A Day in the Life of a Lincoln Student
Adjusting to a new position in a new school is always difficult. Adjusting to a newly created position is even more challenging. As part of a team of newly appointed Learning Coaches we have accepted that challenge but have had to find a way to get to know the school as quickly as possible. Inspired by Alexis Wiggin’s experience of shadowing students at the American School of Dubai we decided to follow the same route and look at Lincoln’s school life through the eyes of a student.
The process was a relatively simple one. We explained the purpose of the exercise to the faculty who welcomed us into their classrooms. Counselors and principals spoke to a selected cross-section of students measuring their level of comfort with the process and we followed that up with a letter home to their parents outlining the process. We adopted this protocol and developed our own observational criteria which we based on the Common Ground Collaborative’s (CGC) Learning Principles. Part of our role as Learning Coaches is to facilitate the introduction of the CGC curriculum at Lincoln. This will serve as a vehicle for articulating the curriculum both horizontally and vertically. It will also strengthen an inquiry based pedagogy.
Here are our three shadowing experiences.
I have to say I was a little bit nervous about beginning the shadowing process as there are significant trust issues involved in inviting somebody you have barely met into your classroom. These fears were rapidly allayed however by the welcome I was given by all teachers.
My past seven years were spent as Curriculum Director and IB Diploma Coordinator at Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan so I was interested in seeing what life was like as a DP student here at Lincoln so my first BFF was a G11 student who I shadowed for the first two days of the week. All the students were remarkably comfortable with me hanging around in their classes. As Alexis Wiggins observed there is an awful lot of sitting in the life of a student, even more so in the life of a high school student. At Lincoln the high school operates a 90 minute per class schedule and sitting at a desk for that time requires considerable fortitude! It’s also tiring.
Aside from using the protocols we developed I kept a timeline of the lesson’s progress. This enabled me to get a sense of the lesson’s pace and track the strategies being used in the lesson. I was also particularly interested in how teachers captured the students at the beginning of the lesson and how they provided closure for students at end of it. This is something Edutopia blogger Brian Sztabnik has explored. Beginnings of classes varied with some teachers providing specific learning outcomes, others outlined the shape of the lesson while others began the lesson with tuning in. For one teacher the learning outcomes became a significant tool for reflecting on learning during the course of the lesson. One of the learning principles we wanted to observe was that, ‘learning is both a personal and social activity.’ Of course a number of factors enter into that principle but it was interesting to see how teacher decisions about how the seating was arranged affected the dynamic of the lesson. Even the design of the desks was a factor here.
During the week I also managed a day with both a middle and elementary school student. Not unsurprisingly I observed that ES students move much more. It was the idea of movement and breaks that I was interested in when I read HS English teacher Josefino Rivera’s students’ reflective tweets. The idea of building breaks into lessons was one that several of his students visited.
I know I still have a lot to learn but having spent a week with four students from different divisions and sitting in on 22 different teachers’ classes I feel as though I have a feel for a day in the life of a Lincoln student.
Being new to the school I was primed for learning through the students’ perspectives since they are the purpose for why we so carefully plan, assess and deliver our lessons. By following each student throughout the day, I was able to get a sense of items that are more difficult to capture in small slices of time. Moving through the hallways, rushing to the cafeteria, waiting in lines and knowing where to stash the backpack while maneuvering an electronic device gave me a sense of their challenges in coordination, rhythm and pace. Even on the second week of school some students were already clear on routines such as, knowing where their folders went or knowing what to do when they came back into their mainstream class while waiting for their peers to finish a task.
As students moved through the day, some expressed a sense of connectedness in their learning, while others moved from one activity to another mostly focused on the amount of time they had to complete the task. Alternatively, other students were clear as to the purposes of their tasks because their teachers communicated their instructional objectives. This gave them a sense of meaningful ownership and autonomy to their work. At those times, my shadowed student would lean forward at the edge of her seat, jump up with a new idea or connect a text being read to a personal story she had to share. On a different day, when teachers gave specific feedback and time to correct work my student would focus his energy in quickly rewriting his sentence on a white board, taking a photo and tweet it out to the world proudly displaying a newly constructed sentence with the word ‘juxtapose’.
I would try to capture the dozens of micro-interactions between students and teachers as each adapted to each other’s linguistic, affective and cognitive needs moment by moment. There were times that my notes spanned 10 long sheets as my fingers complained and stiffened. I have a renewed appreciation for why our students go home exhausted from the heavy lifting of brain work and quick pace from 8 to 3:30 every day.
Shadowing students from early childhood to high school was an enlightening experience. Being new to Lincoln, it provided an opportunity to see through the eyes of our students on a daily basis as we began this process on defining what learning means. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited about the possibilities.
What I loved about it was how insightful and unique each day really was for the shadowed students. I quickly learned how transitions worked or how the climate and culture was established in every class. Some of the most genuine moments were observed during recess time or in an elective where the student displayed deep passion. There were moments where I realized that school has definitely evolved from my own personal experience and other moments where I needed more clarification on the instructions of tasks. At the end of each school day, I was exhausted by how long the day felt both mentally and physically.
What was most beneficial about this experience was the chance to understand Lincoln as a community. We have amazing students here along with an excellent staff. This became such a valuable learning experience and one that I would strongly suggest. I was reminded about the value of actively listening because students do want to have a voice. But do we always grant them the opportunities to self-advocate?
We were able to develop our coaching goals based on this shadowing process. Our first goal, “opening doors and becoming one” is generated from our appreciation for the wide array of talents our Lincoln teachers hold. Our hope is to cultivate and foster a collaborative learning community. Schools that demonstrate the greatest improvement in student outcomes are generally characterized by continuous collaboration amongst teachers. The next phase of this journey is an Inspirational Safari where we visit classroom, celebrate good practices and share them with our community.