Thursday, July 30, 2015

My New Late Work Policy

I’ve been thinking a lot about late work policies lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s unfair to everyone to have different policies within the same school. It’s just not transparent and it makes it harder for everyone to figure out what they need to do to be successful. So I think it’s time that we have a uniform late work policy in my school. Oh, did I mention this policy is for teachers?

I think most of us can agree that as educators we need to be role models for our students. Part of being a role model is demonstrating the habits and behaviors that we want to inculcate in our students. Based on the discussions I hear among my colleagues, preparing for class and completing and turning in assignments on time seems to be highly valued by our staff, yet something our students struggle with. I think if we could model this for our students it would go a long way toward solving this problem but, to be fair to all teachers, we would need to settle on a uniform policy for how to deal with late work.

I’ll acknowledge up front that there will be multiple challenges with this policy. First, since the “reward” we give teachers is a salary, not grades, the logical way to implement the policy is to dock their pay. This might be tricky for Human Resources to implement, but I think it’s something we’re going to have to do.

A second major challenge is figuring out in advance exactly how much each teaching “task” is worth in terms of a teacher’s total salary. Luckily, we have practice with this since, as teachers, we decide in advance how many “points” or what “categories” we are going to use to grade our students. Just like we figure out in advance and in a logical manner exactly how many points we want each assignment in a semester to be worth (and how much each category is going to be worth if we use weighted categories, and then the points for each assignment inside that category) so that it accurately reflects a student’s learning, we should be able to leverage that ability to figure out in advance how much each task is “worth” monetarily for each teacher.

Once we’ve figured that out, then a third challenge will be to determine how much of the pay for each task we should “dock” them for being “late.” This is tricky not only in determining how much to dock them, but also involves some judgment in terms of when they do complete something on time, but it’s clearly just been put together at the last minute and doesn’t reflect the teacher’s best work. Again, thankfully, we have experience as teachers to guide us with this, as we often make that judgment call when students turn in something “on time” that clearly isn’t good enough, so we just need to translate that to our own tasks.

I definitely think this needs to be a whole staff discussion but, much like with my “big ideas” series of posts, I’d like to offer one possible vision of how this might look just to get the conversation started. First, I’ll address the Human Resources challenge. The good news is that Human Resources already knows how much each teacher should make each year, so it’s pretty easy for them to divide that in half to have a working total dollar amount for each semester. (I’m going to just assume that a semester is the correct duration to determine this since we’ve clearly determined over time that that’s the ideal length of time in which to judge students and assign grades.) So really all we need to do is figure out a system whereby schools can “report” to Human Resources how teachers are doing during the current semester. Again, we’ve already designed such a system, we just need to change the name of it from “grade book” to something more appropriate, perhaps “Teacher Tally” or something. Schools, presumably via administrators performing teacher evaluations, would simply input the scores for each task for each teacher. Since we get paid monthly, at the end of each month Human Resources would simply take the percent each teacher has achieved on that month’s tasks, multiply it by the portion of that semester’s pay the teacher is supposed to get, and that would determine the teacher’s gross pay for the month. Easy.

The second challenge will take a bit more work. As you know, teachers have many different aspects of their jobs and each teacher is different. But, in order to be fair, we will need a standardized system with clear, uniform standards in order to judge each teacher. So we’ll have to ignore some of those differences between teachers and settle on a single, uniform list of tasks that they will be assessed over and have a single, uniform due date and time for each task. In general, I see three categories that teacher tasks can pretty easily be divided into, so I would suggest a weighted category system. Those categories might be called administrative (the “paperwork” portion of our jobs), planning (the preparation and lesson planning portion of our jobs), and instruction/assessment (the teaching and feedback portion of our jobs). I think this is definitely something that needs to be discussed by the entire staff but, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume a 20%, 30% and 50% weighting for each of those categories.

Now that we have the categories, we’ll need to identify the particular tasks and how many “points” each task will be worth within that category. The administrative portion is probably easiest, since all teachers have pretty similar requirements in this area. For example, all teachers need to take daily attendance, keep their grade books current, submit grades at the end of semester, attend mandatory meetings, and reply to written requests either via paper or email. I’m sure there are a few more, but I think we might consider these the “common” standards we all need to meet, so they are probably the most important to assess. Plus, they're easy to measure. I believe those are all very important, so to keep this simple we’ll just make each of them worth 20 “points” in the administrative category, so that we’re working with a total of 100. (I’ve known a few teachers who do the same with points in their classrooms to make the calculation easier.)

