My 2018 #ShadowAStudent Experience

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This Year’s Version of Mr. Geoghegan Shadowing A Student

A couple of years ago, when I went to the NASSP Conference (National Association of Secondary School Principals), there were these principals from all over the country, who I could say I sort of knew through Twitter.  I followed them and they followed me.  There were a few specifically from Ohio, who were handing out postcards talking about the idea of #ShadowAStudent Day.

As the website says, in their section “In a Nutshell”:  The Shadow a Student Challenge is a fun, illuminating, and supportive journey where school leaders come together to empathize with their students and take new kinds of action at their school.  Educators and researchers have long known that shadowing can lead to powerful observations and insights to drive change.  The Shadow a Student Challenge provides methods to help school leaders achieve Deeper Learning for all students.

This year, like the last two, I kept looking forward to participating in the #ShadowAStudent Day.  I worked with the faculty to decide which grade and team I would shadow, and it was decided that I would be an 8th Grade Apollo for the day this year with Mike on Thursday, March 1.

With the teachers knowing what to expect from having me in their classes before for a Shadow Day, they gave me the homework to do before I came to class.  Well, I guess I played my part as a “student” for I didn’t get to the work until the night before.  My own two sons in high school cracked up seeing me doing my “homework” at the kitchen table.  Ms. Flaherty, Apollo ELA Teacher, made a special note atop my project direction sheet to emphasize, “No Recycled Projects” so I had to start from scratch.

I got all of my Homework done, got my hoodie and Nikes on, and set out to experience my day as a Nichols Middle School 8th Grader on Thursday, March 1.

As I have done the last couple of years, I met my student, Mike, at his home to head to the bus stop.  Mr. Thomas picked me up at the school and brought me to Mike’s house.  This has been a similar reflection as the last couple years shadowing in that a household with students is a busy morning for all.  Mike and his brothers were involved in trying to get ready to go, as their mom shuffled in and out of rooms trying to make sure everyone had everything they needed for the day.  Mike, his brother, and I then packed everything up and headed towards the bus stop at about 7 AM.

This was definitely a special day, for not only was it #ShadowAStudent day for me and Mike, but it was also #PositiveSignThursday, so at the bus stop, we decided to take some Positive Sign selfies that connected to it being the first day of March.  With our signs, we try to connect to something going on and with it being the start of March, we decided to remind our NMS students that they are continuing to March along to a successful year.

Our bus stop and bus ride experiences were also fun.  Mike’s bus stop had about 25 students at it, so they enjoyed seeing me and wondering what I was doing.  The seventh and eighth graders had an inkling but the sixth graders were definitely confused, especially when they came on the bus and spotted me in the back.  Students on the bus were talking about their homework, how they did on it, and how they were a little nervous about presenting their metaphor poems in English.  With a little encouragement, I was able to remind them that they have been doing presentations their whole middle school careers.

When we got to school, I could see from the perspective of a student how cool it is that our two Assistant Principals, Ms. Rae and Mr. Thomas, were at their normal spot greeting students as they got off the bus, taking their #PositiveSignThursday selfies.  Again, building those relationships is such an amazing thing.  It shows our students we care, and more importantly, we care about them.

In Ms. Flaherty’s Homeroom, students grabbed their Chromebook for the day.  Mike talked with some of his friends about homework, the day, and how he probably wished I would stop taking pictures.  The kids were all very funny in wanting to call me “New Kid” or Marty.  They were definitely having a great time with the whole event.

I mentioned this each and every year of doing the Shadow experience, but it is such a positive element to our school and our school culture.  A common theme, which happened in Homeroom and every single period after, was how our teachers greet our students at the door of each class.  Again, #RelationshipsFirst are happening multiple times a day and through multiple means.  Our students, I believe, appreciate this and notice, as I did.

We stuck in Room A106 for first block, for Ms. Flaherty’s ELA class was our first academic class of the day.  She started the period by walking around and talking one-on-one with each student.  She was checking homework but she was also checking in with them for the day.

