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What do you do when you’re in the classroom and things go awry in a way you weren’t expecting?

Who would have thought that in the dead of winter, some instructors might be experiencing “hotspots.” The term “hotspots” is a nod to hot moments in the classroom where “people’s feelings—often conflictual—rise to a point that threatens teaching and learning. They can occur during the discussion of issues people feel deeply about, or as a result of classroom dynamics in any field” (Warren, 2002).

To address such moments proactively and debrief them in good company, instructors in the Occupational Therapy Program within the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy (SPOT) at McGill have been holding Hot SPOT meetings. These are opportunities to discuss sensitive topics, such as students feeling triggered by certain content; the use of preferred pronouns; and offering land acknowledgments.

Profile picture of Professor Sara Saunders

Professor Sara Saunders, Director, Occupational Therapy Program, describes Hot SPOT meetings as a place where colleagues can bring these topics for discussion in a supportive environment. They didn’t want the meetings to be a negative place where people only vent. Colleagues can share negative or challenging occurrences during the first half of the meeting, and then they can share things that are going well during the second half. That way, meetings end on a positive note. Sara also emphasizes that the spirit of the group is to acknowledge that everybody knows something and has something to bring to the conversation.

Meetings are held once a month from 12:00-1:00pm throughout the academic year. The meetings are scheduled all at once and reminders get sent. Meetings are online for convenience. Attendance is optional and colleagues can drop in. Usually, five to 10 colleagues show up. No minutes are taken. Any resources that are shared are filed in a shared faculty folder.

I asked Sara what advice she would give other instructors who might wish to implement Hot SPOT-type meetings in their units. She offered several recommendations:

  • Be explicit at the beginning of each meeting about what the purpose is, namely, engaging in dialogue and not debate.
  • Plan for how conflict will be managed because discussions can become emotionally charged. There will be opinions and perhaps judgments, and people might feel vulnerable.
  • Set ground rules around the conversation, such as being respectful; maintaining confidentiality; articulating expectations.
  • Hold sessions on a regular basis so that people come to expect them.

If you could imagine having similar conversations with your colleagues, what “hot moment” would you want to share?

Looking for related resources? Check these out:

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Statement

Explore Indigenous Teaching Strategies – Consider going beyond the classroom walls with land-based pedagogy (scroll to the section on Land acknowledgments)

Strategies to foster equitable and inclusive learning environments

Photo credit: Anna Shvets

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Associate Director, Faculty and Teaching Development, and Senior Academic Associate, at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning!

(Photo credit: Owen Egan)

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