ABOUT THE CHALLENGE:
As a school leader, I strive to spend time in all of our Lower School classrooms getting to know teachers and students, as well as learning how I can best support them and help the school grow. One of the benefits of being a small Kindergarten-4th Grade elementary school is that I am able to get to know students as learners overtime. When I discovered that there was a national “Shadow a Student Challenge” put out to all administrators, I quickly threw my hat in.
For one day during the week of February 29-March 4, administrators were asked to clear our schedules, silence our walkie-talkies, throw on sneakers, and immerse ourselves in student life for a day. This is the first year of the Shadow a Student Challenge, which was sponsored by School Retool, a professional development nonprofit created by the Institute of Design at Stanford University, as well as Ideo, a design and innovation consulting firm; and the Hewlett Foundation.
MY DAY IN THE STUDENTS' SHOES:
On Tuesday, March 1, 2016, I shadowed in a fourth grade class. My primary focus was on the students’ experiences; I wasn't there to evaluate teachers or watch student behavior. It was a wonderful day and a bit reminiscent of my days teaching fifth/sixth grade. My biggest takeaways from the day were:
1. Learning from Start to Finish
From shadowing the entire day I was reminded that our young children are engaged in learning activities from the start of the day to when they say their goodbyes at the door (recess was really the only unstructured time they had). Overall, I was so impressed with the children’s ability to engage and participate in all the different subject areas, quickly transitioning from one activity to the next.
2. Working Together; Building Independence
Students had opportunities to talk to one another, to work together, and to share their ideas, work and thinking. The students had a variety of learning experiences – math games, writing, science projects, movie making, etc. -- allowing them to work in large and small groups, as well as independently. There was a good deal of student-directed learning. Technology was integrated throughout the day.
3. Balance, Community
I was pleased to listen to high levels of dialogue that reflected classroom teaching and demonstrated strong critical and creative thinking. In the classroom I was in, there was a very strong sense of community. Groups were flexible so students worked throughout the day with a variety of people. I admired how the children supported one another.
4. Supporting Each Other - Students & Teachers
At one point the teacher asked if students wanted or needed to work with a partner. Most hands went up that they wanted to work with someone, which told me that our students value and benefit from collaboration. I also really appreciated the high level of teaching, kindness, individual support and good humor of the adults working with the students. They made the learning experience interesting and accessible.
5. High Level Learning Takes Energy!
The children I shadowed started the day with good energy and a positive attitude, and quite frankly, ended the day a little tired, but with the same upbeat spirit.
WHAT I LEARNED:
In the end I learned a little more about what students experience in school and I am more aware of what a day feels like for them and the learning experiences they are having with the Shorecrest curriculum, teachers, and our approach to teaching and learning.
I always say that what makes a school a vibrant place to learn is when students and adults are both engaged in powerful learning experiences. This Shadow a Student Challenge was a powerful learning experience for me.