Having Complex Classroom (and Life) Conversations with Courage

This series of articles and resources exists to explore a big question: How might we engage with our students and colleagues about complex topics — all while creating a mindful, inclusive, compassionate, and connected classroom space?


And how does all of this deeply interconnect with our daily lives beyond the classroom?




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abhi, BeWE Crew




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Having Complex Classroom (and Life) Conversations with Courage


A student brings up something you’re not sure how to talk about. You’re teaching a lesson this week that could spark a tough discussion. You’re hearing students bring up feelings they have that you’re not sure how to talk about meaningfully. You’re talking about a global issue in class tomorrow that might not feel so relatable to you and/or your students. You’re introducing a new culture or way of life and want to do it in a mindful way.


Teaching is complex. Being a student is complex. Being a human is complex. This series exists to make all of this complexity a little less scary, and to help us remember something big: hidden in the complexity is beautiful, deeply impactful learning. WE are creating this series to remind us that we’re all on this learning journey together, that we’re not on our own, and that courage and compassion can help us every step of the way.


That moment when your student asks a big, hard, nuanced question about themselves, someone else, or a big topic like inequity? Let’s explore how we might make those moments less “ahhh, what to do!?”. Together, let’s learn to see the magical opportunity for growth that exists in these big conversations.


Note: this post and this whole series is based on our team and network’s perspectives and experiences. Through the series, the voices of amazing teachers, school leaders, organization leaders, students, and writers will be shared. Your school or district may have policies you can/should/must follow in certain situations. These posts are not intended to suggest you replace those policies or protocols in any way.


Want to write a guest post for this series based on experiences and/or research? Want to engage further on having these kinds of complex conversations? Just want to say hi? We’d love that! Email abhi at [email protected] with feedback, perspective, and suggestions for future posts within the series. Or apply here to be a guest writer.

Having Complex Classroom (and Life) Conversations with Courage


Resources as a foundation for this series


We live in an ever-evolving, complex world. Students have big questions about self, others, and our world. Questions that we as teachers may not have had a safe space to explore in our own schooling — or even ever in our lives.


As we engage with content that encourages us to open our hearts and minds to new ways of life, we’re inevitably going to come face to face with these challenging questions. This is a great thing. This is progress. This creates opportunity for us to grow together in our awareness of self, others, and our world alongside — not separate from — our students.


In learning to explore our differences and similarities together, we can become closer. We can become WE.


Our upcoming posts will draw on experiences and research to dive deeper into HOW we can approach specific situations, topics, and conversations. To first lay our foundation, here is a sampling of the readings and resources we’ve found helpful, all created by organizations and humans we are grateful for:


  • The Anatomy of Peace (book): several teachers and professionals in our network have shared this book had a transformative impact on how they lead, hold space, and generally engage with self and others. This might be a book to consider for your middle or high school students.


  • Teaching Tolerance’s Webinars and Other Resources: Teaching Tolerance has tons of awesome resources around how we can have more effective and more courageous conversations about challenging topics. Really, really good stuff. Don’t be surprised if you spend hours and hours browsing through their resources.


  • A Self-Assessment by Teaching Tolerance: If you don’t get a chance to browse deeply on the TT site, here’s a practical resource they share. Prepare for difficult conversations about race and racism with this important self-assessment by Teaching Tolerance. This might also act as a solid base for creating similar self assessments around other important topics and conversations you seek to have. And another thing to check out: TT’s Social Justice Standards.


  • The Danger of a Single Story (password: storytellingmodule): Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie helps us explore the dangers of painting whole peoples, cultures, and countries with a broad stroke. This video could be a very powerful start to any lesson you teach about new cultures and perspectives. This kind of thinking can help us have deeper conversations with our students that move beyond seeing a person or a place as any single thing. (This video is hosted within one of our “topic modules” circa 2015. Email us to learn more!)


  • Turning to One Another (book): though this book by Margaret Wheatley wasn’t written specifically for K-12 teachers, it can be an incredibly powerful tool both for professional learning circles and for strengthening your classroom culture. Throughout the book there are beautiful practical guides to how you might approach important conversations that can bring us closer together to deeply hear and see one another. If you can’t get enough, then check out Walk Out, Walk On too! 


  • Why We Can’t Afford Whitewashed SEL: Dena Simmons on why it’s so important we have courageous conversations in our classrooms. A powerful reminder and great inspiration as we work to have these conversations more often and more meaningfully in our classrooms.



  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain (book): Read Zaretta Hammond’s powerful research and writing to help us all design and implement brain-compatible culturally responsive instruction. A key reminder: CRT isn’t as simple as teaching about a country where students in your class have connections or family ties or roots. It’s about so much more than that.


  • Restorative Justice Perspectives: Daisy Yuhas writes about research and experiences related to how we can move away from “traditional” disciplinary practices towards more community-based and community-minded approaches.



Together, we can learn to come together and have complex conversations about and with self, others, and our world. With courage, grace, awareness, and deep understanding. This is how we can move towards a more peaceful, interconnected world. A world where we move beyond the single story to see one another as unique, beautiful humans. A world where we Be WE early in life, every day, and everywhere.



Stay tuned for the many posts to come. Let’s open our hearts and minds together.