In February 15, I joined dozens of Marin Educators and thousands more throughout the United States in accepting the
Shadow a Student Challenge
), which ran from February 2-17. Last year I shadowed Fils Paul, a Haitian student at San Marin High, and this year I had shadowed Max Grabodac, a sophomore at Novato High. Max is a very ambitious, curious, enthusiastic, open-minded, health-conscious and gifted athlete (water polo, basketball and lacrosse) who loves to learn! He was a joy to spend time with, and I truly appreciated hearing his perspectives on school and education. He takes his learning seriously, and was very engaged in his classes. Indeed, at one point his math teacher had to ask him to stop putting his hand up so often and to let someone else have a chance to respond! His eager and involved approach was so refreshing, and I never saw his cell phone once. It was uplifting to see someone not so addicted to their cell phone, and who actually engaged in conversation while looking you right in the eyes. Wow! Many thanks also to the three teachers that allowed me to sit in on their classes: Linda Mathias, Jason Searle, and Nancy Overson. I appreciated how they allowed me to experience learning in their classrooms.
So what did I learn from this day from a student’s perspective?
- The importance of making personal connections with students: Having the math teacher shake the hand of each student was a great way to start the day! She not only knew each student’s name but also knew something about them, and used this in the class discussion. Honoring and acknowledging individual differences and understanding the various challenges faced by our students is so key to building trust.
- The importance of passion: During break with Max and his girlfriend, I was surprised to find how excited they were to attend their next class! They could not wait for fourth period to discuss existentialism. Frankly, I didn’t even know what existentialism was, but I found myself excited to find out. Obviously this could have been a very dry and boring topic, but it wasn’t because of the passion and enthusiasm of the teacher for his subject. He made Nietzsche come alive, and his own excitement got the students just as excited. I even went home and read the passage!
- The importance of engagement: All of the classes had students sitting in groups at some point with the expectation that students collaborate and work together on different assignments or discussions. None of the teachers lectured, instead they posed questions and problems for students to solve. This was particularly evident in math with the College Preparatory Math (CPM) program; each student knew their role, and each group had to work together to solve a series of problems around sine and cosine, and then create a graph and come to a general conclusion. The problems were authentic and interesting, and student discourse was a powerful learning tool.
- The importance of feedback: In English, students were practicing their sophomore speech, and had a chance to hear their introductions. They were also shown the presentation rubric that would be used to assess the speeches, and watched some students from earlier years give their speeches. It was powerful for them to use the rubric, to score the speeches, and to justify their scores.
After school the staff and I had an opportunity to observe a student “fishbowl”, where 8 students were engaged in a discussion around some key questions while the audience listened to the conversation. Students reflected on what made a “good day” at Novato High; conversely, what made a “bad day”, as well as how their teachers could best support their learning. Students are always amazingly candid in their responses, and usually forget about the people in the audience. This was a wonderful opportunity to hear first-hand how students see school, and what we as educators can do to make their learning experience more meaningful and fruitful. I know that San Marin is showing video vignettes of students with interesting backgrounds and perspectives, and all secondary schools have student advisory groups. I am so glad we value
and that we are taking the opportunity to learn from our students: they really do have valuable insights that can lead to meaningful change.
Taking the time to shadow a student and “walk in their shoes” is a great experience and I highly encourage you to do so! All of our NUSD cabinet members spent a day shadowing a student, and we all learned a tremendous amount from doing so. At NUSD, we want our administrators to be in classrooms as often as possible to see our students in action, and to observe firsthand the magic and joy of teaching and learning. It’s a great way to make a living and what job could be more important than touching the life of a student?
(Special thanks to NCTV for producing the video above; click on the photo to see a short segment from my day at Novato High.)