Growing up in Ohio there were the occasional day when the snow or ice was too much and the school district closed. Those joyous occasions are snow days! It was a free day for students. No homework or tests; everything just paused.
As a student, those days are golden. As a teacher those days are nice. Time is as valuable as diamonds for a teacher and anytime you can get a little more unexpected time injected into your day is a good thing.
As a parent, they can be troublesome because it effects your work. You may have to take some time off to be with your child, or that could be something that you absolutely don’t mind doing from time to time. I guess it is all up to your perspective.
Covid 19 has changed all that now since we’ve been using distance learning. My children’s school district no longer have snow days anymore. They call them “e-learning days.” What has happened is that significantly more students now have Chromebooks, iPads, their own connected device so they have email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and perhaps some other avenues of communication at their finger tips. Also, more and more schools have a Learning Management System so there is a clear, reliable way of assigning homework and a reliable way for students to submit that work. Basically, why have a snow day when you everyone can work at home?
This isn’t new
I saw this model years before Covid at a local conference here in Indiana. During the workshop the school basically wanted to schedule these e-learning days so teachers could come in and do professional development or if there needed to be some repairs to the building that may require electricity or water to be shut off. They worked with the Department of Education here in Indiana and came up with this model and so these days would not be counted as a snow day but just as a regular school day.
This school is a small district around a small town. They mentioned how if a student didn’t have Internet, they could hang out at the local McDonald’s restaurant and use their WiFi or the library. Apparently those are easy to access and available.
Larger school districts at the workshop rolled their eyes as those solutions were not viable for them, but then Covid hit and everything changed.
What’s the big deal if you have some snow days? Well, here in Indiana the Department of Education only allows a certain number before the school district has to make those days up. Extending a school year costs them money, puts a hold on large projects and basically makes everyone a little cranky. Also, parents who have vacation plans may need to reschedule or just tack on some absences on their child’s report card. It just gets messy.
With these e-learning days, schools no longer have to worry about this. They just call an e-learning day in lieu of the snow day and they are golden!
I have some questions
With a quick glance, this looks OK, but with a little more digging there are some questions that need to be answered before school districts 86 their snow days.
Will all students have devices for these days?
Maybe the district is a BYOD district so they don’t provide devices. Maybe they are a 1:1 district and require students to take the device home everyday. Every place will do it a little differently, but this a question that needs to be answered first.
What will students without Internet at home do?
This is question #2. Will they have to head to a library or local business that will offer free Internet access? Maybe they will put a router on a school bus and park it in a nearby place in neighborhoods to offer free WiFi. Maybe they will send home hotspots. Either way this also needs to be addressed.
What about the LMS?
Do teachers use it all the time or just when there is an e-learning day? I do have an answer. They should be using it consistently through the whole year. If an e-learning is called and a teacher has to fumble around trying to reteach themselves how to use their LMS to post an assignment, message and/or instructions this makes everyone involved look bad. If they are using it throughout the year teachers will feel more confident completing tasks within the system, parents will know where to look for assignments and how to help their child(ren) submit digital assignments and students will know how to log in, where to find their work and how to submit themselves.
How do student and teacher check-in
A big question about remote work is accountability. How do we know the students/teachers are doing what they are supposed to be doing? Who is reporting what students have checked in and which have not. Also, are teachers holding their office hours, are they actually working with students or are they simply putting worksheets on the school’s LMS and sleeping in and watching Stargate on Netflix?
Does the work count as a grade?
It should be discussed. I’ve left work with a sub of work that I was not planning on counting in the gradebook or counting it as a participation mark. For e-learning days I don’t think this is something that should be left up to teachers alone. It should be a school wide decision and if you want your educational community to take these days seriously they should know if they are important or not from a grade perspective.
Should schools just keep snowdays?
The short answer is no. It is nearly impossible to justify not going down this road after the year we have been through and the drastic changes that we have undergone to support distance learning. You could argue to keep it, but I doubt anyone could win over the practical benefits of an e-learning day. Of course, this is something that administrations must grapple with in the coming school years. If snow days go the way of the dodo then it has been fun and I’ll miss.