Shadow a Student Challenge

The third year of Shadow a Student challenge begins tomorrow and runs for the next two weeks. However, with all three administrators in the building I work in participating in the challenge, we had to get a bit creative with scheduling, which meant that I shadowed a student Friday, before the challenge officially began.

Before I get into what I saw and some reflections from the day, I can’t emphasize this strongly enough: administrators, counselors, district leaders – GO DO THIS. It was great to leave the radio in my office for the day and be out seeing the school from a student’s perspective.

I was really glad the way the schedule broke for the tenth grader I was shadowing, Lily. I spent the morning in two electives, cooking and metals. Though they were two different classes, I was really struck by how quickly and obvious feedback was in both of those classes. Mistakes – or areas that needed improvement – were generally pretty obvious and there were opportunities to fix them.

In cooking, Lily was making shakshuka with a partner. The end of the recipe called for a poached egg, which the two students were a bit fuzzy about how to go about making. After one attempt, they called the teacher over and asked how it looked.

“That looks like a fried egg, not a poached egg.”

The successfully poached egg

The students then problem-solved for how to get more of a liquid base in what they had made (this involved a smaller pot and some water) and immediately tried – and were successful – in poaching an egg.

How many classes do students get opportunities like this, to make a big mistake, and then see the error, and correct it immediately? In the conversation with Lily and her partner, they both felt like cooking and metals – the class they both had next – were the two classes that they felt like they could fail most safely in, where the mistakes they made were pretty easily visible to them and/or the teacher and were able to be corrected quickly.

Metals bore this out. Lily spent the metals period cutting then shaping a cylindrical metal rod into a screwdriver head. Showers of sparks from a grinder cutting the metal rod? Acetylene torches heating metal super hot so it can be shaped into the screwdriver on an anvil? Yeah. That all went down. Plus some students were welding, others were operating drills, etc.

Props to shop teachers – the amount of teaching you need to do around safe use of tools then the trust you need to have that students know how to properly and safely operate this machinery: not for the faint of heart for sure!

I was again struck by the ease of feedback in this class. At one point, when the screwdriver head was being flattened on the torch and anvil, the teacher stopped Lily and asked her to hold up the screwdriver. It was starting to get a bit curved.

“Oh. Yeah. I can fix that. Thanks, Harmon.” (Mr. Harmon teaches her metals class.)

Before and after shots

Feedback was quick, and the fix was immediate: more time was spent on one side of the screwdriver head than the other. And at the end of the class, you could see how much had gotten done: from metal rod to something that looked like a screwdriver head.

Unfortunately, I lost Lily at lunch when I ran back to the office to grab my food. However, I was able to catch up with her for her afternoon of French and science. Though the content of both classes was very different, both showed a lot of trust in students to direct their own learning. Whether it was a chunk of time creating a children’s book in the past tense or time to mess with acids and bases to create a neutral solution, students were given a goal and trusted to go and pursue it.

Both classes also demonstrated the power of social learning. Whether it was checking in with her table group when she had a question on her French book, or arguing about whether to add more acid or base to try to neutralize the solution then had already created, Lily’s afternoon had ample opportunity for both self-directed work time as well as time to work with and learn from her peers in the class.


This is more of a report and brief reflection on the day. Unfortunately, I left my notes from the day and the Shadow a Student Challenge packet at school over the weekend. I’ll pick up the reflective and debrief pieces from that packet and relook at my notes and hopefully have a few more things to say.

I’m also excited to sit down with other administrators in my building and district and chat about what we saw, what we learned, and most importantly what sort of actions we are going to take based on our opportunities to shadow a student.

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