This year, nearly 1,000 K-12 school leaders in 45 states and 38 countries signed up to participate in Shadow a Student Challenge. It’s a full school day when administrators and teachers spend a day in February alongside one of their students.
The goal of the empathy-building exercise is to record observations — challenges, in particular — and stump for ways to make things better for students. Here are the experiences at three area schools.
Leslie Klomparens was BFFs with a sixth-grader for a day.
Well, maybe not quite BFFs, but as Charlotte Stephan did recently, so too did the fifth-grade teacher at Central Woodlands Elementary. The pair sat in class together as Charlotte took a math test, ate lunch side by side, watched CNN student news, used each other as human sleds at recess — OK, Klomparens watched — and got to jam a little in orchestra rehearsal.
“This is a new experience for me because I live in fifth-grade world,” Klomparens said. “I’m hoping it can help me get my students better prepared for the next year.”
Principal David Simpson participated last year. He donned a backpack and rode the bus with his student partner, then fourth-grader Trystan Tilton.
“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve done as a principal, just seeing how he approached and experienced his day,” Simpson said. “We as administrators and teachers are expected to make decisions for students, but how can we do that if we don’t know what their experience is?”
Simpson got a bit of a surprise the day before his shadowing experience when he learned Trystan would have to run a mile in physical education class. That meant he would too — though ultimately he was offered and accepted a challenge to run a half-mile.
“I’ll admit it created some anxiety for me,” Simpson said. “The whole night before I was thinking about doing that run. I know our kids, and now I can say I’ve felt how stressful something like that can be.”
East Kentwood teacher Katie Koole-McCurdy joined freshman Will Chatlosh in geometry class, when the class was preparing for an upcoming test. Not having done geometry for 18 years, Koole-McCurdy didn’t have much input on hypotenuses, but joined in note-taking.
Earlier that morning, at Will’s side, she attended history and biology and would spend the rest of the day with him at lunch, in band and Advanced English class. Koole-McCurdy, who teaches health and teen leadership, was one of six Freshman Campus teachers participating in Shadow a Student Challenge.
“The goal of the day is really just to notice some things from a student perspective,” said Koole-McCurdy, who graduated from high school in 2001. “As teachers we forget. It’s been many years since we’ve been sitting in the seat.”
She accompanied Will as he switched from class to class. She observed social interactions, how students worked in groups and reacted to instruction. While she said she was impressed with teachers’ lessons and the use of technology, she now understands why students might feel rushed in between classes.
“The biggest surprises are the logistical things. There’s not a lot of downtime. You pack your stuff up; you have six minutes to get to class and you have to go to the bathroom. I just want to eat a granola bar.”
Will said it’s nice to have a teacher take a look from his point of view. He’s a fan of school. “I like the atmosphere and how everything works,” he said.
Principal Michele Siderman said she and her teachers wanted to participate in the challenge to look at how rules, activities and instruction impact students. Students shadowed represented different subgroups, including English language-learner, special education, African American, and advanced and average students.
“We really wanted to see through as many lenses as possible,” Siderman said.
Teachers will provide feedback to the school’s Leadership Team about observations to consider, what might need tweaking in instruction, school-day structure or culture.
At Thornapple Kellogg Middle School, Principal Brian Balding started his day by trying to solve the world’s pollution problems in social studies class. During second hour, he worked with seventh-graders Payton Wilkinson, Jacob Fetterley and Logan Gorman doing research on breast cancer.
The three students talked to Balding about genes, DNA and CRISPR. You say you don’t know what a CRISPR is? It stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” which are “segments of prokaryotic DNA containing short, repetitive base sequences,” according to Wikipedia.
Balding did not know that. Needless to say, he was impressed. “The level of knowledge the kids have is pretty surprising,” he said.
Balding said the day, which he also participated in last year, gave him a good picture of how students participate in the lessons. “It was exciting to see how many kids contributed to class discussion,” he said.
Balding was shadowing Payton, who said his principal saw things he wouldn’t have seen if his perspective hadn’t been from behind a student’s desk. “I feel like it will help him know what being a student is like,” Payton said.
One fact Balding had figured out by the time the second class period was over: “Fifty-five minutes is a long time to sit still,” he said.
Shadow a Student Challenge