The Administrators’ Choice: eLearning or Snow Day?
February 4, 2022
As winter storm Landon leaves Illinois, many schools either closed completely for the storm, or went online. Each decision was met with negative feedback from the communities they were in, with many taking to social media to express their emotions.
Millikin Director of Teaching Education, Dr. Chris Cunnings, has a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Administration and a Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. As an educator with a degree in administration, Cunnings understands the struggles administrators experience in these situations.
“Administrators are at the mercy of the models,” Cunnings said.
Storms like winter storm Landon can shift dramatically overnight. This makes it difficult for meteorologists to predict, let alone educators.
“Administrators really have to wait longer than they’d like, because they want to get as close as possible, so they get the most accurate and reliable information,” Cunnings said.
Since administrators have to wait for accurate information, they are forced to make decisions at inconvenient times. These decisions are routinely met with backlash.
“Administrators, what I’ve noticed is they often work in tandem,” Cunnings said. “In other words, if you have a lot of administrators from school districts that are nearby, they’ll be in communication with each other. And they’re going to make a decision collectively and say, ‘Look, we’re canceling. So you’re going to cancel, you’re going to cancel.’ And then they all kind of make the decision together in lockstep. That’s usually the best approach and it helps get word out fastest.”
While administrators from surrounding school districts will communicate with each other, they also keep their communities’ capabilities in mind. For example, a rural school district such as Warrensburg-Latham faces different obstacles than Decatur Public Schools.
Rural school districts might have a lot of roads where there are not a lot of snow plows, making it difficult for students and staff to get to schools safely. In urban areas, students might face funding or logistical problems.
“At the end of the day, with all of this, it’s all about student safety,” Cunnings said.
eLearning can be as effective as in-person learning, if a school is designed to implement it. But this comes with its own unique challenges. Web-based learning is difficult to plan, especially with little time.
“It’s not easy to design web-based learning or virtual learning days, especially on short notice,” Cunnings said. “What I always tell future teachers is the best chess players are always thinking multiple moves ahead.”
Cunnings encourages Millikin education students to plan for both in-person learning and a virtual day in their future classrooms. This way, they are not caught off-guard when their district makes a decision.
Due to the pandemic, the way the university prepares teaching candidates has shifted.
“We have to teach teachers how to effectively utilize technology,” Cunnings said. “If we’re not doing that, we’re doing those teachers a disservice.”
The pandemic has shown teachers, students, and administrators that online learning is here to stay.
“I think that with advances in technology, we’re going to see shifts in the reality of what school children face in these situations,” Cunnings said.
Having grown up in the 90’s, snow days hold a special place in his heart.
“I still do think that the way most schools use virtual learning, there will be opportunities throughout the day for students to get outside, get some fresh air, play in the snow, build a snowman,” Cunnings said. “You’ll do the things I used to do when I was little.”
There are clear advantages to students when it comes to online learning. “Most school plans would count a virtual day as a day of student attendance, meaning that you would not have to push back your end of your calendar for additional days,” Cunnings said.
School administrators are put in a no-win situation when it comes to weather-related choices. “School administrators’ decisions will be popular with some and they won’t be popular with others.” Cunnings said.