When Talk Gets Out of Hand

At Youth Radio, we’ve been spending the past couple weeks running intensive trainings with our peer educators, who are mostly high school students and recent graduates. We’ve recently revamped our converged media curriculum, so the young people responsible for teaching this stuff need some new skills and competencies. That said, there’s one challenge that peer educators have faced forever at Youth Radio: facilitating tough discussions among students, whether on the air or in the studio.

Because Youth Radio is a place where the whole point is to delve into deep and challenging topics, discussions can heat up pretty quickly–and that can be overwhelming to any educator, young or old. I’ve been teaching teenagers and adults for years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve perseverated through the night over whether I handled an especially volatile discussion right, worrying that someone walked away feeling silenced or slammed or misunderstood.

So… in preparation for a workshop on pedagogy I was facilitating among our peer teaching team, I put together a “cheat sheet” for young people in charge of intervening when their peers’ discussions get out of hand.

1. Pause and deconstruct what’s being said
Sample language: I hear you saying this…I hear you saying that…

2. Drill down to sources
Sample language: What are you basing your perspective on? Does anyone have any other sources?

3. Identify what’s missing
Sample language: I feel like we’re focusing a lot on (BLANK). But what about (BLANK)?

4. Be honest
Sample language: I feel like I’m a little in over my head right now. There’s something that doesn’t feel totally right about how we’re approaching this issue. Does anyone else feel that way?

5. Validate perspectives, but insist on a safe space at Youth Radio:
Sample language: I get what you’re saying, but here’s the thing…my job is to make sure no one gets hurt at Youth Radio, that everyone here feels safe to be themselves…That’s what we all need to create in this space, and I need your help to do that.

6. Get help
Sample language: Hold on a minute, (BLANK) knows a lot more than I do about this issue.

7. Follow up
Sample language: I’ve been thinking a lot about what we were talking about yesterday. Now that I’ve had some time, I’m wondering…

What NOT to do:
Scream
Escalate
Humiliate
Isolate
Pontificate
Force agreement
Make it personal

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