Snow Days. Teachers, in general, love them. I don’t. I mean sure, the occasional bonus day off to sleep in, leisurely have that second cup of coffee and hang out in pajamas certainly has its allure. But then after a while the reality sets in. Cements us to the truth. Binds us to what the core meaning is for our students.
I am on my sixth snow day today. Not in order of course. Two sets of two and then a couple stand alones. But here I am on day six and I recognize the problem. While pajamas are great. While that third now, cup of coffee tastes fantastic, I need my students and my students need me.
Predictability is key. Students who struggle. Students with chaotic home lives. Students with little ability to self-regulate; need predictability. They need order. They need something predictable in their lives and school can function as something they can depend on. But snow days throw that predictability off. It is almost like a relapse, again and again. Connection. Disengagement. Connection. Again and again.
Holiday breaks bring their own level of stress to our students. Being home with little to do. Crowded into small spaces. On top of one another. Lack of predictable routines. Stressed parents who need to work more.
Snow days are worse. They are unpredictable and they are symbolic of a loss of control. They illustrate, palpably, how little any of us, and in particular our students, have control over the variability in their lives. They look to us, at times, for stability and consistency and snow days disrupt that continuity for them, and for us.
School is a place of order and routine. Every single day. Schedules are predictable. Routines are predictable. Teachers expectations and attitudes are predictable. Lessons are predictable. And students respond positively to that predictability.
When school is canceled for a snow day, it feels like school is unpredictable. We become unpredictable for students. We, as one small force in their lives that is predictable, lose that credibility with our students, however unconsciously; it is what happens.
We start again, at the beginning, every singe time we come back from a holiday break or a snow day. Day one. When those snow days start accumulating in a seemingly random pattern the effect is even worse.
When I get back to class (next week, I think at this point) I will have to begin again. I will have to go back to the basics. The basics being; the relationship. We will start in community circles. We will start with our frustrations, our joys, our worries, our unmet needs. We will go from there.
Here are five ways to rebuild classroom community after a snow day, or two, or seven!
Joyfully Greet Each and Every One: This is big. Exhibit that joy you really do have for each of your students. Give them that brief moment of love. Take a deep breath. Smile. Reach out. Express your gratitude to see them. Any connection you can bring to this on an individual level is huge. That kid you struggle with the most is the one that needs this the most. Sharing an anecdote or a thought with that one student takes but a moment. “James, I saw a kid biking down the middle of the road through the snow yesterday and I wondered about you and your bike. Were you able to get outside at all to ride it?”
Address the Elephant in the Classroom: Days off are great. Most of us enjoy them. Sleeping in. Lots of TV or reading. But for some of our students and for some of us it isn’t so simple. Some of our students have more responsibility: watching siblings while parents work, the power is off so it is really cold, adults in the house are trying to cope by relying on their addictions or their bad behavior, tempers flare, food is more scarce without school supplementing with lunch and many times, breakfast. Speak to these truths and give students room to speak to these truths as well.
Review the Routines: Yes, it has only been a day or two, but we all need little reminders about beginning class and what the routine is for the day. We as educators, have been doing this day in and day out for years. This year with us, is a kid’s first year, with us. They need reminders. They need a little review. They need positive reinforcement when they get it right.
Model for Them What it Was Like For You: Being off schedule, off-kilter, not knowing until the last minute whether there will be school or not. You can speak to the frustration of not knowing, the frustration of missed lessons, the frustration of running out of milk. The more real you are to your students the more easily they can relate to who you are as their teacher.
Get Back to the Work: Get back to the important work of reconnecting through meaningful learning. Part of the struggle with snow days is being off schedule. Get back to that schedule. Get back to the real work. Building relationships with each student. Making sure they know they are important and that together, we can flourish.