Snow Days And Unstructured Time

Our school just announced that we will have our second consecutive snow day due to the winter storm that is hammering much of the east coast.

Growing up in Sweden, snow days are still kind of strange to me, as I never recall having a snow day, no matter how bad the weather conditions were. For most of the winter, I would stand at the bus stop, in -10, -15 degree weather. I do not mean this as some kind of macho statement, it is just what we did.

But, I am also well aware of the fact that Sweden is drastically different from the state of Virginia, and I am grateful that my school leaders make decisions that place an emphasis on the safety of our students and parents. If our municipal workers cannot make our streets safe, we should not be traveling on them. And to make sure I am not misunderstood, this is not an indictment of the people clearing our streets. They do a marvelous job with the resources they are given, and I am grateful for all the long hours that they will put in tonight to make our city more manageable tomorrow.

Rather, the two snow days make me reflect on the notion of unstructured time. I have had an on-going conversation with one of my colleagues in regards to how we teach (or not teach) our students to deal with unstructured time. Most of my students lead very hectic lives where all of the hours of the day are dedicated to either academics or extra-curricular activities. That is of course good, as they are spending much time turning themselves into good students and well-rounded human beings.

But, part of me thinks that we are doing our students a disservice by packing their school day full with classes and activities. Part of me thinks that it would be interesting to see what we could do with, let us say, an hour of “unstructured” time each week. What if we offered a few open spaces around campus where students could meditate, read fiction, or just be? What if we during this hour offered workshops on a number of different topics? How to manage stress? How to get along with your parents during what might be turbulent teenage years? How to be a good friend? How to be a compassionate human being?

Of course, none of these workshops would be required (after all, that would go against the whole idea of this blog post), but instead, they would be part of this “unstructured hour.” In my conversations with my colleague, we both agree that this might be worth trying. Part of me is scared of letting go of this much control. I have no idea if this would work out; maybe the students would end up wasting an hour that could have been better spent doing something else. But, part of me is very intrigued by this concept. I would love to try it to see what would happen. My hope is that it would benefit our students (as well as faculty and staff), but I am not sure. However, I always come back to this idea: if we do not try it, we will never know if it will work.

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