Editor’s note: This is a post from regular MSTA contributor Pam Clifton’s Teaching & Learning blog. Clifton is a sixth-grade English language arts and reading teacher at West St. Francois County R-4.

“Please snow…I’m a teacher” is a little sign that’s been hanging in my living room for as long as I’ve been a teacher. Sometimes I feel as if it’s quite out of place during hot summer months. But starting around late October, I often smile as I pass this little sign because sometimes it seems as if there is hope on the horizon, the promise of an unplanned day to catch up on all of the school-year craziness.

For the past 13 years, I have experienced a variety of school years during winter months at my rural district. Some years we received excessive snow days. A couple years we had no or very few snow days. One or two of those years we even made it to the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day before we got our first snow day. But most years we get an average amount of snow days, anywhere from four to seven or eight days.

There’s nothing quite like getting “the call.” When students (and yes, teachers) hear those four words “due to inclement weather…” the response is often that of excitement. This enthusiasm seems even greater when the call arrives the night before, which in turn usually means those students and staff can catch up on some much-needed sleep.

For my school district (and most others across the state), those outdated school phone trees have long been replaced with automated calls, texts and social media alerts to let parents, students and staff know school has been cancelled.

Although these days are wonderful opportunities for educators to get caught up on piled-up tasks that do not seem to get done during the school day with a full schedule of students, the days will be made up.

Here are six tips for teachers to keep students on task when school does resume:

  1. Pick up where you left off. Do not try to make up several missed days in one day. You and your students will be stressed out and your actions will be counterproductive.
  2. If you have missed multiple days, you’ll need to review your lesson plans to see if there is something that can be skipped or shortened to accommodate the shortened schedule. Intensify work on objectives that are more difficult or require more time. Combining lessons is another option. Don’t double the work. Instead, pick and choose the most important aspects of both lessons and focus on these details.
  3. Don’t overwhelm students with homework. They cannot make up days of work in one or two evenings. They will also become frustrated – along with parents – and possibly accomplish nothing. Instead, focus on assignments that are most important. Present these tasks in smaller chunks.
  4. Create a testing timeline to count down how many days are left before end-of-the-year assessments. This helps the students visualize how many days are left before they test. Students can also use this timeline as a checklist as objectives are accomplished. Students are more accountable for learning when they share common goals with teachers.
  5. For most teachers, there will be much to accomplish in a shorter time. Try to add some fun or variety to lessons. Begin class with a quick critical thinking puzzle to pique students’ interests before continuing to the day’s main topic. This may help students stay more attentive and focused.
  6. Utilize school websites and teacher webpages to make class assignments accessible to students to complete on snow days. From detailed class assignments and teacher-created videos to more informal assignments such, there are many activities that teachers can make available to students. If bad weather is anticipated ahead of time, teachers can give students assignments on the last day they are in class or on the day of an early weather-related dismissal. Some schools have created a “blizzard bag” in which reading books, assignments, craft projects and more can be sent home.

These six tips are simple yet effective actions teachers can take to get students back on track after snow days (or winter vacations). And don’t worry! Summer vacation is just around the corner.

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