Tips to Bolster Positive Relationships in the Face of the Presidential Election

Student Anxiety

By Lindsey Lynch and Ramona McCullough

No matter the outcome, the results of this year’s presidential election will be challenging for many students, families, and educators. During this time, you can help your student successfully navigate interactions with their teachers and peers, especially those they may not agree with, by emphasizing a positive learning environment before and after the presidential election. This work began on the first day of school when you lay the foundation for positive peer interactions, empathy, and respectful communication among your students. Here are ways to maintain and strengthen that positive classroom climate before, during, and after the election.

  • Leverage developmental traits. When you know your students developmentally, you’re better able to anticipate specific needs and challenges for sustaining community during tumultuous times. For example, nine-year-olds tend to be very critical of self and others; the impact of this trait may become more pronounced during conversations with peers about the election. Eleven-year-olds experience a cognitive shift where argument and debate become important and pleasurable to them. Leveraging this knowledge in positive ways can help you prevent students from meeting their developmental needs through unproductive outlets. How might your students’ developmental traits influence their engagement with (and reaction to) the election?
  • Invest students in the rules. Use the rules to inspire ethical thinking and discussion among the community and establish clear expectations for respectful interaction. Focus on what the rules look like in practice through a class discussion. For example: “What would it look like, feel like, and sound like if we listen to others’ opinions?”How will we follow our rule to respect others so that everyone feels cared for in our class?”
  • Use positive teacher language. Teacher language is the most powerful teaching tool. You can foster students’ sense of belonging by using envisioning language that encourages the whole class to value and practice cooperation, respect, empathy, and compassion. Use open-ended questions to center students’ voices. Provide space for students to share, listen to, and understand others’ real emotions and concerns. Try out these envisioning language sentence starters from The Power of Our Words for Middle School:
    • What needs to happen so everyone can ________________?
    • Imagine that you ________________.
    • I hope that ________________.
  • Incorporate fun, playfulness, and creative thinking to reinforce positive experiences, create immediate connections, and strengthen bonds. Play provides authentic practice in collaboration and cooperation. Energizers and brain breaks can help students develop a playful mindset by giving them a fun learning experience regardless of the level or subject.
  • Hold Morning Meetings or Responsive Advisory Meetings to provide an inclusive and safe space for students to share their feelings as well as practice the skills associated with successful conversations. Plan your meetings to include activities that incorporate the skills necessary to create a safer school environment. For example, try out the lesson plans in The Responsive Advisory Meeting Book that let students practice how to show empathy, strategies for destressing, or how to overcome obstacles. Or, you might tailor content, format, and activities found in Morning Meeting Book so students have a designated time and space to discuss their emotions. For example, in an around-the-circle share, ask students: “Name one emotion word that describes how you are feeling about the election and one reason why you are feeling that way.”

Finally, don’t forget that taking care of yourself is one of the most important ways you can care for your students and colleagues.