The project presentations by the students, and myself, were established on student’s choice and student voice came through loud and clear.  Students could show what they learned from the story and how they wanted to personally display it.  This voice and choice in showing learning will not be the only time I will say this as I move through the school day.

Ms. Flaherty emphasized to her students that everyone could do well in making their presentation.  She reviewed the Learning Target of the Day which read that “I Can … meet the expectation of presenting my metaphor poem to the class.”  Ms. Flaherty, again, said that she knew they could do it, and that they could do it well.  She talked about how impressed she was already with those who had presented prior.  She was doing a tremendous job building up their confidence.

Our next class was a Unified Art of General Music with Mr. Converse, so Mike and I had to get moving to head to the Music wing.

In Music, again, Mr. Converse gave students the chance to decide what they wanted to do.  If they didn’t want to “perform” on the guitar, they could do a chosen research project on a guitarist/band from a certain decade, based on the roll of a dice.  This definitely helped students, who may not want to “perform” and was an excellent use of the Chromebooks for students.

I, though, like Mike, grabbed a guitar and tried to follow along with the notes.  I am not the most musical person, but I do love music and do enjoy how Mr. Converse was making the playing of these notes very easy and simple after the practices we engaged in.  Mike was very good and was strumming along to the song.

Mr. Converse then had a quick assessment of students coming up and playing the notes.  Mike did an excellent job for Mr. Converse as he gave instant feedback to Mike for him to continue to work on.  It was a great, interactive lesson. Mr. Converse was always there to reassure, support, and help each student to take a risk and try new things.  This is exactly what we want our middle school students to be able to do.

Our third block was Mike’s 8th Grade Social Studies class with Ms. Gowan-Chung.  I can tell you that, just after two classes I was starting to get tired.  Preparing, presenting, and then watching and listening to presentations first block was very powerful.  Then playing and learning the guitar second block was also a whirlwind.  Now, third block in Social Studies was intense.

Ms. Gowan-Chung had the class doing stations.  We talk all the time about how stations can be such an excellent learning activity, and today while being involved for the whole period I totally experienced why we say that.  It was awesome.  Each and every student was involved.  Each and every student participated.  Each and every student had a voice to share.  It was incredible.

I was most impressed with how the students were engaged in the lesson.  I Tweeted this out.  Students were having a role, playing a role, communicating, critically thinking, arguing, debating, problem-solving, collaborating, consensus building, and discussing.  It was awesome.  These are all the skills we want our students to know and be able to do, and we were doing in such a frenetic pace for we needed to get around to five stations.  The discussions were awesome, and you could hear multiple times, “What do you think?”  Ms. Gowan-Chung was there for support and to help, but this was student-centered learning.  It was great.

But, the period ended, and we still had work to do, so Ms. Gowan-Chung said there would be time the next time they met.  But all I could think about was how next for Michael and me was lunch, and for me, I was starving.  First lunch.

The conversations of the students during lunch were excellent.  They enjoyed my being there, but they did not let it take away from their time to be with their friends.  Our cafeteria has become something of a “dance party” this year with the added privileges for student positive behavior.  The 8th Grade students have been tremendous all year, so they keep getting privileges added.  Students could sit, talk, listen to music, play on a device/phone, and definitely eat lunch.  I was delighted in this “free” time with Mike and his friends as they could relax and take a break from the work of the day.  I enjoyed the 30 minutes.

Post lunch, Block Four was DIAL with Ms. Delano.  The way the 8th Grade Teachers have DIAL set up is exactly as how I have been trying to describe it to parents, visitors, and other administrators when we talk about our “Support/Intervention Time.”  Students had the choice of where they “needed” to go.  Some went to specific teachers for specific help or they went to a classroom for some enrichment of a subject.  Or they might need just a quiet place to get something done.  This is what DIAL was built for:  more personalized, differentiated learning.

Michael and a few other students needed some general math support.  They turned to each other or, since I was there, I could give them just that little bit of help.  It was mainly some confidence-building for them to know that they were doing the math correctly.  All the while, Ms. Delano kept walking around, checking in on students, and making sure they were OK with their learning.

