There is a buzz that starts to circulate around a school when the forecasters speculate on the prospects of the next big winter storm. The excitement crescendos until it almost becomes too much to bear as the storm and possible snow day approach…and that is just from the teachers! You can imagine how excited the kids get!
It’s magical, a Christmas Eve-like feeling that students and teachers share. Yet, as the birds begin to return, a few buds on the trees pop, spring sports are starting and everyone has had enough winter, the magic dissipates a bit. Spring break is close enough to smell and the prospect of losing one of those days is not as appealing as it was in late January.
This latest storm we faced was a unique one; even the infallible Alex from Hudson Valley Weather, the most accurate and honest weather forecasting source in our area, was having trouble calling this one. The weather experts used words like “Boombastic” and “Snowclone”, but it was nearing 60 the day before and it didn’t seem possible that we would actually get a snow day.
That didn’t stop the stream of texts I received the night before the storm (or any potential storm) asking my thoughts, to put odds on it, or to give some insight on the thoughts of our Superintendent. My own kids even pepper me with questions, wanting inside information on the status of the day. People think I have some inside information or input into the decision because of the nature of my position and my close relationship with “the boss.”
The reality is I love to predict, have gotten pretty good at it, but it is the Superintendent’s call. This is one of the areas she doesn’t solicit my opinion and one of the rare times that I know better than to offer it.
It is probably one of the toughest decisions a Superintendent will make and one of the most criticized. My boss takes this decision to heart and pretty much nails it each and every time.
But, that doesn’t stop the hindsight kings on Facebook from second guessing the decision she makes. Of course, my District isn’t unique; in pretty much every school the Monday morning quarterbacks argue that school should have been closed, should have remained open, should have been called sooner or later, or not at all. One parent even recently felt the need to storm (no pun intended) the central office building complaining that the robo call the District sent informing families of a two hour delay woke his entire family and “traumatized his children.”
No matter what decision is made, it is pretty much “damned if you do or damned if you don’t.” This latest storm had all of the makings of a dream for The Judge Judy’s of the social media world.
When the alarm woke me at 5:45 AM instead of a call cancelling school, a tinge of disappointment coursed through me. I love my job, but the prospects of going back to my pillow and warm bed after a long and cold winter certainly seemed appealing. I begrudgingly got out of bed and went to the local Dunkin Donuts to get coffee for the family and start my morning routine. When I got outside I realized rather quickly that the right decision had been made. It was raining and windy, but it was way too warm for snow as my car thermostat read 42 degrees and, to be honest, it felt even warmer than that.
The morning was business as usual until I stepped outside at around 7:45 AM to head to work. The rain had changed to snow, wind picked up, and, believe it or not, the snow started to stick to the roads despite the recent heat wave. I am usually ok driving in the bad weather, but my normal 10 minute commute turned into 50 minutes. I saw several accidents along the three different routes I was forced to navigate.
I finally arrived a bit shaken and later than I would have liked. I found out many teachers living in a county north of our’s couldn’t make it to work, some busses were behind schedule, and one of our Elementary schools was without power.
When I walked into the Superintendent’s office, she calmly explained that the early dismissal she scheduled coincided with a break in the storm and by then our top notch Highway departments would have had time to salt the roads.
With everything under control at Central, I decided to head to the Elementary School that was without power. I was sure they would love my assistance since the building is led by a first year Principal. When I walked into the dark building I heard screaming and yelling coming from the gym. I knew something was amiss. What I found was the 6 foot 7 inch Principal walking on his hands across the gym as teachers and students cheered.
The darkened hallways were lit by the smiles of the staff and students. I overheard a teacher saying this is like a giant slumber party, which was met by a round of high fives from students.
I knew things were fine when two students asked if they could stay at school and not leave early because “this day was the best day ever!”
I took that as my cue to get out of the way so the Principal, Assistant Principal, and Teachers could do their thing. I headed to another one of our schools. This one was being manned by the Assistant Principal because the Principal was taking care of a family emergency.
The Assistant Principal had a huge smile on her face as I approached the building and was dancing with students. The fact that she was bright red from the wind and snow didn’t seem to deter from the fun she was having with her students. Several teachers made a point to tell me how well the Assistant Principal had handled the school that day despite the fact that they were short staffed and the kids came in with “snow fever.” They explained that not only had she remained calm and organized but she raised her positivity up a notch or two. She received a few eye rolls when she exclaimed “today is going to be awesome!” during the morning announcements. Yet, many teachers felt that it did, in fact, turn out to be just that.
I was ready to leave when I noticed a 1st grader crying in the office. Here was my chance to step in and help save the day! When I approached the student I did my usual smile accompanied by a fist bump. When that didn’t work I whipped out my fidget spinner. His eyes got as big as saucers and he told me to put that away. I was a bit confused. He explained that fidget spinners were not allowed and he didn’t want to see me get in trouble. I told him it was ok, that I had a little pull with Mrs. M, and if he told me why he was so upset he could give it a quick spin.
I was ready for a crisis to solve when “Johnny” started crying again and said, “I don’t want to go home early. School is so much fun and today was even better than usual.”
I asked what was different about today; he talked about the time playing with his teachers, the singing in the hallway, the dancing in the gym, and the post cards that were made for those in need. He made a point to mention that Mrs. M was right and that the day was awesome.
I was feeling a little unneeded at this point, but I decided to use my third strike. I knew it was somewhat of a stretch to expect that this next principal would need support in her school. This was a veteran principal who was smart as a whip, caring, seasoned, and great in a crisis.
Yet, I tried anyway.
When I got her on the phone she predictably explained that the day had gone just fine. She went through the procedures she put in place, explained how the teachers had come together as a family to make it a great day at her school. She even described how one teacher had practiced mindfulness with some students who were scared by the high winds and blowing trees. After 45 minutes the students remarked “I feel so energized and calm.”
As I drove back to the office, I had a huge smile on my face. Despite the fact that I wasn’t really needed and didn’t do much, the students had a great day. They had a great day because of amazing leaders (teachers, administrators and other staff) who came together to make lemonade out of lemons. The kids didn’t know how close they were to a full snow day. They just had an amazing experience that they wouldn’t soon forget, thanks to people who are in the field for the right reason. When I got word from transportation that all of the students made it home safely, I knew the day was a success. That was when I started to reflect on what I had learned.
- Great leaders remain calm during a crisis
- Positivity is contagious. The best leaders have the courage to be positive even when the going gets tough.
- Kids are resilient; they often deal with change better than we adults do
- It is easy to post on Facebook what the District should have done in response to bad weather after the storm is over.
- Students love when their learning experiences are different. They remember the unique days and lessons.
- Educators are superheroes; the best ones always rise to the occasion when out of the ordinary things happen.
- Fidget spinners are awesome! We should never ban them in schools. Ok, maybe I am a bit biased on this one. I know they can be annoying, are out of fashion, and it is annoying when the Assistant Superintendent walks around with one.
- Kids love it when the Principals do something wacky. Not everyone can walk on their hands across the gym floor, but let your guard down sometimes and be fun.
- Sometimes it is just better for Central Office to let the buildings do their thing. Good leaders know when to help and when to get out of the way.
- Like the Stoics teach us, it is not so much your circumstance, but how you perceive and react to your circumstance that matters.
I just hope I can learn as much on Wednesday when the next March nor’easter is predicted.