When you face a disaster in the classroom, knowing how to manage it is critical.

Shortly before a recent onsite course started, I discovered many students would not have textbooks.  Although shipped overnight, there was no assurance they would arrive in time.  I prayed about what to do when I walked into the classroom.  Pulling into the education center parking lot, I had three strategies in mind.

1. Demonstrate humility.

My heart slowed as I entered the classroom.  Half the students were opening textbook mailers.  There would be no time to complete the assigned reading. “I’m sorry,” were the first words out of my mouth.  My heart of stone wanted to put on an academic robe of pretension and explain away the issue.  I wanted to point a finger of blame at someone, somewhere else.

Standing in humility before a cohort of anxious, exasperated students is tough. Instead of blaming, I took responsibility.  God removed my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

2. Innovate when structure fails.

Four hours of instruction loomed large before my students.  Assignments geared to textbook reading were nixed.  A 2-3 page essay was scaled to one page.  The workshop group project was postponed until the next workshop. Innovation sometimes occurs when there is little time or few options.  It is not always easy.  It helps when you have had some previous experience with the course. I explained how the workshop was going to be restructured.  As I spoke, I sensed blood pressures dropping to normal levels.  Looks of panic softened.  Flickers of trust began to surface.

3. Engage with each student.

Engaging with each student is relational.  I helped students to get started with their first task.  I tracked submitted assignments on my iPad. In addition to an unread textbook, many students did not have a computer with them.  I sent them to computer labs in the education center.  The night was transformed from a classroom experience to a mobile journey down hallways and up stairs. As the workshop progressed, teaching by walking around encouraged students to work hard.  Many thanked me after class and one even shook my hand.  By the end of class I was worn out.

What went right and why.

Teaching, by its very nature, is a balancing act of structure and flexibility.  Under the circumstances, teaching during a disaster should have been a mess.  Surprisingly, waves of panic were calmed by intentional humility. Melding innovation with experience helped to cast a vision of hope for students.  Although some students later told me they were prepared to skip class or drop the course, it is possible to teach without textbooks when you:

  • Demonstrate humility.
  • Innovate when structure fails.
  • Engage with each student.

Question:  When you find yourself managing a disaster in the classroom, what do you do?  Please leave a comment below.

Mike Mendenhall / FacultyCare Team

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