Hot Moments

Dealing with tension and emotion laden moments in the classroom
Puckung graphic design factory, Iconfinder, edited by Samuel Whitcomb

Many teachers experience so-called hot moments: moments when the classroom atmosphere is heavy with tension and students (and/or the teachers) start to feel uncomfortable. Hot moments can occur when divergent opinions collide, views are aggressively voiced, or nuanced understanding is lacking. They happen when students do not feel equally invited to share their perspectives or when teachers feel unsafe. Teachers often dread these moments; some stifle them, and some try to avoid them at all costs.

The aim of this toolbox is to provide teachers with knowledge, recognition and encouragement, and some ways to deal with hot moments.

Hot Moment Dynamics on three levels

Five sources of tensions are identified, which result from classroom interactions.
a. Clashing Opinions
b. Cultural Differences (background, identity, ideology, educational norms)
c. Judgement and Marginalization
d. Silent Voices in Echo Chambers
e. Unsettling Voices and Acts

Four patterns of dynamics within individual teachers emerged that shape how they deal with a hot moment.
a. Feeling Insecure and Inept
b. Experiencing Surprise and Shock
c. Intuition and Responsiveness
d. Challenged Personal Dispositions (Identity, Norms, Ethics)

Class time and size affect the emergence of hot moments and the teachers’ responses. Hot moments are easier to turn into learning experiences when the group size is smaller and there is little time pressure.

What to do? Some Guidelines and Tips

The terms tension and hot moment have varying connotations. In conversations about hot moments it is important to all have the same definition. While for some, hot moments refer to moments where learning stops, for others, it is the emotion-laden moment before learning stops, which can still be redirected into a learning experience.

This highlights the difference between a safe environment and a "safe space", where a safe environment allows room for discomfort but still maintains that everyone is just as ‘worthy of respect and consideration as anyone else and are fully competent to participate in society as any other.’ [1]

For teachers, discomfort can be challenging as (they feel) they are supposed to be all-knowing, unfaltering, contained, and in-control. Feelings of discomfort and unease are often seen as undesirable and are hence prevented, disregarded, or stifled.

The teachers' experience with hot moments calls for us to reconsider feelings of discomfort. Instead of being undesirable feelings that need to be resolved or disregarded, they are signals. Important signals that call for reflection, for a time-out, and taking a helicopter view of the situation.

Sharing your experiences with your colleagues can help cultivate a culture where you collectively grow and gain confidence to act during hot moments. If a teacher hears of a real story from a colleague (regardless of outcome) then they will feel more confident to take the lead in hot moments and resolve them in a more constructive, compassionate way.

It is often pointed out, by teachers and students alike, that the context of a situation (time constraints, large group size etc.) is what stifled thoughtful reflection, attention and consideration to deal with hot moments. However these are necessary to be able to handle hot moments calmly and constructively. 

Acquiring and refining the professional and personal skills that help us deal with hot moments is hard and takes time. Sharing your situations and listening to others helps to put your own experiences into perspective. They help take situations (and yourself) more lightly and confirm no such thing as ‘correct’ or ‘failed’ or ‘being in complete control over a situation.’ Situations are unpredictable; they can be steered in various directions, but only to a certain extent. Be persistent and patient and, above all, mild (to others but most of all to ourselves).

For contact about the research: Marieke Slootman, m.w.slootman@vu.nl, and for contact about workshops about “hot moments”: Siema Ramdas, s.k.k.ramdas@vu.nl

The full document outlining "hot moments" and the ways in which to deal with them is provided below:

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