Planning shouldn’t be much harder to evaluate, since teachers have to prepare and be ready to teach each class each day. Teachers would simply have to turn in their lesson plans to administration at least twenty-four hours in advance so that administration could occasionally “spot check” to make sure teachers were actually implementing the plans they submitted (trust, but verify, similar to a pop quiz). These lesson plans would of course need to be fairly detailed, so that administration could determine whether teachers would likely be successful in meeting the particular standards and learning outcomes identified by the teacher to be successfully completed in that lesson. Each semester is a bit different, but a typical semester has about 85 days in it, so I think each day should be worth 1/85th of the semester’s pay. (I know, it’s unfortunate it’s not 100, perhaps that’s something we could discuss with the calendar committee in the future.)

Finally, the instruction/assessment category. This, of course, is likely to be the most challenging and be the most time intensive for administrators. Since we’re specifically talking about late work in this post, administrators would not have to determine the effectiveness of each lesson as the teacher implements it (they’ve already covered that when assessing the lesson plan that’s in the planning category), but they would have to monitor the timeliness and effectiveness of the feedback given to students. For example, if students have to submit a written assignment of some kind (homework, quiz, test, project, etc.), then administrators would have to monitor whether the teacher got feedback back to the students in a timely and effective manner. Since we know timely and effective feedback is crucial to student learning and growth, I think 24 hours is the likely standard here. Since the number of these tasks might be variable, I would suggest giving a weekly grade worth 1/18th of the points in this category.

The third and final challenge is determining how much to “dock” each teacher when they complete a task late. This is going to take a lot of discussion, but I do think we can use our experience with student late work to guide us. For the administrative category, we’re likely to have several different levels of docking. Some tasks – like attendance – clearly have to be an all-or-nothing task, as turning in attendance several days after the fact really isn’t very useful. (Maybe we can give them a token 15% or something if they do, just because we do want to encourage them to turn in all their work.) It would be the same with meetings and certain paperwork – clearly if you’re late (or miss) a meeting there’s no way to really “make that up,” and some types of paperwork are pretty meaningless if turned in after the deadline. (Again, perhaps the 15% token grade for paperwork turned in late would be appropriate). Other types of paperwork are still meaningful even when turned in late, so I would suggest what seems to be pretty standard among many teachers for student work: 50% credit for late paperwork.

I think the planning category has to be pretty much all-or-nothing as well. The students are there each day, so if a teacher doesn’t have their plan done on time, it doesn’t do much good if they get it done a day or two later. Because we still want them to complete the work, however, I’d suggest the 15% credit for late lesson plans.

As I previously stated, I think the standard for the feedback portion of the instruction/feedback category is likely to be 24 hours (really, the next school day, so sometimes it would be a bit longer). Since feedback is not as valuable after that, but still does have some value, I would suggest the same 50% late penalty for missing the next school day standard, and then perhaps an additional 10% for each day thereafter. If they are more than 5 days late, then it wouldn’t be worth anything.

I think this system has great potential in helping us model for kids the importance of doing their best work and meeting deadlines. Clearly it doesn’t leave much flexibility for the differences among teachers or various life events that might impact them but, in order to maintain high standards for our teachers and students, and to be fair to everyone, I don’t see any way around it. Sometimes we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so I think we’ll just have to go with the best solution that allows us to manage this process at scale.

Again, this is just one possible vision, I think the entire staff needs to weigh in. But, in the meantime, I’m curious: do you have a late work policy at your school (for teachers)? If so, how is it working? One thing I haven’t quite figured out is what to do with all the money we collect from teachers when they miss deadlines. I’m thinking perhaps we could create a pool of “extra credit” that teachers could complete additional, non-essential tasks to earn some of that money back.


  1. I think this is an excellent idea that not only needs to be done in schools but employed universally in all work places. I'd like to see a similar system for all workers where they are docked pay for being late, unsatisfactory work, any type of disengagement and off-task work and any behaviour that is deemed to be inappropriate. Sloppy work would be penalized as would work not meeting the exemplar standards.
    We could then extend it to a behaviour matrix for universal Positive Behaviour that would provide for interventions for anyone who is not meeting the predetermined behaviours - intensive interventions before any of the rules are broken.
    Why just do this in schools? If it is the best system for students then it should be the best system for all people since all adults want what is best for students.
    Thanks for sharing - can't wait to see this implemented globally!

  2. Brilliant. Deadlines have always been written in stone for students and in sand for teachers. And it always struck me as curious. Although solutions, as you indicted are best found when everyone involved is engaged in the discussion, I bet the discussion is more than half the solution. Professional behavior is key. And as a profession, demanding to be treated and paid like professionals, accepting the responsibility of role models in the examples should be expected. Great post Karl.