Understand the student experience, reflect, and take action.
From Empathy to Practice
What powerful insights and observations await when you spend an entire day in a student's shoes?
Three educators describe their insights from their shadow day and the actions they took to begin implementing change in their schools.
(click the image to listen now)
The Shadow Student Challenge tasks school leaders with following a single student for a full day to see what life is really like in their schools. As these leaders will tell you, it's more than just spending time in classrooms.
Joffe: My name is Renalda Joffe Tremaine with Northwest ISD.
Amy: I am Amy Griffin, and I am the superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools.
Neil: My name is Neil Gupta. I am the director of secondary education for Worthington City Schools.
Amy: When you go in for an observation or walk through, you’re only getting a snapshot of what goes on in the lives of the children of that classroom at that moment. The shadowing experience allows you to really experience the whole day with a student. What's it like when the student wakes up and rides the bus, gets to school? What is their total day like?
Neil: What I was surprised at was the fatigue that I had sitting down in those chairs for the length of a whole class period, and then to another class, and another class. That really had me going. Experientially, I had forgotten just how tough that is.
Joffe: Since I'm shadowing her, I could not sit there and help her. I needed to experience what she was experiencing. As I watched her get lost during the whole lesson, I did not see an immediate support in place for her. So she wouldn't be lost in class.
Speaker 1: Beyond an intense and immersive learning experience, the Shadow Student Challenge is a springboard into action. It's a chance for leaders to gain the insights they need in order to make real student-centered change.
For Neil, it's about making deep conversations with students, a year-round practice for his district.
Neil: We're really starting to talk with kids and try to get to the core, root cause, by going what we call "five wise deep": knowing what's going on in their lives before we go into looking at misbehavior or a grade. Because it's a district goal, that doesn't just happen in the classroom. We're seeing people in our cafeterias, our custodians, and our bus drivers also focused on this goal.
I'm proud for us to have four goals in our district where one of them actually focuses on empathy. I would say that that happened really because of the Shadow a Student Challenge.
For Amy, it's about making changes to the school day outside the classroom that greatly affect in-class learning.
Amy: Our students that go to the community college to welding were getting on the bus at six in the morning. They were getting back to our homeschool around lunch time. At that time, it was a break for the food service department, so they were getting there and still weren't getting able to eat. They had to wait for the next lunch to start. The students could have gone the whole day without eating.
He made sure that breakfast was packed for him and on the bus in the morning. He made sure that the food service department changed the way they did lunch because they were just having to wait too long to eat. You know, a hungry child is not going to learn.
For Joffe, it's about ensuring every student has a personal connection on campus, so they feel their whole selves cared for at school.
Joffe: She was going through some real personal things last year. Her mom's car caught on fire at our school, and that was their only transportation. The fact that I was already connected to her, it allowed me to be there for the family in a whole different way. Whether they're from a single home, or parents are having problems, siblings are having problems, we know their story.
We know that there is a different way to reach the student. Being able to match them up with someone on our campus that can mentor them besides their classroom teacher. That love for understanding kids beyond just their name and their I.D. number. That was a behavior that I noticed really got a lot better on our campus.
Speaker 1:No matter how different the actions they took, whether having deeper conversations with students, changing the flow of the school day, or pairing students up with mentors, all these leaders agree.
Neil: To me, it was energizing.
Joffe: It's transformational.
Neil: Let yourself go, and go be a student, and really put yourself in that experience.
As these leaders did, use what you learned to take action, and make real student-centered change.