The Privilege of Shadowing Students

Post date: 05-Nov-2013 05:50:17

The experience of founding a school requires one to seek out everything on your own; usually there is no one to show you the way. That’s why I have found the peer support and connections through the Academy for International Heads particularly valuable. During one of our seminars, a head of school discussed his challenges for the upcoming school year and his plans to shadow students to view the school through their eyes. I decided to try it myself and learn about The school from our students’ perspective.

During the first weeks of school, I spent an entire day with three different students in the Middle School and in lower and upper elementary grades. I sat next to the student, attending classes, working, eating lunch and even going to recess. Interestingly, the shadowing included a new French student with no English yet, and this gave me a very good understanding of her experience. Students were aware of the shadowing ahead of time. Two of them volunteered for it, and another was selected randomly by the classroom teacher. I was amused by how much the students responded to having their head of school as a “shadow.”

Over the course of three days, I got the chance to see the school structure and our educators from a different perspective. Students work hard each day. I noted that in the elementary levels, the transitions are less frequent than in the Middle School, but they are very quick. It was important for me to witness how those transitions impacted the curriculum and understand what the Elementary teachers mean when they say they don’t have enough time. I was able to appreciate how highly organized our Elementary teachers need to be with their lesson planning in a dual-language school. The classroom lesson must be designed to anticipate each step in the process–exploration, content, development and follow-up–to prevent the schedule from impeding group momentum. In the Middle School, the students are older, the transitions are frequent and the curriculum is taught by specialists whose differentiated syllabi suit the schedule. The frequency of the transitions feels well-integrated and smooth.

Parents often wonder about our lunch schedule, so it was interesting for me to experience this part of the day. Our students have a lunch period very similar to those of other independent schools, and definitely more generous than the time allotted in public schools. Here too, the pace is fast and requires discipline and concentration. When students are in the cafeteria, they must concentrate on their meal, then transition in a quick and orderly fashion to the park where they can relax, let go and play.

Shadowing also allowed me a broader perspective on how well we are meeting the goals of our mission. Thanks to the support of The Education Directors, I am able to see a meaningful implementation of our vision for the School. As one parent phrased it, the exercise of shadowing students showed me that the 21st century techniques are not just theories, limited to a power point presentation, but fully woven into the students’ daily experience in the classroom. Teachers are encouraging creative thought and integrating the arts and technology effectively into their lesson plans. The position and expertise of Technology Director is a true asset to the faculty. It provides help and advice to teachers who enhance their classroom practices–and all of them do!

While it is important that educators and students alike never cease in their efforts to learn and improve, overall, there is a lot a school can feel proud about. My experience in the classroom allowed me to see everything the students see. I can see what might be improved, and let the teachers know. I can also appreciate moments of real teaching excellence in our classrooms and let the teachers know that as well. During the rest of this year, I will allow myself the pleasure of shadowing students again, to learn through their eyes, to improve what we do, and to celebrate what teachers and staff work for so hard every day.