Shadowing students to gain perspective

Posted by Julie Critz on 10/4/2018 8:30:00 AM

One of the district’s core values is around being student-centered. In order to live out this value, I have asked everyone on the district leadership team to shadow a student with the intent of understanding a day in the life of an Alexandria student. School leaders make decisions every day that affect the educational experiences of students, which has made me, ponder; do we really know what their experience is like on a day-to-day basis? Are we making the best decisions possible if we don’t truly understand what their experience is like?

As educators, and as parents, we all have our own personal experiences and perspectives to draw from. My perspective comes certainly from being a student, but also from being an early childhood teacher, elementary teacher, elementary principal, high school principal and director of teaching and learning.  However, in this fast changing world, I know that my experiences may not necessarily be relevant to today’s learners. As superintendent, I feel it is imperative that those who are making decisions on behalf of stakeholders, work hard to empathize and understand what’s real for those stakeholders. We cannot lose perspective of what a student’s daily experience is like, in 2018, if we are going to effectively make decisions on their behalf.  

Recently, I had the privilege of completing two shadowing experiences. I shadowed a sixth-grade student at Discovery Middle School and a third-grade student at Voyager Elementary School. Although it looks different at the elementary level than the secondary level, the intent is the same – to develop a deeper understanding of what it really feels like to be in our school buildings.

My shadowing experiences have been fun, eye-opening and overall terrific experiences! A few of the experiences and “lessons” I learned thus far:

  • Students appreciate choice. They were motivated more greatly by making choices that were of interest to them.
  • When students are empowered to make decisions on a daily basis, they start to build that skill of self-direction and efficacy.
  • Students were learning actively through creating, questioning and discovering.
  • The value of relationships is evident in all settings. Students helping students. Students helping teachers. Staff members taking time to visit, sit with, check in on, and encourage students happened in every situation. Relationships matter.

This dedicated time in the classrooms shadowing students has also helped me observe 21st century skills in an up close and personal way. Last year, with input from 1,000 internal and external stakeholders, the district identified a set of attributes critical for ensuring students are future ready. We refer to these skills as the Portrait of a Alexandria Public Schools’ Graduate (POG). The six identified attributes include: Creative Thinker, Civically & Globally Engaged, Critical Thinker, Collaborator, Communicator, and Self-Directed.

I have asked the leadership team members to jot down their observations and then we will share our experiences and insights at our October meeting. It’s my belief these collective student shadowing experiences will ultimately help us make the best decisions for students.

I continue to be amazed at how extraordinary children are. They are doing amazing things because they have extraordinary parents, teachers and support staff, and a supportive community. Your continued support, engagement and interest in our schools and the limitless potential of our students is needed and appreciated!