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This Moment in Time: Navigating Unprecedented Historical Events

January 7, 2021 | 1 comment

This Moment in Time: Navigating Unprecedented Historical Events

How will school communities address this situation? What are useful, constructive ways to help students make sense of and navigate unprecedented historical events in their lifetime?


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By Dr. Lisa Thomas

The world is watching and has been watching for the last four years. The insurrection that unfolded on Jan. 6 before our eyes, under the glaring spotlight of friends and foe alike, captured by more than a million smartphone cameras, has recorded history in the making. This day, these events will join the dark caravan of historical canons that dot the timeline of American history.

As an educator, school leader, student or parent who will be expected to log in to whatever instructional platform you are using—where instruction is virtual or in person—the range of emotions, questions or comments may challenge, frustrate, or enlighten, or perhaps all of the above.

How will school communities address this situation? What are useful, constructive ways to help students make sense of and navigate unprecedented historical events in their lifetime?

  • Start with self-care; address the emotions that students may have experienced over the past 24 hours.
  • Know your district’s policies on discussing politics and political leaders. As difficult as it may be, remain objective, state facts and consult reputable sources.
  • Assess where your students are. Create space in your time with them to pose questions, and to share comments and stories about what they have witnessed.
    • Use technology to capture the myriad ways they receive and exchange information;
    • Craft poll questions on the number of hours they tuned into media coverage; and
    • Compare and contrast headlines across networks and local media versus national media.
  • Generate a glossary of terms:
    • Banana Republic
    • Civil disobedience
    • Capitol Hill
    • Conspiracy
    • Constitution
    • Coup
    • Curfew
    • Democrat
    • Democracy
    • Electoral College
    • Impeachment
    • Inauguration
    • Insurrection
    • Libertarian
    • Loyalists
    • Mob
    • Mobilization
    • National Guard
    • Protest
    • Protesters
    • Republican
    • Riots
    • Rioters
    • Sedition
  • Conduct geography lessons on the monuments in Washington, D.C.
    • Lafayette Square
    • The Reflecting Pool
    • U.S. Capitol
    • White House
  • Review the transition process and explain what usually takes place and contrast how the process differed this time.
  • Discuss consequences for people who may have broken the law:
    • Assault
    • Bullying
    • Terroristic threats against media and congressional staff
    • Vandalism
  • Revisit history. Discuss the transition of the last three presidents.
  • Use math:
    • How many electors are needed to certify an election? How is the number of representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives determined?
    • Graph the voter turnout by state in elections over the last 100 years.
    • Graph the gender of elected officials.
  • Create writing prompts that allow expression from a student’s viewpoint:
    • “When I heard ________________, I felt _________________.”
    • “This is a historical event because __________________.”
    • “This is a fact:_______________. This is fiction:_________________.”
    • “The funniest thing I saw on social media was ___________, and it was funny because _____________.”
    • The scariest thing I saw or heard was ______________, and it made me feel ____.”
  • Embrace creativity.
    • Ask students to create or share a playlist.
    • Generate original artwork in a variety of media.
    • Create a time capsule. What would it include?

In sum, to ignore or gloss over the events of the last 24 hours may not be healthy for you or for those in your spheres of influence. While you may be limited or cautious in addressing these events, your students and families are turning to you, yet again, during this moment in time.

Read more about Dr. Lisa Thomas and some of her past blogs here.

Dr. Lisa Thomas

Dr. Thomas is a Senior Education Policy Analyst, providing research and programmatic support to the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union. Dr.


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Dr. Lisa Thomas
Dr. Lisa Thomas January 8, 2021, 2:54 pm

Shout out to Leslie A. for catching the erroneous caption on the photo used yesterday! Our team has made the necessary and historically accurate revision, "domestic terrorists". I appreciate you reading the piece and sending the comment!