“Practice” Snow Days

Vol. 13 No. 3

heads eletter Vol.13 No.3 homeschool

With winter weather quickly approaching—and Buffalo, New York, covered in several feet of snow—Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minnesota, decided to test its emergency weather protocols before it’s a real issue. A “practice snow day” was scheduled for November 21 using technologies and lessons designed specifically for at-home learning.

According to the Class Act blog for StarTribune, classes at Cathedral were cancelled five times last winter due to weather and temperature extremes. Minnesota’s governor even cancelled a day’s worth of classes for the entire state due to the freezing temperatures in January!

And so, with another blistery winter predicted, Cathedral will have students complete the day’s work from home on computers provided by the school to avoid interruptions to in-class instruction time this year. The lessons will be posted by the teachers in the morning, and they will provide additional online help if needed for students to complete their assignments.

Cathedral Principal Lynn Grewing told Kim McGuire that while “technology will never replace in-class instruction … it provides a way to minimize lost class time.”

If you’d like to organize your own test “snow days” this year before the first blizzard buries your campus or temperatures plunge below bearable limits, here are a few items to check off your “to do” list for at-home education.

  • Ensure your students have access to the appropriate technology needed to complete assignments—and that all required applications and software are installed prior to the snow day. It does little good for a student to have a charged iPad or laptop only to find that the instructional program is not working or not even loaded in the first place. (For that matter, check all equipment to make sure the hardware itself is ready to go!)
  • Check student and teacher login information. If someone is unable to access the forum or application, you want to know before it’s an emergency.
  • Coordinate with Division Heads and/or Department Chairs about schoolwide expectations of students during bad weather. Then, keeping those expectations in mind, have teachers develop online-based lesson plans for the winter curriculum. Preparing contingency lessons prevents teachers from scrambling at a sudden change of plans and keeps the lesson quality high. Your staff should also be well-versed with online, real-time discussion tools so they can assist students should issues arise and communicate with the class as a whole, facilitating conversations just as they would during a normal class session. Professional development opportunities designed to familiarize teachers with these tools will help get your whole educational community “on board” and excited about trying these tools.
  • Communicate your school’s snow day contingency plan and the new policies to parents. Send home your school’s expectations of students on snow days, since they may have changed from previous years. Also, give families guidelines on making a distraction-free study space. Since students are trained to pay attention and focus in the classroom, their attention may wander in a more casual and relaxed environment.
  • Consider contingencies for the contingency plan. For example, what happens if power or Internet access is cut off for students and they are unable to complete the assigned work? Students could be “off the hook” for schoolwork unless your snow day policy dictates paper handouts of assignments, for instance. Use your practice day to think about what can go wrong, and how to counter it in the best possible way.

While many educators applaud modern technology for its potential to mitigate the downtime due to snow days, you need to make sure your faculty are comfortable with their new tools. Our workshop "Hands-On K-12 Technology: Key Tools for the Classroom" was designed specifically for academics who are relatively new to integrating educational technology into their classrooms, or who want guidance on how to improve current techniques and methods. So don't wait until it's an emergency—be proactive and sign up your technology leaders for this unique and specialized professional development opportunity.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Business Officers Vol. 8 No. 5 Snow Days on Campus
ISM Monthly Update for Business Officers Vol. 12 No. 6 Snow Days Are Ancient History
ISM Monthly Update for Division Heads Vol. 11 No. 5 Snow, Snow, Go Away: Winter Recess Policies

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 30 No. 12 Lessons From Katrina: Disaster Planning at Private-Independent Schools

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