Shadow a Student: Collaboration, Creativity, Connections, and Culture

My shadow-a-student day began with a smiling selfie at our locker (boy do we look excited!)


My student happily escorted me into the fourth-grade class and showed me where to put my snack bag, pick up my morning work, turn in my homework, and the outline for the day on the board.  

Concern
My neighbor informed me that I had finish all of the morning work of the week Monday-Wednesday that I hadn’t completed yet.  Immediately my palms start sweating as I grasp the pencil and get to work on 4th-grade math.  Question 1 and 2….got it.  I was amazed at how quickly I turned into the 4th-grade student of yesteryear…. “What if I get it wrong?  What if I run out of time?  Everyone is working on their spelling sort.  I’ll have to catch-up quickly.”  I’m already anxious and it is only about 9:05am.  Question 3?  I already have a question….on subtracting fractions.  I finally finish the problems and move onto spelling sorts.

Collaboration 
Time to get ready for social studies.  Okay…that was my major in college and what I used to teach.  I’m excited for this subject!  I was lucky to be matched up with two great partners who had already done a ton of research on our national landmarks report.  Our topic was Yellowstone National Park and it was time for us to  write about why so many people come to visit this area of the country. We got right to work on our topic sentence, key details, and a clincher.  Not much help was needed from me as my partners had mastered the topic sentence, transition words, and clincher.  I was amazed at how collaboratively they worked together, sharing ideas, and asking for input from one another in respectful way.

Creativity
“This is so fun!” exclaimed one of the students during a review game in social studies.  We moved together as a group for a fun review game using the Plickers tool to check our understanding of the key details in the unit with our teacher getting instant feedback through a mobile app.  Because the teacher decided to take a risk with technology, all of us (including me) were on the edge of our seats to try and get the next answer correct during the creative use of technology.

Creative opportunities didn’t end in social studies and they flourished in our library special where we got to work in groups on creating a fairy tale based on the story of the Three Little Pigs.  This activity probably was the most fun of the day (next to recess).  One of the girls in my group explained it the best.  “This is awesome because we get to use our imagination!”  Our story title?  The Three Ice Cream Cones and the Big Bad Unicorn.  What was the setting?  Do you even have to ask?  Of course, it is set in the Ice Cream Forest where we had a house made of sprinkles, a house made of cookies, and a S’more castle (their idea) surrounded by a caramel moat (my idea) and protected by gummy bears.  I also learned that apparently it is a well-known fact that 4th graders think unicorns rock and should be in stories as often as possible, along with rainbows and sprinkles.

Our final opportunity for creativity took place in during ELA where we learned how to draw a rocket and then compare the point of views of two characters in a story we read.  The best part… (after we added in all of our evidence from the text)….we got to decorate our rocket!  This is where I reverted back to my simple skill of making a heart pattern that I learned in 3rd grade (old habits die hard)….which was apparently a big hit with my 4th-grade friends.  “How did you DO that?” they asked.  “I’m making stars!” they shared.  “I’m making flowers, colorful ones!” they added.

Connections


What was the best part of my day?  You guessed it…it was an opportunity to connect with our students.  In this position, while I have access to be around students across the district, but I do miss the close connections I used to have both as a teacher, coach, and a building leader.  What did I learn about my new friends in the short time of a day?

I learned that Ashleigh brings the best snacks ever, knows how to do a math tape diagram much better than I do, and wishes she could have more creative projects because she loves to draw.

I learned that Andrew is an excellent gymnast, is extremely curious, and is willing to tie the shoes of a friend in class who needed extra help.

I learned that Rachael is a great writer and was able to give me some great tips on a quality clincher. She is a leader in class who many students seek out to ask questions and she loves school and loves life.  She also is extremely inclusive of all students (including me!)

 

 




Culture
Thank you to the teachers who put up with me as their student for the day and treated me like every other student.  I was buddied up with many students who explained the ropes to me.  They couldn’t have been any more welcoming.  There was more than one occasion where I was clearly advised of the rules such as following the directions on the math assignment (which I kept trying to ignore drawing out my math models), the sign-out procedure for going to the bathroom (apparently I don’t have to ask permission), and staying in my section of the playground (I tried to go to a different section by the parking lot).  Most importantly they taught me….”4th Grade is AWESOME!!”

 

Be More Dog: Shadow a Student

There he was on stage, my longtime colleague Aaron Polansky taking a risk on a new keynote called “The Courage to Run.”  Although I have known Aaron for over 10 years, I had never seen him do a full keynote.  I’ve probably seen him do more karaoke songs instead (and man does he have a great voice!)  However, I wasn’t worried, though, because I knew he had the passion and ability to share some thought-provoking ideas; he did not disappoint.

In preparation for the event, we discussed the theme of the PD day “Inspire ’16” and our goal was for him to offer inspiration to teachers and staff on connecting with students, fostering a growth mindset, and building a positive school culture.  In 45 minutes, he had us laughing, reflecting, and (dare I say) crying as he challenged us to think differently, to change worlds through our words, and take risks.

Image result for green grow ripe rot

The one line that has continued to resonate with me that Aaron shared was, “When you are green you grow and when you are ripe you rot.”

What better image then to image yourself growing or rotting?  I’d choose to grow, wouldn’t you?  But growing isn’t always comfortable and involves taking risks.

Image result for growth and comfort do not coexist

As Ginni Rometty, CEO and Chairwoman of IBM, sums it up:  “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before.  Growth and comfort do not coexist.”


You don’t grow by staying comfortable, but instead it often takes great risks to gain great rewards. 

 

 
 
Instead of staying comfortable, growth can come from embracing new opportunities.  
Sometimes you have to take a chance and perhaps “Be More Dog.”

 

In keeping with this mindset, I will be taking on a challenge that district and school leaders have been participating in across the U.S. this month called the Shadow a Student Challenge.  This challenge’s purpose is to provide leaders with opportunities to walk a day in the shoes of students to better empathize with the student experience.  For me, this challenge is a perfect match of continuing the spirit of Aaron’s message of getting to know our students as individuals.  It also is an opportunity to challenge myself to take a risk in doing something completely different, but with something that has the potential of a great reward.  What better way for me to become more familiar with our curriculum and impact on students than experiencing it alongside our students?
Beginning next week I will start my journey as a MURSD student with my first  shadow (hopefully of many in the district) of a 4th-grade student at Memorial Elementary.  I have picked out my outfit, sharpened my pencil, and picked out my snack choice in eager anticipation of “being more dog” and going out to carpe diem.
Who else is willing to take on this challenge?