Earlier this week I participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge along with a number of our other administrators. The goal of this day was for adults who work in schools to spend a day and better understand the student perspective. I spent my day with Thomas Worthington Freshman Quinn Mottice.
First off, Quinn was awesome! Really, what 15 year old boy wants to spend the day with an adult following them around? What’s worse than that: The Superintendent of Schools following you around! That’s about as bad as it gets, and Quinn was great. He talked with me throughout the day, he helped me navigate the hallways and the traffic patterns, and he saved me a seat with his friends at lunch. I’m indebted to Quinn.
As I reflect upon my day the first thing I learned is that I now better understand the Thomas Worthington High School that freshman Quinn Mottice attends. But, his experience will be different than other experiences and over time his experience will change and expand. Thus, I’d need to do this ten times with ten different students to really understand the different aspects of the school. For instance, with Quinn I experienced Cardinal Band and Theater Survey. But, I never even walked past an art classroom, the library or anywhere near the gymnasiums. I never saw a science lab and I didn’t sit through a Advanced Placement course. There is much I did not experience.
With that in mind, there is much I did experience. The main hallway has not changed since I was in school at Thomas Worthington 25 years ago. At class changes it is still very full and you ride the wave of humanity down the hallway. The traffic pattern moves well and students are respectful of one another. But, it sure is full. What is different than 25 years ago is that kids today have their cell phones out as they walk the halls and 50% or so have earbuds in. (I must admit that I too had my cell phone out. But, no earbuds for me…)
I learned that 47 minute class periods worked for me. I’ve always thought they were too short for learning but the day moved at a nice pace and for me there was about the right amount of sitting and movement. The time between class periods is adequate, but there is no time to mess around. Thomas Worthington is very spread out and no one I talked with actually used their locker during the day. Every student carried a large backpack and only used their locker to store their coat.
I learned that lunch also worked ok for me. Once I was seated with Quinn’s friends I really didn’t notice what was going on around the room. We ate, we discussed school, we discussed the Led Zeppelin shirt one of the boys was wearing, etc.. Everyone finished their food in the allotted time and it seemed to work. In addition, I learned that we really have great kids. I was nervous going into school for the day. Obviously I wasn’t going to be accepted as one of the kids, but everyone I encountered was respectful, behavior in classrooms was very good, and students seemed genuinely interested in helping me out.
Our teachers did a really nice job as well. In each classroom I was in our teachers maximized the instructional time and clearly had built strong relationships with our students. I was impressed by the teaching and learning I experienced.
There are some challenges. I was struck by the fact that Quinn only saw his friends in band and at lunch. The rest of his schedule in this large school was with mostly acquaintances (although in English class Olivia Midnight did walk across the room to offer us both a brownie. We both accepted!). Quinn handled his schedule well, but I do see this as a challenge as there is very little downtime during the Thomas Worthington day and almost no time to find friends and hang-out between classes.
In addition, our students have a significant amount of freedom and need to be accountable for themselves. In an eight period day with seven different teachers Quinn needs to manage a number of different assignments at all times. This seems difficult to me and there is no easy way to manage it.
Finally, there were little things. Thomas is an old school. It’s very difficult to find a place to plug your device in. I used my chromebook is most every class. Most students chose to use their phones when a device was needed even though chromebooks were readily available in many classrooms. Either way keeping a device charged at Thomas Worthington is a 21st century challenge.
As I went about the day I asked each student I talked with to tell me about their experience. I’m happy to report that our students seemed to enjoy their experience at the high school. They told me they didn’t think the work was any harder than middle school, but the school was much larger and you had to be responsible for yourself.
Moving forward Dr. Gupta, our Director of Secondary Education, has scheduled some time for our administrators to get together and reflect on the experiences we had this week shadowing our students. As a team we will work to troubleshoot where needed and also to celebrate the positive. In the end we will work to make sure we are providing the best possible experience for all of our students.
-Trent Bowers, Superintendent
p.s. In addition to my reflections you can read the reflections of Dr. Neil Gupta, our Director of Secondary Education here and the reflections of Worthington Kilbourne High School Principal Angie Adrean here and the reflections of Thomas Worthington Assistant Principal Greg Garris here.