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Snow Days, Wonder, and Innovation

By February 16, 2022No Comments

The pandemic has upended so many aspects of our daily lives – and snow days are a perfect case in point. Remember the joy of a snow day as a kid? There’s nothing like it – that unexpected break in the routine; a day when mother nature overpowers the careful planning of grownups and forces everyone to pause and take a day off.

Now many school systems are considering abolishing snow days altogether and relying on virtual learning for a day or two instead. Of course, from the perspective of school leaders and parents, there is great benefit in continuity, especially at a time when students are still reeling from months of disrupted learning. But often, it’s these moments of pause that make the space necessary for creativity and innovation.

In the early days of the pandemic, there was much discussion about the “new normal.” As the chaos has continued much longer than expected, there is an even greater pull to create stability in our work lives and for our kids. But maybe we need to think about how we can upend stability at times too, and create room for the unexpected — for those moments of wonder that can serve us all.

To balance these competing priorities, some companies have adopted an approach of managing “twin engines” – optimizing their core operations (engine 1) while at the same time, creating space for the risk and experimentation necessary for innovation and new growth (engine 2). Likewise, business thought leader and entrepreneur John Kotter proposes that businesses stay relevant (and viable) by establishing “a second operating system, devoted to the design and implementation of strategy.” This second operating system is looking forward, taking risks, and working creatively to develop new ideas.

Schools have set up crisis teams to deal with the pandemic. They should also have teams dedicated to innovation — especially now, when we have a unique opportunity to rethink teaching and learning. Some school systems are already doing this, like Highline Public Schools in Washington state, which is getting “Future Ready” by investing in teachers as innovators and creating “safe spaces for teachers and principals to take risks in schools and for districts to take risks on a larger scale.”

Taking this same concept to the school level, students can benefit from intentional “snow days” that provide an out-of-the-box learning experience. These moments provide a shift in perspective from the day-to-day, and have the power to incite wonder and joy. Engine 1 therefore continues to provide students with stability and routine. Engine 2 breaks up that routine to make space for creativity and experimentation, giving kids a sense of agency and broadening their understanding of what’s possible.

We need to think creatively about how to fuel innovation across our educational ecosystem. Kids need these experiences to thrive as learners, and schools need these experiences to thrive as organizations — and ultimately, to better serve kids and communities. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to think differently about how we approach teaching and learning. Let’s be sure to harness the wonder of the snow day as a critical part of our future.