Monday, March 14, 2016

Shadow A Student Challenge

Between February 29 and March 8, nine of our teachers took the Shadow A Student Challenge that was sponsored by School Retool. It was an empathy building exercise for principals and teachers across the nation.

We had shadows from 4th grade on up. Not only was it a great "stand-alone" event, but it fit within our 2015-16 District Professional Learning Goal: We will use a cycle of collaborative intentional planning and reflective practice to increase our instructional expertise and deepen student learning.

For the day of observation, we crafted a Shadow a Student Learning Target: I can understand our school from a student’s perspective through immersing myself in the experience of being a student for a day.

Using the templates provided in the Shadow A Student Toolkit, our teachers notated real-time observations such as:
          • Getting to bus stop.  No one there.  We’re early.  Is this the right stop?  Wait for 10 minutes.  Drive up the road.  See other kids.  Return to our stop and see my shadow buddy.  Feel much better.
          • Students enjoy sharing in class.
          • Writing prompt up on screen.  Wrote about a chipmunk while teacher circulated room checking for homework completion.  Shared our story ideas.  Each of us came up with different stories.  
          • Many different tasks.
          • Kids get louder as day goes on or getting tired of class activity.
      • Math is difficult for my shadow buddy, I wonder why she does not sit closer to the teacher.
      • My shadow buddy is feverishly taking notes almost the entire class period.
      • I am starting to daydream.
      • Final Bell:  I’m exhausted.
Our teachers also spent time on the observation day, as well as during a debrief session all together, reflecting on how it felt to be a student for a day:
  • Draining because of all classes taught in isolation.
  • Found a 45 minute movie "painful."
  • Lunch for all of us was great!!
  • Kids need to move.
  • Realize why students get bored -- taking notes a lot.
  • Felt like I wouldn't have missed much if I weren't there.
  • Surprised by amount of time to relax - 20 minutes.
  • Every minute was planned - felt rushed.
  • Typical from when we remember our own schooling.
  • Lots of movement.
  • Lunch flew by - not a normal time.
  • Recess was a blast.
  • Small groups were the most engaged.
  • Some level of independence.
Each participating teacher will be making a presentation to the staff members in his or her school. Not wanting this experience to just be an "event," we were also looking for some small bets (a.k.a "hacks" in the School Retool lingo) that our teachers might try this year. You can tell by a few that I have noted below that this experience was a change agent:
  • After sharing some of my successes and concerns stemming from my "shadowing" experience, I know that I have colleagues that will support me in my ideas for change. I know this because many of my colleagues echoed the same information during the debriefing session. When a group of professionals band together for change, others begin to listen. I also believe that with my new found opinions of students and what they go through, coupled with the observation notes that I compiled during my experience, I will make a strong case that will resonate with my colleagues enough to get them to think on a different level. I think that I will be able to turn some heads and get some people to look at things in an entirely new perspective.  
  • This experience has made me rethink my homework load and what I am asking students to do once they leave my classroom.
  • I will be sharing with our staff what I experienced and will relay the importance of meaningful assignments. 
  • Homework seems meaningless based on how very tired I was at the end of the day. Benching a 6th grader for recess will not happen in my class for the rest of the year. Recess is necessary. I will work with the staff to try to brainstorm ways to connect our teaching. It was overwhelming how disconnected it all is.

That is a sample of what each of them intends to do moving forward. As a group, they also chose to pose some questions for our district: 
  • How much homework is too much? Do our kids have enough time just to be kids?
  • How might we better implement cross-disciplinary concepts to avoid teaching and learning in isolation?
  • How can we get kids some reflection time during the day?
Step one will be to present these and others to our Board Curriculum Committee, and see where the conversation takes us. 

Join the conversation...
What else might we learn from our students? What are other methods to elevate student voice and promote democratic agency in our schools?

Lunch is way too short! 
Lunch is way too short! 
Lunch is way too short!