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Several secondary administrators and district staff are shadowing students to gain insight about improving the learning experience

One of the major tenets of the Stanford University School Retool training module that Newberg secondary administrators have been participating in this school year is that big changes can start small.

The design-oriented model offers up several "hacks" or shortcuts, almost as homework assignments, to help school leaders get started. One in particular has not only born fruit for those administrators undertaking the training, but has begun to spread to other parts of the district. SETH GORDON - Mountain View Middle School assistant principal Donald Johnston works with students Jesus Velasco (left) and Jesus Velasquez on a small group project last month as part of an exercise where he shadowed Velasco for an entire school day.

Led by principals Michele Paton and Karen Pugsley, administrators from both Newberg middle schools quickly followed through by shadowing students for a full school day in February and March, and their experience inspired staff from the district office to follow suit.

Led by instructional technology coordinator Luke Neff, staff from the IT department also signed up to see how students are using technology in the classroom, while director of teaching and learning Stafford Boyd has set out to shadow a teacher at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

"We're just expanding this idea of trying to understand; it's called empathetic viewing," Pugsley said. "It's trying to get a picture of what it feels like to be like in that skin because that's going to help us make better decisions about all kinds of things, from rolling out technology to figuring out what the school day looks like for teachers and what learning looks like in classrooms for students."

Pugsley, along with Chehalem Valley Middle School assistant principal Casey Petrie and instructional coach Cassandra Thonstad, did their student shadows in February and were intentional in selecting students from different grades and backgrounds.

Pugsley shadowed a sixth grade special education student and got to see the facility from a new perspective by experiencing just how harrowing it can get in the hallways as students make the transition from one class to another seven times in one day.

Fully embracing her role as a student, Pugsley was tardy twice, which forced her to go to the office to receive a note granting her special permission to return to class.

"The kids absolutely split a gut on that one," Pugsley said. "I realized how hard it is to do some of the things that we take for granted as adults. For example, literally getting a drink of water is problematic. I discovered several of my water fountains don't function properly, so we need to fix them."

Pusgley also got to relive her own student days a bit, dressing down to shorts and a T-shirt to participate in PE class, which "freaked the kids out" a little bit.

"I haven't done high knees in a long time or side bends," Pugsley said. "I haven't done that in 40 years or more. Then we played a game that was kind of like capture the flag, except it was with hula hoops and sand bags. I had to protect my territory and I'm really competitive, so the kids, I think, were rather surprised by my intensity of protecting my property."

Paton felt the shadowing experience strongly reinforces the district's priorities for student equity and inclusion, 21st century learning and collective responsibility, so she hopes to encourage more Mountain View staff to try it.

"Just to see the day in the life of a student and be able to walk through and see what they experience day to day and kind of remember what that feels like was really cool," Paton said. "I got to dress down for PE and scored a goal in hockey. It was a great day. It was energizing, reminds us why we're doing what we do."

Mountain View assistant principal Donald Johnston found his time shadowing seventh grade AVID student Jesus Velasco to be quite illuminating, as did Velasco, although it took some getting used to.

"I thought it was pretty fun, though," Velasco said. "I know it changed things for people around me because they saw Mr. Johnston, so their behavior changed. Mine kind of did, too."

For Neff and the IT staffers, one priority was to observe the convergence of one-to-one technology and 21st century learning and reaffirm how devices can allow for collaborative and project-based learning opportunities for students, not simply individual learning in front of a screen. If funding allows for it, scaling up digital conversion to all secondary students is a district goal for next year.

"So this was a great chance for us to gather some ideas for how to better support that scale up when it happens," Neff said. "Anticipating this big change for next year, Chehalem Valley Middle School was the right place for us to shadow students since their sixth grade team in particular has spent most of this year teaching students who have all-the-time access to a Chromebook of their own."

Neff said the IT team specifically observed how some of the software district teachers are using, like Schoology and Google Docs, both created engaging lessons and made class activities more efficient.

"Instead of students waiting for teachers to give directions and hand out papers, they were able to jump right into that day's collaborative learning experience or project," Neff said.

Boyd witnessed similar success in the classrooms of Chehalem Valley teachers Bruce Carvalho and Sarah Browns on his recent teacher shadows, which were specifically spurred by a challenge made to him by Mabel Rush kindergarten teacher Sarah Wilmot. All three are members of innovation teams in the district and Boyd is approaching each shadow without any expectations of what he will observe so that he can focus on the teacher's experience.

"Sarah's class is kindergarten, so we'll see how I do there, knowing I was a high school teacher when I was in the classroom," Boyd said. "It's really embedding myself in the experience, so when I do contribute to making decisions in the best interest of students I'm really being mindful of what the teachers' typical daily experience is because they are the ones servicing our students."

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