It’s hard for my three kids to believe, but I was a teenager once. I wasn’t always a critical thinker; I didn’t always mind my tongue; and yes, I loved snow days as much as the next kid.
Fast forward three decades and now I’m the adult responsible for leading a school district, for making decisions on a range of issues including school cancellations. If social media is any indication, nothing I do as superintendent is as scrutinized as this singular decision.
About six weeks ago, before our first snowstorm of the year, we sent out information about the processes and policies we follow for weather-related school closings. This is a reminder that we will provide to our community every year because, as I learned a long time ago, it’s a hot-button issue – every year.
There are many concerns that are weighed in advance of making the call on days like today. That said, two stand out above the rest:
- The safety of our students and staff.
- Staying true to our core function.
The first is obvious: If our people monitoring the roads in the wee hours of the morning do not think the roads are safe, we will cancel. If the wind chill surpasses our acceptable threshold, we will close.
The second is less obvious: Because each and every instructional day is important, we do not make decisions on cancellation in haste. Losing an entire instructional day is nothing to take lightly. There is a cost to every day of instruction our students miss. Believe it or not, I actually get angry communications from parents on days when we DO close for inclement weather. I get them coming and going, open and shut.
Certainly there are days when I don’t want to get out of bed to go to work. Worse yet are the days when I’m up before 5 a.m. to read the first of 50 angry tweets accusing me of everything from trying to “get students killed” to hoping I crash my car into a ditch – and worse. One student, who lives down the road from my mother, threatened to tattle on me (OK, that one was funny).
Many superintendents live in relative anonymity in school districts, at least where students are concerned. Not this one. I enjoy the interaction with students; I encourage students to articulate their concerns to me directly. It’s a great forum. That said, there’s a right way (here’s an example) and a wrong way to use social media. The sooner we understand this, the more instructive our interactions will be.
The bubble of adolescence does not protect you from consequences for bad behavior online. Students, even in our own district, have suffered serious consequences for words posted online without care for how they would be received. There are examples of high school student-athletes who have lost college scholarships because of their activities online. For adults, the effect can be even more serious. People have put their jobs and even their careers in jeopardy with simple words shared via social media.
I encourage all of you to take this opportunity to think about how you are using social media. What are you tweeting for the entire world to see? Is it something you would say to someone in person? Does it reflect a level of respect that you demand for yourself?
Leaders make decisions and we have to live with them, for better or worse. These decisions may impact you directly; they may not. How you react to them says a lot about who you are as a person.
Take a little time to put yourself in my shoes, where doing what is right may not always be popular. Before forming an opinion, take the time to form an understanding; and not just for me, but for your parents, teachers and classmates. Give everyone the respect they deserve, even when you disagree.
Be safe and have a great weekend!