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The Shadow-a-Student Challenge Returns

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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Last year, I participated in more Twitter chats than I can count.  I co-hosted 2 Edcamps and went to a national conference.  I even traveled to Australia to present at a conference!  But, there was one professional development experience that surpassed any of those events by far; and it didn't cost me anything.  I participated in the inaugural Shadow a Student Challenge!


In my work with design thinking, the foundational premise is based on the concept of gaining empathy to understand how best to help others and solve the right problems.  As a result, School ReTool, IDEO, Stanford's d.schools, and the Hewlett Foundation combined forces to create a movement to excite school leaders in spending a day shadowing a student to provide powerful insights and experiences in better understanding the world we are creating for our students, and how we can make it even better.

Even though we could all say we went to school when we were younger and are surrounded by students all day, shadowing a student, as a student, provides a whole different context.  It took time to blend in and remind myself of the pace of the day and true shifts in the uplifted cognitive rigor in our classrooms.


Last year, I accepted the Shadow a Student Challenge and wrote a blog in my preparation for the empathy experience: Shadow a Student: Challenge Accepted.  I replaced the suit for jeans and a flannel, and spent the day shadowing a high school student along with my friend and educational leader, LaVonna Roth.


After the experience, I wrote another blog to help me reflect on the invaluable insights from the experience: My "Shadow a Student" Ah-Ha's

I still draw upon this experience in my leadership at the district level.  Our district embraced this Challenge last year, and we had many of our principals and district office leaders participate.  We had amazing conversations to target student groups or programs we wanted to gain better insights with, and we had great conversations after the experience to reflect on how we can collectively use our learning to help our schools.

So, I challenge everyone to Shadow a Student this year!  

Choose a student and find a day between Feb 2-17 to join colleagues from all over the world!  

To get more information on how to begin the shadow experience, check out: The Shadow Journey.  Make sure to register at the Shadow a Student Challenge website to put your school on the map and get access to valuable resources.

Also, join me and leaders from the event organizers to co-moderate a Twitter chat #ohedchat on Wednesday, January 25 at 9 PM EST | 8 PM CST | 6 PM PST to learn from one another on the power of empathy as a school leader!


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  • Guest
    Jonathon Wennstrom Monday, 09 January 2017


    I did this last year as well and it was a powerful experience!! Seeing the world through the eyes of a third grade student was incredible. I'm hoping to convince at least one of my colleagues to join me this year as I do the shadow challenge again. Thank you for promoting this wonderful experience!


  • Neil Gupta | @drneilgupta
    Neil Gupta | @drneilgupta Monday, 09 January 2017

    We had most of our team do it - it was helpful to come together to process and reflect on our views to make actionable change. Go for it!

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Guest Saturday, 23 February 2019