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From the Archives: Dealing with Disruptions

stormcloudsChances are, something won’t go exactly as planned this semester — or any semester. Disruptions occur for all kinds of reasons, whether from severe weather events, your own or a family member’s sickness, or a transportation breakdown. As I wrote in a 2010 Archives post,

…part of the ProfHacker mindset includes the old maxim “Be Prepared.” A little action now can save you a lot of time and frustration should something unexpected occur.

Emergencies
In case of an emergency, do you know your campus emergency numbers? On many campuses, calling 911 won’t be the fastest way to get assistance in an emergency. Put those numbers, as well as your own personal emergency contacts into your mobile phone, to save frantic minutes during a difficult situation.

Weather Events
Jason wrote from his own experience during last year’s October snowstorm about Surviving a Long Power Outage During the Semester. He reminds us that “preparing to be flexible, and showing, over the course of the semester, that you’re prepared to work with students to make sure that they get done what needs to get done, will get you a long way.”

In Disaster Planning and the Academic Career, Courtney Danforth draws on the language of disaster preparedness to talk about planning for personal disasters within your own academic community:

Most importantly, you can enact the sort of response you want to occur for any disaster and build a community that is capable of and willing to respond to a disaster of any size. Can you assist with disasters in your communities? Will you grade a batch of essays if your grad student is hospitalized after a wreck? Does your department need a plan to staff courses if someone suddenly died? Can you pitch in if your library floods or a blizzard snows in the dorms? If you can imagine someday needing disaster assistance, you should probably consider participating in other people’s disaster recovery when you’re able.

I know several people who’ve had to stay extra hours on campus or even overnight due to sudden weather emergencies. Heather’s post What’s In Your Desk offers good suggestions for emergency supplies to keep your office, ranging from snacks to over-the-counter medicines.

Illness
Heather’s comprehensive list of preparation tips for sickness in When “Hacking” Is In Your Lungs includes advice for modeling professionalism for your students and learning about your institution’s absence or sick day policies. Nels discusses how to prepare for When You Need a Substitute Teacher.

Jason offers guidance for Hacking the Flu, especially when a serious virus sweeps through your campus. Mark opened up some very good discussion in his post on Juggling Sick Children With Your Professional Life. And, if you don’t want to get sick in the first place, we’ve written a few posts with tips for staying healthy.

Teaching Disruptions
Jason offers some useful tips for Managing Medical Emergencies in Class.

Of course, all of the already-mentioned events can cause cancelled or rescheduled classes. Having a clear communications plan in place from the beginning of the semester so your students know how to expect to hear from you is very helpful. And, as Ethan suggests in What to Do When Your Course Management System Goes Down, it’s good to have a backup plan as well:

If your course management system is the primary method by which you mass email your students, take some time at the beginning of the semester to compile all of your student’s emails. That way, you can manually send out a mass email assuring them that it isn’t the end of the world when the system goes down.

Since many students check email only infrequently, Vanessa Alander recommends using Remind101 to text message a full class roster at once. Jason discusses using Swaggle for the same purpose.

After a disruptive event, I’m always glad if I’ve been able to include a catch-up day on my initial course syllabus.

Jason’s 2009 post on Living with Your Own Absence Policy raises important issues to keep in mind when handling student absences due to disruptive events as well.

Finally, Billie raises an important question: Do You Really Know What You’d Do? — about the need for training faculty to respond to dangerous classroom situations. No one wants to think about such possibilities, and yet thinking about them can help faculty be prepared.

How do you handle disruptions? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed photo by flickr user millicent_bystander]

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