Drug education depends on open discussion to be effective. However, drug issues can be sensitive to discuss in a classroom environment. So, it is important for a teacher not only to set a tolerant atmosphere (free of moralizing and judgment), but also to set boundaries for discussions. The best way to arrive at this balance is through a group agreement, established and reviewed periodically through discussion with students. This will help foster mutual respect and establish an environment in which students feel comfortable and ready to listen to and discuss one another’s opinions.

Ground rules should address the basic mechanics of conducting a discussion (e.g., don’t interrupt when someone is speaking), but also cover issues such as teachers’ and students’ right to privacy and respect, and the boundaries of discussion. Students and teachers should be discouraged from revealing any personal information that may incriminate themselves or others or that they wish to keep confidential. Some information, for example, any indication that a person is at risk of being harmed, may need to be shared with authorities. Examples of ground rules for discussions could include the following:

  • Everyone who wishes gets a chance to speak.
  • It’s okay not to speak.
  • When someone speaks, everyone listens—no interruptions.
  • No one person should dominate the discussion.
  • Do not share your own or anyone else’s private or confidential information.

Another way to handle potentially sensitive topics is to use techniques to depersonalize the discussion: for example, use third-person case studies, role-plays or improvised skits, hypothetical discussions, and anonymous question boxes.

Discussing and agreeing on ground rules provides a chance to remind students of ways to ask for help, the support available, the school’s drug and confidentiality policies, and what may happen should information be disclosed. It is best to deal with difficult questions on an individual basis (e.g., seeing a student outside the classroom or referring the student to the school guidance counsellor). If a student’s comment or question leads a teacher to suspect that the student may be at risk, the teacher should consult with guidance personnel and/or follow school policy regarding early intervention and/or referral to outside agencies. (See Advice on early identification and referral processes.)

United Kingdom. Department for Education and Skills (2004). Drugs: Guidance for schools. London: Department for Education and Skills.