What this principal learned from shadowing a student for a day

What this principal learned from shadowing a student for a day

Hoping to connect more deeply with all aspects of the school, Australian Christian College (ACC) Hume Principal Sam Woods recently participated in the international Shadow a Student Challenge.

The Challenge, an international initiative, takes educators out of their office and into the hallways, spending a day shadowing the movement, academics and school activities of a student at their school.

After shadowing Year 9 student Josh Bargebos on Tuesday, 12 September 2023, Woods’ first reflection was on how much he had forgotten from being at school.

“One of the main reasons that I chose to engage in this initiative is that our school is in the unique position where we are building our Secondary School from the ground up,” Woods said.

“We are in the position to create the high school that we want, not just maintain the high school that we have. As we are adding year levels, I as the principal want to make sure we get it right. We don't want to blindly follow outdated models, but meet the specific needs of our modern students.”

Woods said the school is open to thinking outside of the box, adding he wanted “to be able to make informed decisions based not just on academic opinion, but real-life experience as a students of Australian Christian College.”

On the day, Woods sat in on Bargebos’ English, Maths and Science classes, which all for ran for 100 minutes each.

“I found the time flew when doing English [one of the subjects I teach] but I found 100 minutes to be a really long time with maths! I can imagine that for students that disparity is much higher,” he said. “I'd love to explore how we make all subjects more accessible for every student, even if it isn't their natural interest.”

Woods said he’s realised that schools are “a really complex tapestry of relationships” in which students have to navigate relationships with their teachers and vice versa.

“Both have different expectations on the relationships. Students also have complex relationships with each other which is evident both in the classroom and the yard,” he said.

“It has never been more evident to me that explicit teaching about positive relationships, resilience and emotional intelligence should be part of our normal curriculum. So much of success at school hinges off of the relationships that students have.”

Woods said he also thinks that teachers should undergo more training and reflection about relating to students.

“I think we often expect adult levels of emotional maturity from children and that just doesn't work,” he said.

“For our out-of-town students who travel on our buses, it is a big day. The bus picked us up at 8 am and we didn't get back to Mansfield till after 4pm. That's basically 2 extra hours of energy spent, on top of lessons.”

Woods said he is keen to explore how staff can support these students better.

“Out of town students make up a significant percentage of our student population and I suspect the proportion will only grow over the coming years, so this needs to be an area of attention,” he said.

“I really enjoyed the lessons today and I found the classroom I was based in conducive to learning. I enjoyed using some alternative mediums of communication, like mini whiteboards really useful and wish my teachers when I was at school had such resources.”

Woods said he was particularly excited to do a Science experiment outside.

“I found it really refreshing to have a change of scenery and enjoyed the fresh air. More lessons should be had outside in my opinion,” he said.

“What I enjoyed about having three double periods today was that my mind only had to be in 3 different spaces – not five or six – throughout the day. It made the day feel more consistent than I remember my general day in High School feeling all those years ago.”

Woods said the school will be making some changes after the experience he had, including “rethinking aspects of the general school day”.

“I think some minor changes or enhancements could make huge improvements for our student experience,” he said.

“Even though much of my role as the principal is to support the staff to do their job well, it can't be forgotten that the purpose of the school is centred around the students, their growth and their learning.”

Woods said the school experience also much more than just academic learning, especially for students.

“So much of our energy as staff is focused on improving the academic outcomes for the students, possibly more energy could be spent on the intangibles at our school.”