I have to admit, I loved high school the first time round, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I had a fantastic time yesterday when I returned to grade 12! A few months ago, one of our VP’s, Karl Lindgren-Streicher suggested we participate in the Shadow A Student Challenge. A few tweets later, he had convinced a number of secondary admin around our district to register with http://shadowastudent.org/ and commit to one day each of evaluating school through the lens of a student. The idea was simple: we would each follow a student for a day, get some insight about our schools from a student perspective and then meet as a team to reflect and learn. Although I was eager to participate, I had no idea just how fun my day would be!
I was lucky enough to pair up with Shannon – a creative and kind soul who had gone out of her way to make me feel welcome when I arrived as the new principal in January. I chose Shannon for a few reasons: first of all, I knew she had the confidence and maturity to accept the idea of the principal following her for the day. Second, I was curious what school was like for Shannon as she prides herself on having a unique identity. Since kindergarten she has attended 5 different schools and experienced a different level of acceptance within different buildings. Always compassionate, she reflected back to her elementary days where some children rejected her because she always wanted hugs. Fortunately, Shannon’s experience at Westview has been very positive as she feels that her uniqueness is embraced and welcomed by both staff and students.
Our day began with a block of Student Aide. Essentially, Shannon acts as a leader assisting in the operations of the school library. She takes her responsibility seriously and sprung into action right away getting the learning commons ready for the day. Shannon knew students by name and welcomed them into the library and assisted them as needed with resources, signing out laptops, communicating with the librarian and offering to help as needed. By mid block, I had my first big take away of the day. Within 30 minutes, I have reverted to my own high school habits. I may have been a few minutes late to class, I was finding every opportunity to socialize, and I found reasons to excuse myself for a few minutes to wander the halls and visit others. I was loving it – and I quickly remembered how much social interactions matter in high school.
Our next block was flex, where students have the opportunity to choose what they work on and where they work. Shannon explained that she used to struggle with which class to attend until she found Ms. MacLeod’s support room. Ms. MacLeod is not one of Shannon’s teachers but she has a safe and welcoming space where Shannon feels comfortable. What I loved most during this block was the opportunity to see the range of students who entered this space, and how each of them had a positive relationship with the teacher and EA in the room. Students were on task getting work done while all participating in a friendly banter with one another. They teased the EA for being grumpy (She wasn’t) and she teased them back about their moods and what grumpy really looks like. One student arrived late but looking stylish in a preppy outfit. When the teacher complimented him on his style, he beamed and shared that he was even wearing pineapple underwear! I smiled knowing how safe and accepted our students feel in this space.
Next Shannon had a Grad Transitions block. I’m not going to lie – if I was in grade 12, this would be another one of my favourite times of day. Again, Shannon had the freedom to decide what to work on. The GT requirements are light and there is no pressure as once the assignments are done, she can use her time as she chooses. We found two soft leather chairs to chill out in. Shannon did some drawing while I got caught up on email. Once again I may have snuck out of class for a bit and chatted with the counsellors. I smiled as I had flashbacks to my high school days where I always found excuses to go chat with the amazing teacher / counsellor Rich Chambers.
Lunch was a blur as we wandered the halls saying hello to other students, grabbed a quick snack from the cafeteria and hung out in the front hallway. When the bell rang I was sitting on the floor chatting away. Shannon had to remind me it was time to get going or we would be late for class… (oh memories… that front hallway at Centennial in 1992 may have caused me to be late a time or two).
Next up was Foods class where we would be making Fettucini Alfredo. Those who know me understand that I am one of the world’s worst cooks. I had a little anxiety that I would be letting Shannon down as her cooking partner. In my world, the only way to make Fettucini Alfredo is to find some pre-packaged noodles and a container of sauce. I had NO IDEA how easy it was to make the sauce from scratch! Luckily, Shannon is a natural in the kitchen and made me feel at ease. While I was reading instructions step by step she was humming, smiling away and managing to wash dishes while cooking. As I was white knuckling the sauce pan she was commenting at how relaxed the kitchen makes her feel. The teacher, Ms. Peters was amazing and managed to demo the lesson, supervise 12 cooking stations and interact with students on a personal level at the same time. Throughout the lesson she wove in interesting tidbits of information about the properties of different spices, types of cheeses and how to rescue a thickening sauce or mushy noodles. Did you know that Kraft Parmesan Cheese has 10% wood filler? YUCK! Take that off the grocery list! Miraculously, and certainly with credit going to Shannon, our pasta dish was a huge success. Mrs. Peters let me bring a copy of the lesson home so I may even try to cook from scratch at home!
Our last block of the day was photography. This course is offered as a self directed block where different students worked on a variety of projects for photo or yearbook credit. What I didn’t realize is that Shannon had also offered to assist one of the students from our Life Skills program with photography. I LOVED seeing their beautiful friendship and eagerly participated when they asked me to take some photos of them together.
Overall, it was an amazing day. I loved getting to know Shannon. She is compassionate, creative and not afraid to be herself. I admire her free spirit and kind heart. It was a beautiful day full of friendship, flexibility and acceptance. Through the eyes of a student, we have lots to celebrate.