How to Teach Respectful Disagreement in Your Classroom
Social skills are what most school-age students lack. When they come to your classroom, they might disagree on everything you teach: they don't listen, they interrupt, they don't know how to use non-verbal subtleties in communication. What is more, some kids say or do hurtful things when they see something that doesn't fit their reality.
It happens because they don't know how to express alternative points of view. They don't know how to listen to someone with a different point of view. And they don't understand how to respond politely.
In other words, your mentees have no idea about respectful disagreement. To maintain a positive atmosphere in the classroom and raise individuals of good intents, consider teaching your students to disagree with dignity and respect.
How to do that?
Give Them Words
The language of respectful disagreement is important. Your learners might find it challenging to mince words for expressing their thoughts. Create a list of sentences for them to use and encourage them to practice these lexical items in class.
- I see your point. However…
- I don't agree but, please, tell me more about your point of view.
- Would you be so kind to explain why you think so?
- I've listened to you, and now can I tell you about what I think of it?
Encourage students to debate on different topics. For example, you might start a discussion on pizza toppings and ask kids to explain why they prefer green, not black olives.
Teach Them About Sources
Here comes the disturbing truth from the Stanford University: 80% of secondary students don't see any difference between news and sponsored content. For them to know how to use sources in disagreements and be able to cite properly when trying to prove the point, teach your mentees about media literacy.
They should know:
- how to search for reliable sources and distinguish them from non-authoritative ones;
- how to evaluate sources used by others;
- how to understand if others don't copy or plagiarize their arguments;
- how to cite sources in both academic papers and oral presentations.
Engage Learners Into Debates
Provide a prompt and allow your students to generate themes. Once you've chosen a theme together, divide the class into two groups: one side will be the affirmatives, and another one will be the negatives.
Put them into circles and give 10-15 minutes to come together. They may research, choose examples, think about the points their opponents might raise and the agruments they would use to disagree respectfully. Then, give each student a turn to speak and see if the discussion generates new understandings.
Set The Example For Them
When in the classroom, learners look at you, their teacher, and imitate your behavior patterns. So, model how to carry oneself in the face of disagreement and hold yourself to the standard you expect from mentees. Set the example for kids.
Avoid demonstrating your teaching power through sarcasm, don't use threats or put-downs, and forget about the need to win when a learner challenges you. Let's get down to examples.
What a kid might tell you:
- That's a stupid rule!
- That's not fair!
- Why are you always picking on me?
Use these moments to demonstrate how it's possible to stop disagreeable behaviors in a respectful and dignified way. Respond like this:
- It's your opinion and you can disagree.
- I'm sorry you feel that way.
- Please, tell me what you think would work better for you.
Teach Kids About Coping Strategies
The bitter truth is, some of your mentees might say hurtful things on purpose. It's their way to grab attention or develop a reputation among classmates, which often leads to stresses and conflicts. Although your instinctive reactions could be fight or flight, none of them is appropriate in the classroom. Teach students to cope with irritation, stay calm, and not show their negative emotions.
Easier said than done, right? Yet you can practice several activities with kids to help them get greater control over thoughts and feelings.
Teach students to take a few deep breaths every time they feel scared or angry in order to breathe out all the negative energy they might feel right now. Counting to five or ten might help, too.
If you work with pre-k students, consider gamification. For example, you could ask kids to breathe out like angry dragons. Get creative!
Explain the statement "what we think affects how we feel" and teach this connection to your students. It's possible to reach through drawing a parallel between what kids love and how they feel about that.
- Please, think of your favorite toy (food, TV show, place, etc.) right now. How do you feel about it?
Then, connect how these positive thoughts help when something bad happens like arguing or saying something mean. It could remind students about their good qualities when others try to upset them. Share some positive prescriptions with kids and encourage them to think like that:
- I am smart.
- I won't allow anyone to make me sad.
- I don't have to agree with everything others say about me.
Teach kids to change perspective: point out they have power to control feelings by adjusting images and thoughts. So, for example, when someone says hurtful words, students might imagine the attacker dressed like a clown. Or, before they react to the negative, they could try to imagine attackers saying something that wouldn't bother them at all.
Ask your mentees a question: "If someone called you a book, what would be your reaction?" Such a tactic of mind changing helps to avoid fights as well as seed positive atmosphere in the classroom.
In a Word…
Respectful disagreement is a skill many adults fail to develop, though it's crucial for productive communication, interaction, and healthy relations. Teach your students about it, and that's will be the first step toward their strong emotional intelligence.
About the author: Lesley Vos is a private educator from Chicago. She is a professional web writer contributing to publications on education, career, and self-development. Feel free to drop Lesley a line in Twitter or become friends with her on Facebook.