Hot Button Moments

One aspect of difficult conversations is their potential to generate “hot button moments,” instances where people’s feelings rise (sometimes unexpectedly) to the point that threatens teaching and learning. This can occur during the discussion of issues people feel deeply about or result from classroom dynamics in any field.

While hot button moments may appear challenging at first, with the right tools, they can be rich and productive learning opportunities.

Exercises – Hot Button Moment Reflection

Which hot button moments have you experienced?

Think of a time during your teaching when you were effective or ineffective in responding to a hot button moment.

How did you feel? What did you do? Why do you think that you were effective or not effective?


Some examples of common “hot buttons” occur in these forms:


Microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group (Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007). For more information on microaggressions in the classroom, please refer to the UBC Wiki.

Personalization of a Comment

Remarks are used or interpreted as personal attacks. These comments are directed at a particular person based on someone’s initial feelings and thoughts, which are often poorly articulated and conceived.


Remarks articulated as grand sweeping statements. The most common type of “hot button” generalizations are stereotypes. Stereotypes generalize members of different groups and often involve a flawed group representation.

To see some of the effects of microaggressions, watch the video below to hear students talk about microaggressions they have experienced in the classroom.


Watch this video “SNIPPET: Microagressions in the Classroom” from YouTube


Bohmer, S. K. (1989). Resistance to Generalizations in the Classroom. Feminist Teacher, 4(2/3), pp. 53–56.

Warren, L. (2017). Managing Hot Moments. Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University. Retrieved from



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Decolonizing the Engineering Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Pamela Wolf, Ben Harris, Nika Martinussen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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