Shadowing Students

Head of School, Dr. Jessie Barrie
In 1895, a poem originally titled “Judge Softly” (and later renamed “Walk a Mile in His Moccasins”), was published by the American poet, Mary T. Lathrap. Ms. Lathrap was not only a poet but also a licensed Methodist preacher and a significant member of the suffragist movement in Michigan. From this poem, inspired by the experience of Native Americans that still resonates today, arose a concept—still essentially important—that before you judge people, you should walk a mile in their shoes.

This is a life lesson and a perspective in empathy that I think is crucially important as a parent, teacher, community member, and as a leader. It is impossible for us to fully remove the blinders of our own perspective and experience; however, being conscious of trying to understand another’s experience is essential to creating the type of inclusive community that we so believe in at Bosque.

One of the most significant ways that I have gained perspective has been through years of commitment to shadowing students. I first learned about the concept of “shadowing” from a 2014 blog post by Grant Wiggins, a respected educational thought leader. I realized how much learning could come from “being a student.” For years I have facilitated professional learning groups for colleagues rooted in lessons learned from shadowing students. My shadow days always provided significant lightbulb moments and insights into some major blindspots I had. Shadowing students is a recent trend gaining attention in both public and private institutions, with the launch of the “Shadow a Student” Challenge, a partnership born out of Stanford’s Design School and IDEO and National Shadow a Student Day Challenge.

One of my top priorities for learning about Bosque from the inside out, is to shadow a full day, in each grade, starting in 6th and working my way sequentially to 12th grade, before the end of November. So far I have had the privilege of spending a full day in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes and will “step up” to high school next week. Beyond the highlight of getting to know a smaller group of our students so much more meaningfully, I have also had the chance to see our model of challenging education up close. Being able to experience a full 85-minute period gives me a much more intimate look at our curriculum. I will admit that when I got my first schedule, I worried about my own attention span sitting through four 85-minute classes in one day. I can honestly say that I have yet to look at the clock in any of the twelve classes I have attended. Our teachers are masterful in the way they use time in very dynamic and intentional ways to thoughtfully transition students into their classes; scaffold and deepen learning; create connections across disciplines; maintain student engagement; provide access to diverse perspectives; and balance teaching, discussion, and application time in every class. I saw firsthand the benefit of the “morning (and afternoon) mile” as a place for 6th grade students to get some physical activity between their morning and afternoon classes, spend some downtime with friends, and better prepare themselves to engage in their next class. I also have seen the joy our students have in each other, in their relationships with teachers, in our lovely campus, and in their learning. They are thoughtful. They are kind. They are brave. And now that I have had time to know a group of them so much better—after a day spent walking in their footsteps—I have multiple daily visits from my new friends. Needless to say, I am having to fill my office candy jar almost daily!

Taking the time out of my workweek to shadow is challenging on my schedule and slows down the progress on my “to do” list, but the value I am gaining from this time is immeasurable. I am so excited to share my deepened knowledge and passion with friends and future Bobcats as our admission season ramps up. And now, I can’t wait for my high school shadow days to come. These days are truly the highlight of my week! For those of you not already following me on Instagram, I have been documenting these experiences @ jess_bosqueheadofschool.

Whose shoes can YOU walk in to deepen your perspective and learning in the worlds which you inhabit? Please let me know how it goes!

With gratitude,