Today I had the good fortune to shadow a student at one of the local high schools that I support. In my day job, I serve as a facilitator for charter system implementation for our school district, responsible for helping a cohort of schools on the south side of Atlanta move towards local autonomy, decision-making, and increased site based flexibility. Each school creates a local “governance council” which in turn is responsible for setting the strategic direction, budget, and stewarding the the school’s implementation of it’s vision. This council is comprised of parents, teachers, school employees (non-teachers), community members, a principal and at the high school level, students. It’s really a great approach to schooling, it makes sense: those closest to the work should have the most say in what decisions are made, including parents and students.
So, for a day I spent time shadowing one of the students on a local council, to see the world of education through their eyes. This is the story of that day, and some of the lessons I’ve learned as a result.
8:15ish I arrive, right as the tardy bell is ringing, just in time to meet my student for the day. I’m only late because it’s high school, and of course I wanted to look fresh! for the day, and tried to fit in with my apparel. Not sure if that mission was accomplished given the fact that within minutes of arriving to school, someone in the office asked if i was a sub…
8:20ish After getting our tardy slips, we make our way to the gymnasium where my student’s first class (Personal Fitness) awaits. I walk in and it appears that we’re in a bit of a holding area, there are probably 3 different classes in here, waiting for their teacher to take them to a separate room. While I wait, I share with my student a cool intersection of policy and this class: her school has recently applied for a waiver to allow student athletes to opt out of the personal fitness graduation requirement (makes sense right?) She plays volleyball and soccer and given her multitude of other extra-curricular activities, it seems like she could have used this credit for something else. Too bad the policy change will come too late to impact her, but at least it’s a change coming…
8:45 We’re siting in the back of our personal fitness class (literally on the back row), and my student is explaining how on most days, the class is out actually engaging in physical fitness activities (for example recently, they had to run a mile), today just happened to be an in class day where they were reviewing health vocabulary out of a text book that appeared to have never been used (work seemed more appropriate for a 5th or 6th grader). But at least this gives us time to discuss her ideas for student engagement in council work, her collegiate aspirations (she’s already been accepted to several), and broader lessons about leadership.
9:40 After about an hour non-stop chatting , my student tells me that she needs the last 10 minutes to complete the assignment everyone else has been working on answering 6 questions on a worksheet. I quickly complete the assignment as well, and off we head to BC calculus. She warns me that we’re taking a test in the next class.
10:00 I’ve never seen this happen before in a class, but it was so awesome to be a part of it. So, first of all, this AP teacher is phenomenal. The culture she’s created in her classroom is just superb, you can tell that her students are bought in and it’s a real close knit community. Again, initially when i walk in, kids are asking…”are you the sub?” (I guess my outfit didn’t allow me to blend in enough…they didn’t believe it when my student told them i was her cousin visiting lol).
But when the teacher walks in, after i introduce myself and tell her that i plan to take the test as well, she smiles, sort of like, “you sure? ok…” I should have taken that hint. Then, something amazing happens. One of the student begins to lead the class in a prayer. It was super spontaneous, i kind of think she was just praying to herself at first, but suddenly everyone’s head was bowed, she was talking louder, and the prayer was literally- help us to think clearly, do our best on this test, bring to remembrance the things we’ve learned, we know that we’re capable, really affirming stuff like that. Then in unison, Amen. Regardless of where you stand on religion, the degree of camaraderie expressed in this simple act of unity was kind of cool.
11:35 So…long story short, I only got through 3 questions. While checking over the test with the teacher (and hearing her story about how she got into education, her passion for teaching students, etc), I realized that I didn’t get any of them right.
Next up, orchestra and physics lab.
But for me, the biggest part of the day thus far has been just literally getting to hear the perspective of my student, listen to her talk about her role on the council, ways to further engage students (the ones who are not already overwhelmed with activities), and it was genuinely nice to hang out with an idealistic youth for a change.
More to come on lessons learned…