To discover new ways to make our schools ever better places to learn, we have to understand the school experience—but as the students see it, not as we believe it to be.
This belief is the foundation of the 2017 Shadow a Student Challenge, which NASSP is proud to support. The challenge is simple: For one day through February 17, leave your office, grab your backpack, and accompany one student through his or her day.
The challenge is sponsored by the d.school at Stanford University, IDEO, and School Retool—all pioneers in the Design Thinking process, which emphasizes empathy as a foundation for innovation. Jason Markey, principal of East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, IL, and an NASSP Digital Principal, has long championed the practice of shadowing a student and commits to at least one shadowing day each year “from advanced math courses to rock climbing in physical education.”
“One thing never changes,” Jason said. “Taking the time to walk shoulder to shoulder with a student for a day provides a perspective that simply isn’t possible to attain by sitting back and observing or walking through classrooms.”
Jason also offers some advice for principals engaged in shadowing:
Really put yourself in the position of a student: Do the reading before class, work on hands-on projects, take notes during lectures, and provide peer feedback. It will help you realize how we need to constantly be considering our student’s perspectives when we design their learning experience. This last school year, I asked two of our English teachers if I could shadow not just a day but a whole unit on poetry, culminating in a public recitation of a poem—something I’ve never done. I put myself in the position of really struggling through an uncomfortable learning experience. I spent nearly four weeks attending their English classes several times a week, working side by side students working through poem selection, understanding tone, and getting (much needed) feedback on my recitation. As a student, I experienced more than just an assignment or an objective, but how master teachers build community in their classrooms and guide their students through a learning experience. In the end, I not only recited a poem from memory for the first time in my life and survived, but I discovered so much along the way about how our students learn.
Make your own shadowing commitment at www.shadowastudent.org. You can also find resources and join a community of principals committed to seeing the school experience through their students’ eyes. You’ll never see your school the same way again.