Our next block, Fifth Period, was Algebra.  Again, we were engaged in learning from bell to bell with Ms. Macquarrie.  I was able to take out my homework sheet, which had the notes connected to help.  These notes were so important for me to help with remembering how to do the “math.”

As I noted above, Ms. Macquarrie was there to help our students with their confidence.  A lot of mathematical knowledge is being confident, and even though these students are in Algebra, they too needed that extra boost of “Yes, you can do it.  You know this” more than a few times during the period.

Our final class of the day was 8th Grade Science with Mr. Redpath.  This was awesome.  Mr. Redpath told me that we were starting a new unit on this day, and it was weather.  Oh, how relevant to what was going on in our world.

Mr. Redpath had us going into our Google Classroom to view our assignment and he also introduced everything by pulling up a video from Channel 5’s Cindy Fitzgibbons, the meteorologist.  It was so great to be able to understand what Mr. Redpath was teaching us to what Cindy was telling us what was about to happen in Massachusetts on Friday afternoon/evening.

Mr. Redpath then had us between two different online programs checking out weather patterns to try to understand and predict what we were seeing from what we had just learned from Mr. Redpath and Meteorologist Fitzgibbons.

Relevance to students’ learning is such a big piece to whether they will want to learn it.  Just think about how many times students say or ask, “Why do we need to learn this?”  Mr. Redpath was showing and then the students were excited to try to figure it out themselves.  This was so awesome and impressive to see and experience.

My biggest take-away from the day was from all the classes taken in unison.  I am always so impressed with how our teachers have been trying to make sure they have a relationship with their students.  This was clearly evident from the second I stepped off the bus.  Every adult is here for our students, and one can see this.  A student’s day at NMS is filled with voice and choice.  Our NMS teachers are continually trying to let our students pick and display how they want their learning to be shown.  I saw this in Ms. Flaherty’s project, Mr. Converse’s activity choices, and what one wants to do in DIAL.  We continually try to make sure our students are engaged in the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning, or otherwise called “Super Skills” of Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.  One could see this in all the periods but this day I could see it most in Ms. Gowan-Chung’s.  Then there was our students figuring out the learning and being at the center of their own learning; this was most evident in Ms. Delano’s DIAL and Ms. Macquarrie’s Algebra class.  Students were figuring things out themselves and asking each other for support.  And then there’s relevance to the learning, and this was certainly evident in Mr. Redpath’s Science class.  We talk all the time about how do we get our students engaged in their own learning, and in this class, students dove in because they wanted to learn more.  They were empowered to want to figure out the weather for themselves.

Mike and my day was done, and I headed home with him on the bus ride.  I, of course, took some more selfies with him.  Thank you, Mike; you were awesome throughout, especially with my incessant selfies.

Ms. Rae and Mr. Thomas are going to #ShadowAStudent in grades 7 and 6 in the next few weeks.  I will post their reflections and will ReTweet their experiences as they have theirs as well.

What an awesome experience.  I am looking forward to next year’s already.  Love our Nichols Middle School; what an awesome experience!
Check out my Storify of the Tweets from my day:


MRG POY pic - Martin GeogheganMartin R. Geoghegan is the Principal of the John T. Nichols, Jr. Middle School in Middleborough, Massachusetts. Since Marty started at the Nichols, it has gone from little technology to a 1-to-1 Chromebook environment, where he’s always searching for ways for greater student success. He is currently the Middle Level Chair on the MSSAA Board and the President of the Massachusetts ASCD Board of Directors. He founded and moderates the #MSAAchat on the second Tuesday of each month for all educators. Last year, the Nichols Middle School was chosen as one of 35 Model Schools from across the country to present at their national conference in Nashville. Marty was a MassCUE Pathfinder Award winner for 2016, and a Featured Speaker at MassCUE 2017. He tries to make as much time as possible for his wife and two high school sons in Scituate, when he’s not Tweeting at @MGeoghegan22.

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