Snow Days Matter

Just yesterday, I replied to a post imploring organizations to think through how the pandemic, and in particular the new remote working model, has affected team members. We’re used to being told, “Do more with less.” Now that so many have retreated to their home offices, kitchen tables, and basement hideouts to work, learn, and socialize, it’s tempting to think we can be even more productive. But the reality is we’re under even more stress. Does your boss equate working from home with being lazy or disengaged? Have the boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘personal’ time blurred to the point where you’re now you have to be reachable 24/7?

My wife came across a viral news story based on the letter above, written and distributed by a school superintendent in West Virginia. As students have been forced to reconcile the blurring between their home and school environments, it would be equally tempting to expect more of them. Both during and after hours. But just like the adults, our children are under a ton of stress. I struggle engaging students (undergraduate seniors in my case) through weekly Zoom sessions. For a seminar-style course, banter and conversation are difficult even with full-strength Wi-Fi–conversations become superficial without body language, physical proximity, and the ability to hear each other in true real-time. Many kids are home with their parents and siblings, themselves working through their own classes or jobs an arm’s length away on the sofa or within earshot in adjacent rooms.

It’s becoming harder to ‘disconnect,’ to leave behind the rigors of the work day for the comfort of home. As autumn turned to winter, many parents asked in our school district–what happens when it snows and we’d normally close? Will our kids get a snow day? You might assume parents would hope for a ‘no,’ anything to keep their kids engaged during the day while mom and dad focus on their own laptops. On the contrary, we’ve reached a stage where we all agree on the toll the new learning environment has taken. Enter Dr. Gibson, Jefferson County Superintendent.

The forecast on December 15th called for more than a foot of snow dropped by a Nor’easter threatening much of the Northeastern and Great Lakes regions of the U.S. Speaking with clarity, Dr. Gibson announced the closure of schools and observance of the year’s first snow day. For all students and staff, whether engaged in-person or virtually. She encourages her district’s families to spend time together enjoying the traditions of winter. Forget 2020 for one day and “go build a snowman.”

I couldn’t help but share this. We’re a culture obsessed with productivity, yet in a year where our “production” could skyrocket without time taken for commutes and extraneous meetings, we’re now clamoring for less. The pressure of 2020 has forced many of us to reckon with what’s important to us and what, exactly, we’re willing to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to. We often talk about leaders who are attentive to their team members’ needs, to their team members’ families, and who avoid asking too much. Dr. Gibson understands the power of a snow day, of acknowledging what more there is to life beyond ‘getting more done.’ She’s led her district through a pandemic, as she surely will into 2021. No doubt she’s had to support teachers, staff, and students through countless questions about faulty equipment, schedule conflicts, and the unforeseen hurdles when executing mass, virtual education. But for one day, she set a different tone for everyone in her community with a simple ask. Take a step back and slow down. And for Pete’s sake, go build a snowman.

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