My “Shadow a Student” Ah-Ha’s

A few months ago, I connected with IDEO and School Retool to provide feedback and gain insights on a national movement to gain empathy by shadowing a student for a day, the Shadow a Student Challenge.  In order for me to gain a better understanding of how I can better lead our schools, I accepted the challenge: Shadow a Student Challenge Accepted.

So, today I joined the national movement.  I put on my trademark circa 1990’s flannel shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, and loaded up my backpack.  On the way to school, I even got in the mood by playing some Jesus Jones and Pearl Jam!

IMG_1048To make this learning day even better, I reached out to LaVonna Roth, national presenter with a passion for student learning and S.H.I.N.E.  We were matched with a Thomas Worthington High school student, Niles, based on a recommendation from the Assistant Principal.  We hit it off quickly, and appreciated his insights and patience in helping us to navigate through the day.

Although exhausted, I wanted to write my “key” take-aways from this experience while still fresh on my mind.  Please keep in mind that knowing these concepts isn’t what shifted my thinking; it was spending time with our students for it to penetrate my heart.  Below are three “keys” educational leaders should consider in approaching how we best help our students in school.

KEY 1:  Our teachers care for our students.

In every class period, I was glad to see each and every teacher give individual care and IMG_1040-1attention to each student.  Teachers called on students by name, and provided individual rapport and time with each student to provide clarity and support when they experienced difficulty or had questions.  With the demands in the new standards and upcoming state tests, it’s easy to forget that students, even high school ones, have needs and want to be heard.

Key 2: Our students have thoughts that need to be shared.

In every class period, it was evident students wanted to share their thoughts, ideas, and questions.  They are networked in with their multiple devices and are attached to not only their phone by headphones and charging cables.  They don’t have them to shut out the world; they have them to learn, investigate, and communicate with others.  Our goals should be to help them use their devices to investigate material in the classroom and communicate with one another as well as others across the nation or around the world.  We need to allow them to use their device to research facts that are “google-able” and then use classroom time to dialogue, debate, create, synthesize, analyze, and evaluate ideas and problems around them.

Key 3: Our schools provide something for everyone.

IMG_1050As Niles introduced me to his friends, I would ask the standard question – “What do you like about your school”.  Although it makes sense to me now that I think about it, I heard students tellings me the various classes, teachers, programs, and opportunities in the school.  As adults, we sometimes try to quantify or pinpoint aspects of the school we think are important.  The reality is that, for the 1,700 students at Thomas Worthington High School, everything makes the list.  Although I was in my “bubble” in high school and enjoyed playing tennis and going to math and science classes, I needed that affirmation that students enjoy all of the classes and programs we offer.  It’s important we remember to spotlight all of them and ensure we provide options for all of our students.



  1. Love the point that EVERYTHING is important to our students. So true! Thanks for sharing about your day.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it, Kelly. We tend to think from our individual perspectives on what we think is important – I needed to be reminded that we have lots of students with diverse needs and interests!

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