Much Ado About Deadlines

Okay, let me run two scenarios by you:

Scenario 1: Over two weeks ago in class I gave students this very clear, scaffolded assignment sheet and timeline for their literary analysis paper.  We worked on chunks (thesis, evidence building, drafting) in class.  Yesterday was our peer review day in which they were asked to bring a full draft, hard copy and one submitted digitally.  There was a visceral sense of panic.  Students came to class by our 8:15am start time, and most had at least part of a draft digitally completed, but only a handful actually had a printed out hard copy draft.  Several said “I only have a few paragraphs done.” One said “I need an extension; I don’t have anything.” Another said “I have a full draft, but it is terrible and makes no sense.” Another comes in visibly frustrated, with a loud volume of a voice: “It was WAY too much to have us bring an entire draft today, Dr. Rust!  We can’t write an entire paper in two days!” I swallowed my frustration.  I let people go to the library so they could print out their draft and engage in the peer review exercise, despite the fact that class had begun.  I calmly talked through how deadlines like this will also sneak up on them in college, and gave them some tips for how to better hold themselves accountable.  We discussed what a fair next step would be, and ended up with a one day extension and one extra Monday class for writing conferences.

Scenario 2: TEAM members and I gathered over the summer and then more recently to co-construct deadlines for blog blasts.  We first planned a clear deadline for September.  Then, when we met that month we decided we needed an extra week.  I updated the shared google doc timeline and sent everyone a calendar reminder of the new deadline. I started an informal TEAM google chat to start sharing about my in progress blogs to get everyone’s feedback and put the deadline on everyone’s radar.  Then, three days before our newer extended deadline, we all began to feel a sense of panic. I realized I had never caught up one of our TEAM members in-person that had to miss our last meeting because of a sick child.  Besides, my plan to blog for hours the past weekend hadn’t gone to plan because of unanticipated kid obligations.  I got a message from one TEAM member:  “This week has been overwhelming; would it be a disaster if I didn’t have a blog this month?”  I felt an unexpectedly huge sense of relief.  Perhaps I could have another weekend to put words on a page instead of accumulating incredibly late nights! What a gift that would be!  “Let’s push it to the first week of October! We could all use the extra weekend,” I quickly messaged back.  When I sent the news to everyone, the joy was communally shared.  I could be wrong, but I have the distinct sense that the content on this blog blast was the better because of it.

I put these two very true anecdotes side by side, not to make any solid points, but merely to raise questions:

  • How should I have better scaffolded deadlines in both situations? Should I have?
  • Are expanding deadlines actually a normal part of any workflow process? Should we just expect them? 
  • Is there an appropriate age difference situation in our relationship with deadlines between when I work with seniors in high school and our collaborations with adults/or our own adult work?
  • What are deadlines for?
  • Is it possible that some types of deadlines, purposes, and audiences should be held more strictly and others should allow for more flexibility? Which types for which?
  • Would I fail/serve both my seniors, myself, and my fellow TEAM members more if I:
    • Extended with great grace or
    • Held strictly to the original deadline or
    • Found a balance between the two?
  • Should we seek to cultivate class cultures so that students are more or less likely to put our class last in their invisible triage of tasks (aka “Dr. Rust is nice, so she’ll let us have an extension but I absolutely HAVE to do my other homework”)?
  • Should we believe our students if they say they are overwhelmed by a deadline, or should we assume they are being lazy procrastinators?  
  • Should we believe ourselves when we feel overwhelmed by our adult deadlines, or should we consider we are being lazy procrastinators?
  • How can we cultivate honest and clear lines of communication for our students, our collaborators, and our own selves when we need to share that we are quite honestly overwhelmed and need some form of support?
  • Are we all just too durn busy? 
  • In essence, yet again, the question remains: how do we balance grace/responsiveness/flexibility to our learners and ourselves with high standards/accountability/commitment? 

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