Student for a Day

Do teachers or teacher leaders, ask students about their experience of learning, or do we go about our business blissfully believing that we are doing a great job? Is there anything that can be improved?


Don’t get me wrong, the teachers at the school of which I am principal have worked tirelessly for quite a few years now, trying to grapple with the disruption that comes with a technologically enabled learning environment. They have regularly engaged in conversation and professionally learning which attempts to address the balance between content, pedagogy and technology. Whilst this challenge sometimes turns into a struggle, there are increasing instances where the learning experience of students has improved, changed, even transformed. However, feedback from the students about their learning experience has been limited. Besides anecdotal, “We love it here” from students, data from the occasional action research project and/or the willingness of a minority of teachers to be pro-active and seek feedback, I am not sure if it is not regular for teachers to identify with the learning experience of students. In talking with colleagues from other schools, this situation appears to be the norm.  


It is said that if one is to truly empathise with someone else, you need to spend a day in their shoes. Well, why can’t we trial this in education? Why can’t we ask our teachers to be “student for a day”? Would it, or would it not, encourage our teachers to develop creative new ideas to complement the already good learning experience?


Your thoughts?


Greg Miller

21 October 2012

11 thoughts on “Student for a Day

  1. Do you know Greg, one of the most valuable things I ever did (when I was training to be a teacher in the UK) was a pupil trail. Following one student, all day from lesson to lesson taught me so much about my own teaching style and what they have to cope with all day! It was incredibly valuable and I learnt a lot from the colleagues I was observing.In some schools in the U.K. this is now part of the observation program which contributes to the School Improvement Plan. People (usually someone senior) trail kids for the day and observe how they learn differently with each different type of teacher. Not to judge the teachers but to see what’s working and what needs to be shared and disseminated amongst the other staff 🙂 I’d urge you to try it if you can 🙂 They also do book sampling (they look at the exercise books of kids in a cross section of subjects) and interview them about their learning experience. All of these give incredibly valuable insights into ‘learning’ at a school. Thanks for tweeting the link to me 🙂

  2. Why is it difficult to imagine what this would be like for the student?Multi National Corporations have entire departments, with $$$ committed to asking the question: "How will this look for our patrons?" They product test, pilot, beta test etc.I appreciate the value of formal assessment and feedback tools, but am wondering if, this idea does not tap directly, viscerally, into the ‘walk the walk’ experience.Some of my background has involved teaching the unteachable. Times when I could not think of a solution to something, and gave up trying to conceptualise it, I found myself sitting on the carpet, beside that student doing what they were doing. At eye level, out from behind the desk, cross legged, with a toy car in my hand, the student offered the solution soon enough.When do we get to try this? 😛

  3. I know that approaches like learning walks and instructional rounds are designed to help us share our practice and help us see it for what it is, but I still think there are many teachers out there who feel threatened by the entry of others in their rooms. I’m pretty sure many feel professional development activities like this are an opportunity to criticise or identify weaknesses rather than as a proactive professional learning opportunity. I think some teachers may see the ‘student for a day’ activity as an opportunity for people to come in, observe, and then measure their worth. You have to ensure you have a learning culture that embraces ideas like this one and doesn’t view them as threatening. If you have that, then I think this can be productive. If you don’t, it may lead to discontent. Perhaps it’s with exposure to new ideas about learning and teaching methods that our teachers will see the benefits of new approaches. The difficulty is finding time to expose our teachers to these ideas. My professional development in these areas has come about from my willingness to self direct my own learning. Most teachers don’t operate this way. It sounds like the learning environment you are nurturing values exposure to new ideas. Perhaps it’s the peer to peer sharing that needs nurturing. If good things are happening, bring your staff together and have people share their methods and approaches; it may generate some healthy discussion and might seed some ideas in the minds of teachers who could benefit from trying out something new.

  4. I’ve found in my own teaching that the most useful thing is simply to ask the students what is working for them and what is not. In order for this to be a meaningful conversation, it is imperative for teachers to build a rapport with their students and make it perfectly clear that critical thinking and honesty are valued far greater than "right answers." I currently teach pre-service teachers and so I feel especially obligated to be as transparent as possible – I discuss my philosophy and ask the students to share their own. We talk about pedagogical choices that I make in my own class and I relay on a regular basis that students should not be blindly completing tasks for which they do not see a clear purpose – it is their job to question anything in which they may not see relevance. It is my job to try to try to ensure they don’t have to, but if they do, this is a welcome and insightful conversation. I try to impress upon them that if they do not have a clear and sound rationale for why they are asking their own students to do something, they shouldn’t be doing it. Initially, students will always want to give the "right answers" – they are accustomed to playing the game of school and they tell you what they know you want to hear. It doesn’t take long though – if you really demonstrate that you value their thoughts and opinions – for them to "get real." Students don’t always see the value in the choices you make as a teacher, and I’m not insinuating that they should only be completing tasks they prefer, but if you can have these types of conversations, it will afford students the opportunity to understand where you’re coming from and take ownership of their own learning, and it will provide you invaluable insight into the perceptions and the lived experience of your students. I should mention that while I do currently teach preservice teachers, I have taken this approach with my high school, middle school, and even elementary students in the past. Each group obviously necessitates a different tone and approach, but simply initiating a discourse from time to time (both as a class and one-on-one with students) can do so much to demonstrate the value of the student’s input and let them know that they should be actively thinking about, participating in, and helping to shape their own learning experience. Best, Jamie

