Today’s post is a guest post from Jeremy Chiappeta, Executive Director at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy. Jeremy took us up on the challenge set by my daughter in her viral post to shadow students in order to feel their experience of school.

Every day I get to work right before our scholars, but on January 26, 2015 things felt a little different.  Inspired by the original blog post, I was participating in a “scholar shadow day,” and my nerves had me popping out of my skin, kind of like the way I was the morning of my first day of my first year of teaching.

As the Executive Director and co-founder at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy I really had no reason to be nervous.  My total job for the day was to simply follow around “Julian” – to truly experience what he experienced.  My bosses – the board of directors – weren’t going to be there, so it’s not like I could really screw anything up so badly that I would get fired.  But​,​ I was still an emotional mess.

For the past six years I have spent crazy hours working and building our school network.  What if all of this hard work was for naught? ​ What if I hated what I saw and felt? What if the BVP teachers, the very same teachers that I tell other people are “good enough for my own children,” prove not to be very good?  Worse, what if my experience made me believe that our scholars were miserable at school?  As the buses unloaded, I really started to wonder if this project was the right thing to do….

Almost instantly, my mind shifted from nervousness to focus.  I worked hard to notice every detail of what Julian did throughout the day​.  While many minor details throughout the day were, in fact, remarkable (e.g. the classroom was surprisingly cold), ultimately much of the day was a blur: reading, writing, math, science lab, health, lunch, breakfast, break…without my notes I wouldn’t even be able to remember the order of the day.

It was not until ​later that evening after putting my own kids to bed that I was able to review my notes and allow my ​thoughts to coalesce.  Not surprisingly, some of my take-aways were similar to those in the original blog, while others were more unique to my experience.

Here are my two biggest take-aways:

​First, like the original post, I declare that scholars must get up and MOVE!  As a lover of all things data, I decided to wear a Fit-bit to track my movement (the same as Julian’s movement) for the day.  The recommended target is 10,000 steps per day.  Based on the blog, I predicted it would be far less and set the Las Vegas over/under at 4,700 steps.  Eight-and-a-half hours later, the under wins!  Julio and I, from 7:45-4:15, only made about 1,400 steps.  And yes, it’s amazing how tiring sitting can be…

​Second, personal connections matter.  Connections lead to focus.  Connections lead to happiness. Connections lead to learning.  Throughout Julian’s day (and not just Julian: I tracked this for several of his peers), teachers checked in with him.  From small taps on the shoulder to ensure focus, to quarterback crouches to look over his work, I counted seventeen different occasions teachers made sure Julian was engaged in what he was supposed to do.  While I didn’t count every interaction with every scholar, Julian was not alone, and his great teachers were checking in all over the place, and the scholars reacted. Julian had no choice but to feel attention, push, and love.​

A few weeks later​,​ a team of 14 members of our network support team came together to share our experiences with shadow day.  We saw lots of things, but the two giant take-aways above definitely resonated.  Many other projects also grew out of our share-out (including white-boarding our elementary class schedule and re-examining new teacher support practices).

All of us were invigorated by what we saw and experienced, and are as urgent as ever to improve our program.​

Ultimately, a hat-tip to Grant for sharing this blog and to Kim Marshall for writing about it in his weekly memo.  We are grateful and getting better because of it!