Deadlines: being cruel to be kind

Issue 21: 10/3/2023 From the Principal

We know that deadline stress is a well-known running sore with which all students and staff in IB schools grapple. An article that I read this week left me asking “is there more that we can do to help students who might need help developing their time management or organisational skills; who might not know how to advocate for themselves when they need to request extensions; who are heavily committed; or who might not be sleeping or eating as well as they would wish to?”

I find that when talking about student deadlines that there is a continuum of approaches schools take toward student deadlines.  On one end of the spectrum, deadlines are fixed and non-negotiable.  And on the other end of the spectrum, they are flexible and open to negotiation.  Not surprisingly, schools, administrators, teachers, parents, or students rarely find themselves occupying the same part of that continuum.  

If and when students hand them in on time, come what may, all is well (on the surface at least).  Perhaps the student needed support ahead of the deadline, or perhaps not.  However, regardless of whatever approach the school or the teacher thinks they have in place, there will nearly always be a number of students who are unable to meet the stated deadline.  

We like to think that we are in the business of preparing young people for “real life”. We tell them this on a daily basis (which must irritate them greatly).  But when we tell them that deadlines are not negotiable in real life, is that really true? The reality is that no student has the same commitments and priorities as any other student in the school.  Different subject choices, different teachers, different classes, different activities, and any number of different things going on in their lives.   

With that in mind, we want students to take responsibility for managing both their schedule and their own deadlines.  We would want a student who finds themselves with a timetable that has several deadlines due in the same week to advocate for themselves, right? Isn’t negotiating multiple commitments more reflective of real life?

What about those students who are overly preoccupied with achieving perfection?  They don’t want to know about “good enough”.  Some students have developed a belief that any and all additional time will get them closer to perfection, closer to a higher grade.  So here, the learning that might take place could be different to another student who is struggling with deadlines in a different way.   Might there be a place here, a kindness even, in helping these students to accept fixed deadlines?  Maybe “good enough” is more than enough.  

Of course, what does the word “deadline” mean to different parties?  If they cannot agree on that, then meeting it becomes even more difficult. So, in summary, please have sympathy for all our students and staff who are going through this process!

Mark Williams
Secondary Principal (International Stream)