Feature Story: A Day in the Life of a Student
What would it be like to walk in the shoes of a student for a day?
We were fortunate enough to talk with David Noble, Principal of Australian Christian College (ACC) Hobart who took part in the Shadow a Student Challenge in June. The Challenge is part of an initiative called School Retool, a professional development fellowship that helps school leaders to redesign their school culture. This challenge gives leaders the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a student for a day, something often considered, but rarely experienced.
Can you please provide us with some background information around why you decided to undertake this adventure and describe for us your experience being a student for a day?
ACC Hobart decided to participate in the international Shadow a Student Challenge, where principals and teachers from around the world are invited to spend a day shadowing the activities of a school student. Individually I thought it would be fascinating to get an inside look at school life from a student’s point of view. I wanted to get to know the students on a different level. I thought it would be particularly beneficial to get to know one of the students that have come from another school this year and that I haven’t gotten to know as well as some of the others that have been at ACC for longer. I was interested in experiencing the delivery of the curriculum and how it might have changed from when I was at high school. I especially wanted to see what the blended learning model of technology and teacher delivery that we use at ACC was like. I wanted to see how the use of laptops enhances the overall learning environment. Finally I want to get a deeper understanding of the learning environment at ACC Hobart.
What were some of the most surprising discoveries from your experience?
I was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t a lot that we should change. I thought the curriculum was clearly presented. The blended learning environment was successful. I found that the lessons were clear, well structured, intentional and followed a comfortable pattern. The content on Canvas (the learning management system) really complimented the rest of the lesson and reinforced the intended learning outcomes posed by the teachers. There was a high level of engagement from students in the class, more than I can remember at High School back in the eighties. I learnt that there was quite a bit of sitting and while the assembly was entertaining it was hard to sit with my legs crossed for an extended period of time, but perhaps that’s just my age. I really enjoyed the Auslan class, I learnt the importance of both using and noticing expressions when communicating in Auslan. I realised that sign language was not just useful, but lots of fun to learn.
Do you think taking the time to do this has shifted your perspective? What were your key learnings?
Of course looking at things from a different angle has got to adjust your perspective. I found that:
The power of well presented and intentionally crafted lessons made the process of learning much clearer and purposeful. The importance of having a clear learning goal articulated and then reflected on at the conclusion of the lesson was strongly reiterated.
I learnt that the students and teachers at ACC work hard and are very focussed.
There are few things we can do to improve facilities further. For example even though students were working hard the room was echoey so we needed to lay carpet squares in the Science room to increase noise absorption.
Your first day at school can be a bit daunting. Having someone there with you to help you through was reassuring. I am wondering if in the future, when new students start we could not only assign a mentor student, but we could train up a few mentor students so that the mentor student could really help new students know the routines and communicate specific pieces of useful information. Simple things like: Where to sit at lunch, where the best places to play are, how to navigate the LMS for the first time, where the toilets are and how to get to the office.
Would you encourage other school principals and teachers to have an opportunity to undertake this experience? If yes, why?
It was a great experience. I would definitely recommend it. It was fantastic to see things from the students’ view point. I noticed that the students also found it quite motivational and enjoyed having a new student in the room even if he was a little bit older (well maybe a lot older). I thought experiencing a whole day of lessons was valuable, as often I visit a classroom for a short period of time and only get a quick impression of what is happening, but to be there from woe to go and experience the flow of a full day was different. Things like when you start to get tired, what break times were like and the bus ride were valuable to experience first hand.
Do you think there is anything that you will be changing going forward, as a result of this experience?
I think we can continue to invest in student facilities, especially eating areas. I think continued teacher training on delivering concise lessons with clear learning intentions and then shaping lessons to flow towards meaningful conclusions is extremely valuable. As mentioned before, training students to become expert mentors so that the experience for new students on their first day can be described as not only friendly and welcoming, but having clear directions about some of the common operational expectations from a student point of view.