A few years ago I attended conference sessions hosted by Federal and South Carolina health officials discussing the need for schools and teachers to prepare for keeping students engaged in learning incase of long-term school closures. The reason for health officials' concern about student learning is when and not if the next pandemic such as the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 or the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages occurs. Health officials predict such disease outbreaks will halt normal life as people will be quarantined in their homes to prevent deadly diseases from spreading. This includes school closures as well.
While deadly disease outbreaks should be a concern for school officials and teachers, weather events are more probable reasons for extended school closures. Hurricane Matthew and closed schools for weeks in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina last year. Houston area schools were out when citizens were picking up the pieces after Hurricane Harvey struck earlier this school year. Hurricane Iris caused schools to close in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina this year. And the hurricane season is not yet over.
Last year's Hurricane Matthew caught me by surprise because it was announced at the end of a school day, leaving me with no time to prepare my students. I was better prepared for the school closure for Hurricane Iris because of more lead-time in forewarning in announcing the school closure. This time allowed me to discuss my expectations for what students should do during the closure. Students were told to take their school tablets with them and to check Google Classroom daily during the time out. I also gave students an assignment to prepare them for an upcoming project that could be done while they were not in class. During the weather timeout I did make posts reminding students of what they were expected to do and letting them know I hoped they were safe.
My instructions to students before they left for an evacuation also led me to think about other lessons I would share with students if the evacuation lasted longer than the two and a half days we were out. First, I have started creating video lessons connecting (hopefully) what students learn in class with what they see in their communities. Two, I started making sure students were set up with Flocabulary and EdPuzzle so they could participate in any assignments using these educational sites. Finally, I told students strategies they could use to connect to the Internet while they may be traveling out of harm's way.
Teachers need to start planning for ways to engage students incase of prolonged school closure. Pandemics and hurricanes are not the only problems. Tornados have closed schools throughout the Southeast and Midwest. Flooding also forces school closures. Finally, there is always snow and ice that closes schools, especially in areas not used to getting any large amounts of snow such as the Southeast. This means teachers should develop a plan and make preparations. Also, students need to be briefed on what to do whenever there is prolonged school closures. Make sure to select the technology tools and make sure students are able to sign-in and use these tools. With proper planning and execution learning does not have to stop during prolonged school closures.