Navigating Hot Moments

Layla Jasper, Associate Director, AWSL
Mar 09, 2022

AWSL Hot Moments

At AWSL, we are hearing the same feedback from students, teachers, and administrators across the state. There is tension at school. There are tough moments to move through in the classroom, leaving teachers and administrators feeling underprepared and students feeling unseen and frustrated.

"Hot moments," a sudden eruption of conflict or tension in the classroom, can bring up an array of big emotions for people. Often, these occur when a student says something politically charged, may exhibit bias(es), or would be considered a microaggression. This moment can bring on feelings of uncertainty for everyone involved. You may not know how to move through it to interrupt harmful comments or behavior without escalating the situation even further.

It may be tempting to let it go and not “make a big deal out of it,” however, as students voiced in our Student Voice Groups, not doing anything opens the door to even more harmful behavior. So, what can you do? Below are five strategies to consider when faced with a Hot Moment in the classroom.

Know that these are only a few ways to move through tense moments that arise. Each classroom is different, and every incident is different. However, being proactive is the best way to handle these moments. Students shared that their number one suggestion is for teachers and administrators to build relationships with students and create brave environments to share ideas and voice feelings. With collaborative guidelines developed ahead of time of how your class handles these moments, you can lean into those processes when emotions are running high. And always remember to lean on your support network after an incident because these tense moments are difficult for teachers, administrators, and students alike.

You don’t have to have all the answers. No one does. No one is perfect. It’s all about creating a brave space for you and your students to be themselves, struggle with ideas, grow and learn how to work across differences.

Keep being YOU! Keep being brave!

Five Strategies for Hot Moments

  1. Remind students of your discussion or participation guidelines. If your class hasn’t already established them, collaboratively create a few key ones to guide the conversation moving forward out of the ‘hot moment.’ No personal attacks have an openness to hearing a range of perspectives and accountability for the effects of our words on others. Collaboratively define what respect means and looks like in your classroom

  2. Change the energy of the room. Invite students to move around the room, write or sketch quietly, or take a few deep breaths before diving back in.

  3. Clarify student comments. Sometimes simply naming and then breaking the tension by doing something different with our bodies or minds can be very helpful for moving forward productively with a difficult conversation.Students sometimes inadvertently say insulting or marginalizing things when they struggle to understand a new perspective or feel the intellectual discomfort of having their familiar views challenged. If you think a comment is coming from such a place of cognitive struggle, you might give the student a chance to explain the thought process behind their remark. “What do you mean by X?” or “I heard you saying Y; is that what you meant to say?” OR Ask them to rephrase if it’s evident they understand they made a misstep (“Do you want to try saying that differently?” And then maybe “Let’s talk about why that initial phrasing felt so problematic.”).

  4. Guide students to reflect collectively or individually. Consider using a questionnaire, writing prompt, or other creative option where students can share what they appreciated about the conversation, what they learned from it, and what remains unresolved.

  5. Interrupt the behavior right then and chat with individuals 1:1. Let the student(s) know that what they did/said is not okay and will not be acceptable in the school/classroom. Chat with them after class to hear their perspective. Lean on some of the above strategies. If another student was harmed by the behavior, check in with them 1:1 and ask how you can support them.

This post was originally published on the AWSL website. Check out their blog!


  • Communication
  • student leadership
  • AWSL
  • Student Leadership (AWSL)
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