Educators and researchers have long known that shadowing can lead to powerful observations and insights to drive change. The Shadow a Student Challenge provides methods and a network to help school leaders take the time to build student empathy, especially for those students who may be at the margins, and translate insights gained into immediate action.
Shadowing a student embodies the idea of 'walking in another's shoes' and can push leaders to challenge assumptions and establish deeper insights. It is an immersive experience in observation. While school leaders spend much time in classrooms throughout their school day, it’s often for just a few minutes at a time, or at most, one class period. Often, the focus is on instruction, behavior, or school business. What is missed is how these moments play into the whole student day. But if the goal is to serve all students in all aspects of their learning in our schools, leaders need to understand the full range of how students experience school. In particular, staff need to understand the experience of those students who may be underserved or at the margins of our school culture.
Shadowing a student gives the opportunity to understand school from a student’s perspective by immersing fully in the experience of being a student for the day. Leaders start by seeing school through their student's eyes, identifying meaningful opportunities to improve the school experience for the students, and then taking action to create change at their school site. This is organized into 4 steps: Prep; Shadow; Reflect; and Act.
In a busy leader’s schedule, the main challenge is often time. The Toolkit provides a Prep Coordination Checklist to ensure that logistics are taken care of, enabling the leader to focus on the shadow day.
The Shadow a Student Challenge is an initiative of School Retool. Coming out of IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, School Retool is a professional development fellowship that helps school leaders redesign their school cultures using small, scrappy experiments called “hacks.” In peer cohorts, school leaders practice the mindsets and a change framework to build toward a culture of Deeper Learning: mastering rigorous academic content, learning how to think critically and solve problems, working collaboratively, communicating effectively, directing one’s own learning, and developing a learning mindset.
The Shadow a Student Challenge is not the first attempt to encourage school leaders to walk in their students’ shoes. Educators, ethnographers, and researchers have long known the value of shadowing, especially to increase empathy for students. Many resources also encourage the practice, offer guidance for the experience, and provide tools to help educators use the insights they gain.
The purpose in this challenge is to amplify this practice, create a community of leaders driven by empathy to make change in their schools, and, ultimately, support them to take action toward Deeper Learning.