Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Negotiating Lateness Policies with Students


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I’m still having this conversation with myself about late work and deadlines in my class. I’m on holiday so don’t have anyone to bounce my ideas off directly but am doing some chatting on Twitter. But it’s not the same because you can’t elaborate on everything there.

I suddenly realized I need to have this discussion with my students, not my colleagues! I could put stuff in a syllabus, or I can develop a policy with each cohort.

So let me just start with these points.

There are two kinds of deadline

  1. Dependent deadlines are there for a purpose. We are going to discuss this thing in class today, so you need to have done the prep for it before class time, and I need to have read it so the discussion builds on your work. It makes a difference to the quality of the learning experience if most students miss this deadline
  2. Independent, random deadline. This is a random date I set coz I think this is how long the assignment should take them. This one I am almost always willing to negotiate and push back and allowing lateness is not a big deal. I actually have already used some “choose your own deadline” assignments of various kinds over the years. E.g. this semester, students curated one theme we discussed in class. They chose the theme, each theme had a deadline for all people doing the theme, and we negotiated a reasonable deadline once we finished the theme. It worked well. I felt it was a relaxed experience for us all.

Let me also clarify a few things about time management

  1. Time management is a useful skill. And time management is probably in the hidden curriculum of college education
  2. Time management is not about doing everything on time. It is about prioritizing your time so you know how much time to give each thing with a cost-benefit analysis
  3. Therefore this means that sometimes submitting something sub-par on time is better than submitting it late but not on time. It depends on consequences for each. I used to do this as a student and my grades were always A and A- .
  4. People who are usually on time will likely be forgiven for being late on occasion if they ask ahead of time for an extension, rather than the day of the deadline, and have a good reason. As long as this is not a habit for a silly reason, I am OK with this for some assignments because it gives me an opportunity to extend the deadline for all people, not give this student exceptions
  5. Submitting stuff late creates stress. I don’t want my course to be stressful for students and I know for a fact that what I require students to do at home does not require a tremendous effort. Just some thoughtfulness.

So perhaps I will negotiate policies with students early on in class about

  1. Late assignments (a contextual agreement that differentiates dependent from independent assignments)
  2. Lateness to class
  3. What counts as participation and what alternative there is for people who don’t like to participate (but seriously, even the shiest students participate in my classes eventually).

And underlying the policies we need to agree on some shared values. These may differ with each group of students and I need to make sure everyone has a say so it may need to have an anonymous/voting type of approach. So for values, these can be things like respect for other students and teacher’s time, compassion for other people’s circumstances, and appreciation of timeliness. Students may also suggest what to do with lateness and vote on their preference. I wonder if it would be possible to set a different policy for each student…but that seems unfair (though I actually believe this ends up happening as I try to contextualize what to do with each student’s circumstances – for example, I really appreciate when someone tells me ahead of time about absence or lateness rather than after the fact. It is more thoughtful and allows me to extend deadlines for whole class so no one is at an advantage).

Still thinking aloud…


  1. This is really interesting. I think your categories (time dependent and not) are useful. I also struggle with this.. I have tried in some courses to have students create their own plan and time-line. It worked but it was harder to have common course experiences.

  2. I’d love to hear about how this conversation goes with your students. I had students create the late work policy for their class last semester. And we had a conversation part way through the semester to reconsider whether it was working for them or they wanted to change it

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