Education leaders learn lessons walking in their students’ shoes

William Woods EDU

While William Woods education graduates scatter across nearly all of Missouri’s 567 school districts as teachers, principals and superintendents, they all wake each school day to a shared question and concern: how well do I relate to my students?

Do you have a strong understanding of what their day-to-day school life looks like? What if you could spend a day in their shoes — getting on the bus in the morning, making the rush to class between each bell, conversing in the cafeteria or participating in class assignments?

Over the past several months, more than 1,490 school leaders in all 50 states and across 31 countries have participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge, through which school leaders immerse themselves in the experience of being a student for the day.

“In human-centered design, shadowing is a practice used to build empathy for users and can lead to powerful observations and insights to drive change,” explain the creators of the challenge, the Institute of Design at Stanford University and IDEO, a leading design firm that also works with schools.

Karen Ritter, assistant principal in a high school just outside of Chicago, decided to participate in the challenge and chose to follow around one of her ninth grade students for the day. This particular student, Alan Garcia, is in several remedial classes and had come to her earlier in the year asking to be switched out of those.

She participated in everything Garcia did, from sprints in gym class to visiting the learning center for one-on-one help, eating in the cafeteria with him and his friends, and attending all of his classes.

“I’m holding up,” Ritter explains midway through the day in an interview with PBS. “I definitely feel like my energy level has gone down since this morning.”

One class Ritter attended with Garcia throughout the day was his two-hour, double remedial math class, which he had originally asked to switch out of.

Garcia expressed that he would like to be taking classes like French, wood shop or metal, but because he spends all of his time in remedial classes — placed in based on test scores — he does not have time for the electives he feels passionate about.

“It gets me mad and sometimes puts me down because I could be learning new stuff, but instead I’m stuck with something I’ve been doing since seventh, sixth, eighth grade,” he said.

“He was getting things and teaching them to me,” explains Ritter. “Alan represents someone who is very representative of our school — middle of the road kid who, when challenged, can reach very high expectations.”

“I would like to see more opportunities given to students… maybe we need to rethink the way that we place students — not based on test scores.”

This is just one of the many stories shared of lessons learned by school leaders throughout the world who’ve participated in the challenge. To hear some more insights from school leaders who participated in this challenge, or to share about your own Shadow a Student experience, join Shadow a Student’s Google+ Community.

Those inspired to see change in their schools and districts can explore William Woods’ wide variety of traditional and online graduate education degree programs. These programs open the door to joining the strong force of Missouri’s leading educational professionals, equipping you with the powerful tools and know-how to enact real change.

View the full PBS interview with Karen Ritter below.

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