2016 Presidential Election: Do’s and Don’ts in your Classroom


This doesn’t have to be you! There are ways that we can engage about the election  with our students that don’t make our head hurt. And you should! Here’s why:

Can a teacher just avoid politics? I see the validity of that position, but make no mistake – it’s still a political position, even if non-partisan. Avoiding politics entirely will have an effect on students’ views of politics. Perhaps the effect is to dampen interest in voting and other political activity. Perhaps the effect is to amplify the voices and increase the influence of those who seek to persuade students without engaging any critical thinking. Schools may be the only civic institutions that bring together a cross-section of our communities with a built-in structure to support genuine dialogue and deeper learning that happens when we study the issues together. We actually need something like that for adults; in the meantime, let’s not waste the opportunity to prepare future adults to make such civic engagement possible.”David Cohen “Election Year Opportunity and Risk in  the Classroom,” Edweek

It is so important to talk about the election in history, social studies classes and even advisory (based on need). But, talking about the election with students can be quite tricky especially in this heated election. Here are some do’s and don’ts regarding bringing this year’s election to your classroom conversation. I start with the don’ts because these are musts!


Leave your campaign buttons at home!  Please refrain from telling your students how their parents should vote on election day or who you are voting for. This will be your way of modeling appropriate discourse when having conversations about the election. (You all know this. I am just saying it out loud just in case!) 🙂

Proceed with Caution on “Trump vs. Hillary” Debates While it might seem logical to have these debates in class, these will be hard to control and keep appropriate. Instead, have a debate about a particular issue that is important to the candidates and age-appropriate and relevant to the students. 


Identify INAPPROPRIATE Lunch Table Conversations: Students already this year have used “who are your parents voting for?” as a tactic for isolating and bullying.  Name-calling and getting in people’s faces about what they should think are not tactics for talking about the election. Give your students strategies to disengage in conversations that make them uncomfortable. I had this conversation with my 6th grade students today and they came up with these strategies and thoughts:

  • Leaving the table and the conversation
  • Tell the other kid,”This conversation makes me uncomfortable”
  • Talking to an adult who can interject. 
  • Watching the bullying happen and just letting it happen is making you the bystander. Stand up for the other kid or get up and tell a teacher. 

Identify APPROPRIATE Lunch Table Conversations: The discussions can be centered around the issues and not attacking the candidate. I tell my students to think about their answers to a few questions to determine if they are ready to have political conversations at lunch. “What issues are important to you in this election and why? What stance does the candidate you support take on these issues? If you can’t answer these questions, then maybe you aren’t ready to engage in a politics discussion at the lunch table. Be ready for someone to share something you disagree with. If you are not prepared to listen to and acknowledge their ideas, opinions or feelings, again, you might not be ready to engage in a politics discussion at the lunch tables.”

Focus on Local Government and Propositions in Class: It is important that students leave MJS with an understanding of our political process and the importance of participating in it. But, we can teach using the less hot-button elections and instill the same political activism. 

Use a Metaphor for this Election: This is a little sneak peak of what Pam, Lisa and I are planning for the school. Starting in the middle of October, we will be hosting the “All American Donut Election” for K-8th graders. We will host a debate for 4th-8th grade and 6th grade will give speeches at morning prayer. The MJS 8th Grade Electoral vote will happen in families the Friday before the Election, and an official popular vote will happen on Election Day. Resources and more information will be coming soon! Below is a sneak peak of the speech prompts the 6th grade is working on in drama class.


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