Holding difficult conversations: the classroom
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Holding difficult conversations: the classroom


Before we begin, I’d like to just say a few
words about the attack on the soldier that happened last night,
just down the road from here. I know we’re all very shocked, but some of you might be feeling
unsafe in our neighbourhood. What happened… I don’t feel unsafe. Only soldiers need to watch their backs. Why would you say that? Why should
soldiers watch their backs? What goes around comes around. If Western soldiers attack Islam,
they should expect to be targets. This guy was doing his job.
He didn’t deserve this. And what about our brothers in Iraq? They didn’t deserve to be bombed
by these soldiers? When teachers have such
a situation in the classroom, it’s very important to stay calm, not to feel offended,
to ask questions – what do you mean? And to focus on a sense
of belonging in the classroom. I first of all would ask them to calm down. Then I would be myself – calm and
then ask them – ok, what shall I do now? Or what are you expecting from me? I think it can be difficult for a teacher because it requires a sort
of change in their roles. Teachers are used to being in control,
being the experts if you like, in terms of the subject knowledge. Whereas for these sorts of controversial topics, they need to change and they need
to become more facilitators rather than the actual experts
with the knowledge. I think it’s very important
for young people to see that you are with them, and that all action you do, you do for and with them. If the teachers are aware
of their own values and a vision of how to teach,
they will handle the situation in the classroom with their teaching skills. You will undoubtedly have quite
a large group in the middle who are sitting there quite passively. And this is the facilitator’s role really. It’s about getting them to actually engage in the conversation, and in actual fact to air their views. They don’t have to have all the facts. It’s really a bigger problem when you let
the students cluster into groups. You have to try to avoid that. Speak to them as individuals. Ask what their own feelings
are about the situation, and you will probably have
a really good discussion. It’s very important to focus
on what we all have in common and not on the differences. For example, when we had
the attacks in Paris and in Brussels, we brought all of the children together
and we talked to them about violence, about terror, about polarisation in society, and how some things for us are close. Because we have students
from Syria, from Afghanistan, who lost family. So for them, that’s close. And then we held a minute of silence
for peace and against terror and against war. And I can assure you, it was a very
emotional moment for everyone. The first thing is for the teacher to really
understand the ethos of the school, its values, it’s culture it’s a good place
to take the students back to. Because sometimes in these discussions, they’re talking about things that are
happening around the world, and it’s always good to come back
to you know, hang on a second, what about the school, what are we like? We once had a situation where
children were saying, we are at war, don’t you know that – you and us. Their brothers said to me
in my office, we are at war. And I said, oh, are we? Yes, you are against us,
you are against Muslims. So I stayed very calm we went for
a walk through the school and I showed him how teachers
were working with the students, how we have Muslim teachers. How we have a Muslim secretary. The man was very ‘oh’, and he apologised. So it’s important not to judge,
not to go in confrontation. It’s important that before you launch into, if you like, facilitating a controversial conversation
that you have had some training and you’ve actually had some practice, and even had a trial of doing something
that is perhaps a little bit controversial so that you can practise the style. I think if you have been working ahead
with preparing the teachers for situations like happening
in this classroom, you are way ahead.

About James Carlton

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