Teaching Tip: Hot Moments in the Classroom

Utilizing a Communication Framework to Cool Down Tension

Despite the feelings of paralysis that take over during hot moments in the classroom, certain practices can be implemented to increase the likelihood of maintaining a supportive climate and positive learning environment. The following is one strategy (of many offered) meant to be reflected upon, modified, practiced, and utilized so that you can be better equipped to effectively respond to hot moments in the classroom when they arise.

What can you do when a comment has been made or reaction observed that causes heat in the classroom? Regardless of whether you or a student were the source of the comment, it is important to view the challenge as an opportunity for you, and others, to learn. Consider using a communication framework, such as Open The Front Door to Communication (OTFD) to describe what is going on, reduce tension, and offer a positive direction. The OTFD steps (adapted from The Excellence Experience, 2015) include:

Observe:        Concrete, factual observations of the situation

Think:                         Thoughts (yours and/or theirs) based on what was observed

Feel:               Emotions using “I statements.”

Desire:           Specific request for a positive desired outcome

Example: “I noticed (Observe) the volume of some people’s voice getting raised. I think (Think) there were some strong reactions to what was said and I feel uncomfortable (Feeling) moving forward with the discussion until we explore this. I am hoping someone can share (Desire) what they are thinking/feeling right now so we can unpack this and learn from each other.”

When practiced, the OTFD framework can be a tool that is quickly retrieved out of our mental toolbox to organize our thoughts and describe the situation in a way that cools down the heat. When hot moments ignite in the classroom, doing nothing is a damaging option (Souza, Vizenor, Sherlip, & Raser, in press). Instead, we can engage thoughtfully and purposively in strategies that maintain a climate that is conducive to learning by not adding fuel to the fire (Souza, 2016).


Souza, T.J. (2016). Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom: Concrete Strategies for Cooling Down Tension. In Faculty Focus Special Report: Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom. Magna Publication.

Souza, T., Vizenor, N., Sherlip, D., & Raser, L. (in press) Transforming conflict in the classroom: Best practices for facilitating difficult dialogues and creating an inclusive communication climate. In P. M. Kellett & T. G. Matyok (Eds.), Transforming Conflict through Communication: Personal to Working Relationships.

SuperCamp. The Excellence Experience. Learning Forum SuperCamp.

Warren, John T. Reflexive Teaching: Toward Critical Autoethnographic Practices Of/in/on Pedagogy. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies 11, no. 2 (2011): 139-44. doi:10.1177/1532708611401332.

Submitted by:
Tasha Souza
Associate Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning
Professor of Communication
Boise State University