are all amazing young women. 

In another hour I will be sitting with my cohort of 14 peers, all aspiring school leaders who are passionate about our kids and urban education.  As educators, we are the front line- Blue state or Red.  It is our job to educate.  It is our job to teach empathy and tolerance. It is our job to continue to help in the raising of kids who will always fight injustice and not be afraid to speak up.

I know that the future is in good hands.  I hope the next generation of young people will be the change they want to see in the world.  In the mean time, I show up. I listen. I make the circle and I pass the button and ask the tough questions.


  1. Thank you for sharing this reflection and for being brave enough to tackle this today! I know your students value and gain so much from their classes and interactions with you. I feel happy to be able to work with and learn from you!



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