One of the best ways for adults to really understand how a student experiences life and learning in school is by spending a full day shadowing a student. A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my experience of shadowing grade 4 student, Maria: A day in the life – Shadow a Student Challenge. This year many of our leaders at ISP are shadowing students, including Tony McLaughlin, ISP Communications Manager. He tells his story called “A Surprising Tranquility” below:
This week I took on the International Shadow a Student Challenge at ISP. It certainly proved an interesting and enlightening experience, and I think and certainly hope my ‘classmates’ enjoyed me being around too!
I have worked at ISP for almost a year now and it has in some respects been quite a steep learning curve, not least in terms of getting to grips with some of the educational terminology used around the school. I have, however, greatly enjoyed familiarising myself during my time at ISP with the day-to-day workings of the school and how teachers go about the business of educating students in such a diverse environment. Spending the day shadowing in PKK (PreKindergarten) came about rather organically through a conversation with Jimena Zalba, Elementary School Associate Principal, about the possibility of shadowing in the ES. This led to a subsequent chat with PKK teacher (and my fellow Scot!) Ms Kerry about the possibility of joining her class and she responded very positively.
While I was looking forward to the shadowing day, I must admit to having a very slight feeling of trepidation. I wondered for, example, if the children might react with shyness? Maybe they would behave differently due to my presence? I needn’t have worried, as the initial reactions of the students ranged from apparent apathy to amusement, with quite a few thoughts in between that I couldn’t quite detect.
During the initial 15-minute session of the PKK day I attempted to integrate myself with my classmates after Ms Kerry had introduced me as being a “big kid” for the day. The day, from my perspective at least, didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. My initial attempt to enquire whether the large box they were playing in was a house or a den was met with an almost deadpan, “This isn’t a house – it’s just a box”. In a way though this put me at ease as it reminded me of something my own children might say.
The first part of the day – the short free choice section was when I was introduced to the girl I would shadow, Amalia. Amalia informed me right away how to say “hello” in Hebrew. It quickly became clear that shadowing a day in the life of a single student was in fact a whole class affair, as I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe and speak to all children in the class over the course of the day.
For me it was an eye-opener to see the day unfold as it offered something of a paradox. The day seemed unstructured, although there was a clear structure in place which the children almost seemed subconsciously aware of. This was particularly the case at snack time, when different children had their snacks at different times without even a murmur. Looking back to my own childhood, this could have kicked off a near riot in the McLaughlin household, so it was very interesting to see the comfort that the children felt in their learning environment. Despite Ms Kerry having said that it was a “crazy busy” day, nothing seemed hurried or frantic.
Taking photographs around the school is part of my job as Communications Manager so I was familiar with the next part of the PKK Day, Music Presentation, as I’d been asked to photograph it on two occasions. It was very nice (as ever!) to see the irrepressible Ms. Jarka in full flow, happily exhorting the children to “sing their name” and lead the song about the naughty pussy cat who “has butter on his whiskers” which is not a phrase I hear too often on a regular Tuesday morning working in the Advancement Office. It was a pleasant change to personally take part properly in the singalong as part of the class and see such a great turnout of parents (and grandparents!) fully engaged in the school day of the students.
The next part of the day was probably the part that took me most by surprise, not in that students were focused as such, I had expected that. What surprised me was that there was a quiet, almost tranquil atmosphere in the room. I had, maybe from my own experiences at home with my own kids, expected a room full of four year olds to be slightly more boisterous. Instead, there was a surprising tranquility – this was evident in the attitude of the students and was encouraged by the classical music softly playing in the background.
Children again were not pointed in any direction during this session but instead followed their natural curiosity to the activities which interested them under the supervision of Ms. Kerry and Miss Elsy. These included continuing on the woodwork projects the students had been recently working on with visiting artist Jan Nováček and working with new and improved red modelling clay. This certainly brought my ‘original’ shadow partner, Amalia’s creativity to the fore. She confidently employed me as a holder of her woodwork creation until the glue set while she went about her business.
After lunch the pace really dropped with rest time. To my surprise most of the students actually did rest! For the more energetic children I read a few books which was a warming experience for me as I actually revisited for the first time in a while the Julia Donaldson books that my own children and I took great pleasure in reading previously.
Another storytime followed – there was evidently a lot of time spent in Pre Kindergarten on cultivating a love of reading, and of storytelling and listening. The book of choice this time was The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky. After the story it was time for the final outdoor play of the day and it was time for me to get back to my day job. I felt a glow of pride when Ms. Elsy told me at the end of the day that while I was by no means the first person to observe the class, I was nonetheless the first to be around for the entire day.
Ultimately, I found spending the day at pre-kindergarten very fulfilling, it was inspiring to see the dedication, patience, kindness and professionalism of teaching staff at close quarters. I learned a lot from the energy of the students and was interested at first hand to see what really switches them on in what is a nurturing, creative environment. It was important for me, who spends quite a lot of time on words and explaining our mission to see it being lived by staff and our younger students. Its an experience I’d like to repeat in other parts of the school in the near future.