6 Ways to Step-up Sense of Urgency in the Classroom

Having that palpable buzz of energetic learning is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching; when you know your lesson has hit the sweet spot and neurons are firing all over the place!  Getting it, though, can be tricky.  And maintaining it on a daily basis is even harder.  That’s because a sustained sense of urgency is dependent on all facets of the classroom environment working in concert, which is not an easy feat.  Along the way, though, we can build up different areas of our culture and instruction in order to maximize the urgency in our classrooms as often as possible.  Here are some strategies to step up the urgency on a daily basis:

  • Build the relationships – Everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) in your classroom is greatly impacted by your relationships with the students.  If students care about you, they’ll care about your class.  As I struggled to teach reading well my first year, I think half of the success they achieved was because the kids and I cared so much about each other – they worked their little butts off for me even if my lesson wasn’t excellent and that made a huge difference.  See our earlier post, Building Relationships with ALL Students for more on this topic.


  • Use time limits – This is probably the easiest tool to immediately implement on a daily basis to increase urgency.  For every moment students are in your classroom, if they have a specific amount of time to complete each task, they are more likely to work with urgency.  For long tasks, try giving short time limits for each section since a long time limit, like 45 minutes, may make them actually slow down if they like they have ample time.


  • Set specific, daily goals – Let’s say you’re teaching density and you put ‘Students will be able to calculate density’ as the objective.  This is clear, but could be even more specific and set as a goal they can push to accomplish or exceed: By the end of class, students will calculate the density of at least 3 objects from around the classroom.  The latter gives them a very clear picture of what they’ll be doing and also allows for a chance to exceed the goal of 3 and so exceed your expectations, which can be very motivating.


  • Offer choices – It’s human nature to want to feel ownership and control over our lives, so any time you can incorporate choice into your class, you will immediately increase student urgency and investment in their learning.  You can start with really small things like allowing them to choose which 3 problems they want to complete during practice time.  Another option can be letting them choose different ways to demonstrate their learning on small projects or homework– create a visual, write a poem or paragraph, draw a diagram, etc.


  • Arm them with knowledge – If students don’t know their current grade in your class or they don’t know exactly which skills they’ve mastered and what they need to work on, it can be hard to be invested in their classwork, especially for older students.  If students consistently know their grades and you give them clear feedback about why their grade is what it is and what skills or topics they need to focus on for improvement, then they’re more likely to feel empowered and have a sense of urgency to work on the specific things that will push them forward.


  • Make it meaningful – We’ve all dealt with the classic question, ‘Why do we have to learn this?’  And we’ve all been stumped with only, ‘Because it will be on the test’ as our ready answer.  As often as possible, we want to connect each daily lesson to a meaningful context.  If kids are excited for an upcoming project or lab later in the unit, their sense of urgency will increase if they know how each specific skill prepares them for success on it.  A big picture context can also increase urgency, like being able to relate skills to success in college or a specific life situation.

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