The Anglophone East School District plans for about seven storm days a year. Last year we had less, but this year, we’re already in the double digits. That has parents, teachers, and administrators speculating on what should be done to make up missed time.
I’d rather have us talk about what can be done to reduce the number of storm days in the first place.
Obviously we needed snow days this week and during the ice storm. But we can all point to days when classes were cancelled in anticipation of a storm that didn’t materialize. My friend Parker Donham writes a lot about snow days. This quote pretty much sums up his opinion: “[S]chools no longer have zero tolerance of snow. They have zero tolerance of the possibility of future snow.”
I don’t always agree with his opinions, but I’m with Parker on this one. Over the past decade, we seem to have become afraid of the weather, rather than just respectful of its power. The rush to cancel school when there’s a chance of poor conditions, rather than an actual storm outside the windows, makes things that much more complicated when we need our storm days, like this week.
Education consultant Paul Bennett wrote a report in 2010 detailing “why throw away school days hurt students.” He agrees that Atlantic Canada has created a culture where “storm day closures are a regular occurrence,” calling the rest of the country “far more vigilant in preserving valuable school days.”
Parker also raises an interesting point about what our children learn from storm days without storms. “Children get a subliminal message that it’s ok to abandon school and work when the going gets a wee bit tough.” A stretch, perhaps, but maybe not. Consider schools that are already struggling with student attendance. How are parents or students going to be encouraged to respect education when they see that the school administration isn’t pushing to keep the doors open or at least keep the kids learning at home?
Bennett questions whether there is a link between the higher than average number of storm days in the Atlantic Provinces and the lower than average student performances on standardized tests. The correlation might be more than a simple ‘days in classroom’ factor; perhaps these scores are also a reflection of the attitudes towards education we’re fostering in our children.
Storm days are an inevitability, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve how we deal with them. In Massachusetts, there’s an interesting Blizzard Bag program that sets out two days’ worth of learning materials that can be used by students if there is a prolonged school closure. There are provisions for all grade levels and the students do not require online access to complete the tasks.
When storm days start to mount, teacher’s professional development days become a target. I support teachers keeping this learning time, but perhaps we should start looking at alternatives. Why not have a Blizzard Bag for teachers as well, so they can use storm days to complete learning modules when we reach these extreme amounts of school closures.
Many districts also spread PD time throughout the year with early dismissals, rather than full days out of class. This would help keep the momentum of classroom time for students, while still offering in-person learning for teachers and minimizing the impact of higher-than-average storm days.
We don’t need to suck all the fun out of snow days. But if we’re going to have weeks lost in classroom time, we need to have a better plan. Let’s look critically at how we’re making these cancellation decisions and how we can support learning outside the classroom.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.