Teaching and Learing at Indiana University Bloomington
Teaching and Learing at Indiana University Bloomington
Teaching and Learning at IUB
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Handbook Table of Contents > Creating a Positive Environment > Managing Difficult Events

Indiana University Teaching Handbook

Managing Difficult Events



Teaching in the Face of Tragedy

Upsetting and sometimes tragic events occurring locally, nationally, and internationally can divert attention away from day-to-day learning and teaching. Instructors are faced with not only coping with the events themselves but also managing the responses of their students. In response to previous tragic events, the higher education community has developed resources to help instructors address the concerns of their students.

Whether and how to broach the subject of a tragedy is always at the instructor’s discretion. However, as a most basic response, acknowledging the event in class in a humane way can help students cope and help them focus on their coursework. Students can find a total lack of response from their instructors frustrating and disappointing. Furthermore, many students find it unhelpful for an instructor to say that the “class has to go on” or that “there is nothing we can do” without offering additional comment. An instructor does not have to have a discussion about the event in class, especially if he or she feels it is unrelated to the class topic or if he or she feels unprepared to have such a challenging discussion. However, there are simple teaching strategies which students find helpful during times of crisis: (1)

If you chose to have a discussion about the tragedy in class, set up discussion structures that support the emotional and psychological safety of students in the class.

If a student ever makes the instructor or another student feel unsafe, appropriate university support should be contacted immediately, including campus police (dial 911). In particular, if a student becomes disruptive (e.g., refuses to quit talking; blocks an entry way; throws things; uses profane, intimidating, or abusive language; repeatedly interrupts others' speech; moves within the classroom without authorization) an instructor should first request compliance from the student, and, if it is not received, he/she may dismiss the student for the remainder of the class period. The student is expected to accede to this request and may subsequently contest this action using procedures established within each unit. If the student fails to leave after being directed to do so, the instructor should enlist the support of other university personnel (faculty members, academic administrators, and campus police) to help resolve the situation. Physical force, including touching, must be avoided, and the instructor must judge, based on the nature of the disruption, whether the class period can continue once the offending student departs. (2) If a disruptive student is armed, a person in the room should contact 911 immediately. If there is no possibility of escape or hiding in a locked room, negotiating with the armed student may be possible. Attempts at overpowering the student should be a last resort. (3)

More about the university’s guidelines for the roles and responsibilities of students and instructors the classroom:

If you would like to talk more specifically about how to teach in the face of tragedy, please contact the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at citl@indiana.edu or 855-9023.

1. Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy: Vol 25.Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 207-224). Bolton, MA: Anker.

2. Guidelines for Dealing with Disruptive Students in Academic Settings, Section IB. Guidelines for In-Class Settings: Disruption within Class Period.

3. Emergency Procedures Handbook guidelines for handling armed subjects from the Office of Risk Management.

Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct

From the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, Part II: Student Responsibilities.

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Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers individual counseling, group counseling, couples counseling, and psychiatric consultation. Any kind of concern can be discussed confidentially with a counselor to enhance psychological growth and increase problem solving skills.

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Emergency Preparedness: Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana University Bloomington has created the Emergency Preparedness and Critical Information Web site as part of the campus's ongoing emergency preparedness efforts. In the event of a disaster or emergency, the site will contain regularly updated news, instructions, and information.

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