A few weeks ago on Groundhog’s day, when the country placed its winter forecast in the hands of a rodent, I took on another kind of shadow mission for the day.
I participated in the “Shadow a Student Challenge” alongside Mrs. Truby (Academic Dean) and Mrs. Schael (Middle School Dean of Students). Each of us shadowed a student, one from each middle school grade, in an attempt to see how the school is functioning from the students’ perspective. Decisions are made with the best interest of the students in mind and this was a way for me and other school leaders to examine some of those decisions and evaluate making other decisions in the future.
Going into the shadowing experience, I knew it would be critical to find the right student to shadow and one that could tolerate me for an entire day. Once selected, the student and I agreed to meet in morning advisory right before 8:00 a.m. and I would remain with him until the ending bell at 3:00 p.m. The only guidance I gave the student was that whatever he did, I would do with him. That meant, we would walk the path between classes together, participate in classes together and worst of all – wait in the lunch line together. As I told my student that morning, “if you typically break any of the school rules, don’t let my presence deter you.” After looking at me with some shock and surprise, he agreed and we were on our way for the day.
It did not take long for me to see worthwhile activities and to feel that what we were doing was the amazing. While in 8th grade English, we read the final pages of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and came across the quote, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” I had to pause and read that line again and when I did, it gave me validation that I was not crazy by participating in the shadow experience. How else could we really know what students go through without standing in their shoes and walking around in them? It was a perfect “a-ha” moment. I was walking in the shoes of a student to get to know their perspective and view on their daily experiences. Of course I remember what it was like to be 14 years old but today’s 14-year-old is much different than a 14-year-old who grew up in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I wanted to know, firsthand, what today’s students are doing, seeing and, as best I could tell, feeling throughout the day.
Through this experience, I could see much clearer that our students live a fast paced life. Students have eight periods that are forty-five minutes long and each of them felt quick. Just when we began to dive into one subject, it’s just about time to go to the next class. I wonder if students have time to absorb all of the things that are being thrown at them. Not only that, but they have to maneuver the many things outside of the classroom as well. There’s athletics, academic clubs, enrichment activities, tutoring, and performances. With the advent of the internet, cell phones and social media, now students face social challenges at a much faster pace than just ten to fifteen years ago. I do not envy students nowadays but I am fortunate that I am in the position to help them navigate this phase of life.
In everything I do – from decision making to programs to speeches, I do so with the students in mind. Having spent the day with a student, I was able to see the school through their eyes. I was immersed in the lessons, took notes in math class, wrote in a journal in English class, played hand ball in PE, and took a quiz in Science and American Studies. I was reaffirmed in belief that we are doing amazing things in our classes. The teachers really care for their students and strive to make learning apparent each day. The students are engaged in their learning, are active in the classrooms, are profound in their thought and my presence in the classroom did not seem to change their dynamic. We did manage to break one rule – we put our backpacks in the locker room during lunch. Thankfully, no one caught us!