  5. Student for a day, even student for a lesson. Doing the instructional rounds, and allowing other teachers to sit/stand in on your lessons and breaking down the siloed approach we have to our practice. Has to be a good thing. You trend to do things differently when a colleague is in the room, you are conscience of their presence, that’s what I found. Would that taint the data? Initially maybe, I have found in my area where other teachers are present regularly that you soon ‘look past’ them and get on with what you are doing anyway. I think though for some this would be a confronting experience.

  6. Another very interesting post Greg. It is vital that teachers become students for more than a day. Last week our school had the excellent Tony Ryan (@aussietony) here for three days. One of the messages that he echoed loud and clear throughout the three days was the need for teachers to never stop learning. He is of the belief that if a teacher stops learning, they may as well stop teaching. Tony gave staff some suggestions about how they can increase their learning through the use of RSS feeds and twitter. He also suggested having teachers film themselves teach is an incredibly powerful means for a teacher to evaluate their teaching style. I can see how this would be meaningful but interestingly enough there was an article in the press on the weekend with complaints about cameras in the classroom being used for this purpose A great way for a teacher to keep abreast of the latest in the world of technology and web 2.0 is tap into the students. There are many ‘techsperts’ in the classroom who catch on quickly to what is happening in this area. Teachers can be hesitant to use a new tool in the ICT area as they may feel they do not know enough about the particular site/program etc. Teachers truly only need a basic knowledge of a site or program to introduce it in the classroom. Students will do the rest and pick up the nuances involved with what is required.

  7. Thanks for this, Greg. It’s a credit to you that you continue to think in this way. It’s funny – we talk a lot about "learning communities" in schools and then promptly forget that we are all indeed critical to those. It poses the question of how actively we do participate AS learners. I actually think that positioning of self as a learner is what differentiates average educational leaders from the best. In a fast-paced digital economy, we simply have the choice to immerse as learners or embrace irrelevance. I know which I’d rather. Perspectives on that "how" of pedagogy can only come from the seat of the student – and your idea for us to place ourselves as students for even a brief time, has merit if only for this reason. Cheers!

  8. As a Teacher I often find myself attempting to ‘put myself in their shoes.’ In order to really understand the level students are at and the effectiveness of their learning I believe the challenge for all teachers is to try to gain that understanding. I often ask myself questions such as: Is the way in which I am delivering this effective? What sort of experience will my students gain from this? If I were ‘in their shoes’ would this appeal to me and would this be effective? The way students perceive and respond to what we do in the classroom will often differ between individuals. At times the challenge is to evaluate your teaching from these different perspectives. I do know through my training in Inclusive Education and working as a Teacher Assistant with individuals with learning difficulties, I often ‘walked with the students.’ I gained so much from reflecting on some of my experiences in different classrooms. There are some experiences which will always stay with me based on ‘not what to do’ and other experiences in which I still adopt some of the tools and techniques I admired at the time. I agree with some of the comments above, many teachers will change when being observed in the classroom. Perhaps this is where other approaches such as Team Teaching with other teachers could be more effective in giving teachers this opportunity. Collaborative learning environments set out so that teachers are alongside students as they engage in learning might also work. Overall I do think collaboration is the key to learn, move forward, engage and ensure opportunities to continually improve our teaching practice.

  9. HI Greg,Loving the reflection on "technology as an enabler" in this post. BTWI also enjoyed Jaimie’s reflection about "What is working and what is not" which points to a relationship discussion still (I believe) far too infrequently discussed with students.The Reverse Thinking Key concept fro Tony Ryan leads to would we be prepared to believe students could be "teachers for a day"? Do we?Perhaps the broader approach is to how we could co-exist as "learners for a day".#justsaying

  10. Greg,This idea popped into my head the other day. I was watching some maths teachers do their thing (using pythagoras to check the square before putting a cubby in my backyard) and I thought to myself that these people are my colleagues and I know nothing about how they operate. Wouldn’t it be great to not just sit in on their lessons i.e sit at the back and observe, but actually have them teach us a lesson…I haven’t done maths since Yr 12 and being an English/HSIE teacher – find I have very little need for it at school (markbook aside) – I would love to be in a maths class again – as a student. The technology aspect would certainly be something different from when I was a student, but the opportunity to reflect on the content/tech mix from a student point of view is an excellent idea.Shaun

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