Discussing Upsetting Events with Young People
When upsetting events happen in the world, it can be helpful to give young people a chance to share their feelings and thoughts about them. While we adults may be tempted to avoid bringing up such news, if it is on students' minds, it's present in the classroom, whether we talk about it or not.
When we create a safe, supportive space where students can share their thoughts and feelings about sensitive issues and events constructively, we can turn those events into powerful teachable moments, and foster a stronger sense of community among our students in the process.
Consider these guidelines for discussing difficult issues in your classroom: Teaching about Controversial or Difficult Issues. You may also want to explore our Black Lives Matter Lesson Collection, or other resources in our Crisis Support Bundle.
Note: While all students and educators are likely to be upset about this issue, students and educators of color are carrying an extra emotional burden. Especially if Black and Brown students are in the minority in your class, you might consider facilitating an affinity circle for white students to process their feelings and increase their sensitivity on this issue before convening the whole group.
About Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was killed by police in Memphis, Tennessee.
According to NPR:
Nichols, a father of a 4-year-old son, was known to his family and friends as an avid skateboarder and nature photographer from Sacramento, Calif., according to The Associated Press. He arrived in Memphis just before the pandemic, and later started a job with FedEx, a major employer there. Nichols had been with the company for about nine months before his death, The New York Times reported.
"He was one of those people who made everyone around them happy," Nichols' step-grandmother Lucille Washington said at a memorial service.
From PBS Newshour:
The 29-year-old died earlier this month, three days after he was hospitalized.
Police brutally beat, tased and pepper-sprayed him for three minutes following a traffic stop. Five former police officers are now charged with his murder. Last night, friends family and supporters turned out for a candlelight vigil at Tyre Nichols' favorite skateboard park.
The Memphis police chief has said there was no probable cause to warrant Nichols' arrest. And, this week, many of the city's top officials have described the video of his arrest as horrific and difficult to watch.
It’s always good to familiarize yourself with the news, but it is understandable if you are intentionally avoiding another painful story or the graphic video of such extended violence.
Please be aware that many articles do contain footage of Tyre Nichols being brutally beaten by police and we advise you not to introduce those to your students. Instead, you might explain some of the important shared understandings of what is known about his death at the hands of the five officers.
Before the listening circle, come up with some prompts or questions you think would be appropriate for your particular students. Some possible prompts are below.
If the listening circle is helpful, consider facilitating more in the days to come.
Welcome students to the space, beginning with a check-in, if you haven't already connected.
Before you open up the topic, establish or review your class’s guidelines for discussion or "community practices."
If the class is new to listening circles, explain the process: Listening circles give people (young people and adults) a chance to say what they are thinking and feeling, and can help engender mutual understanding and support. A listening circle allows time for participants to speak and to listen. It is not a time for discussion or dialogue. Rather, each person is invited to speak in response to a question or prompt. When a person is speaking, the others in the group should listen only and not interrupt.
For your virtual listening circle, post for all to see a list of the participants. People will have an opportunity to speak in that order.
Some guidelines for listening circles include:
- It's okay to pass if you need more time to think or would rather not respond.
- Speak from your own point of view.
- Be your own barometer - share as much as you feel comfortable sharing.
- Confidentiality is important. We need to agree that what we share among ourselves will stay private.
Next, provide an introduction to the issue. Say a little about the killing of Tyre Nichols. Share that many of us have strong feelings about what has happened, as well as thoughts and reflections.
Invite each person in turn to share what they are thinking and feeling.
Give each person a few minutes to say whatever they want to say - or to pass. When one person is speaking, the others in the group should pay close attention but not comment. The circle is over after every person has had at least one chance to speak. Often going around the circle more than once allows those who pass on the first go-round to collect their thoughts and feelings so that they can share in the next round.
Possible prompts might be:
- What thoughts might you want to share with Tyre Nichols' friends and family right now?
- What thoughts and feelings have you had about the police violence against Tyre Nichols?
- What is one thing we could do - individually, as a group, or as a society - to show support for one another in the wake of these events?
- What do you want to say about what is happening at this moment? What's on your mind?
- What would you like to do for our community or the world to address this issue?
To bring the session to a close, you might invite students to share a reflection on a quote that is appropriate for their group. Three possibilities:
- “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” (Desmond Tutu)
- “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” (Frederick Douglass)
- “My response to racism is anger. That anger has eaten clefts into my living only when it remained unspoken, useless to anyone.” (Audre Lorde)
- Black Lives Matter Lesson Collection
- Suggestions for Discussing Violent Events in the News. General guidelines for talking sensitively with students who may be upset about recent acts of violence in the news.
- Discussing Tragic Events in the News. Basic questions to help students share thoughts and feelings about an upsetting event, and additional guidance.
- Police Reform vs. Abolition: Two Paradigms for Change. Students discuss two different visions of policing and racial justice - and consider how the thinking of one organizer and lawyer evolved over time.
- This Year, Try Centering Blackness. Centering diverse cultures can strengthen community and sense of belonging for everyone, writes Morningside Center staff developer Nicole Lavonne Smith.
- Voices of Resistance: Portraits of Protesters. This lesson invites students to listen to and reflect on portraits of 12 Black Lives Matter protesters from across the U.S.
- Music as Fuel for the Struggle. This activity invites students to listen to and share music that can inspire and sustain them as they explore ways to battle oppression and push to survive and thrive during these challenging times.
- Listening Circles. This simple process gives young people—and adults—a chance to express their feelings about events of the day.
- Self-Care Lesson Collection