By Steve Morris, Head of School, The San Francisco School, Originally published in Headspace, the Blog of SFS
Last week I had one of the absolute best days of my 14-year SFS career - I had the great privilege of shadowing a 2nd Grade student from drop off until pick up.
For those of you who are not aware, this past January, SFS embarked on a year-long Schedule Redesign process. Under the guidance of a firm called Leadership+Design we convened a committee of thirteen faculty and administrators to reimagine our schedule from preschool through 8th grade. Our plan is to reveal our new schedule in January of 2019 (to be put in place for the fall of 2019). However, we are prototyping small tweaks to our existing schedule already as we truly hope to make an impact that serves our students as soon as possible with this process.
As part of our Schedule Redesign process, committee members are taking an empathy-based approach. What that means in this case is that each committee member, plus me, shadows an individual student for an entire day (spanning all of the grades). This will give us an opportunity to gain insights from the perspective of the lived experience of our most important “users” - our students. In becoming anthropologists in our own school, we are gaining an understanding of a student’s day from start to finish, allowing us to gather stories and snapshots that will ultimately help us frame student needs and opportunities for growth while creating our new schedule.
So - back to one of the best days of my time at SFS... My day-long shadow of a 2nd Grader revealed so many wonderful things about SFS. I had many takeaways, and below are a few:
Master teaching : The first lesson of the day was a 60-minute math session. This was wonderful on many levels because I got to see 2nd Grade co-teacher Maggie Day teach a “Units of Measurement” lesson. Maggie had an incredible “tool belt” on display during this complex lesson. Throughout the class, Maggie facilitated at least five different student transitions that incorporated direct instruction, group and individual learning, and student collaborative time. In the end, I was thrilled to see that every student was challenged where they are as a learner.
Student engagement : It gets no better than hearing student exclamations like, “Yes!”, “Wow!”, and “How cool!” as a teacher describes an in-class activity. This is exactly what I heard as the 2nd Graders listened to the description of the upcoming science experiment. I sat with my shadow student and her partner while they carefully dissected an owl pellet, and I honestly got lost in the belief that I was watching real scientists at work. The students carefully used the tools and materials they were given, made insightful hypotheses about the insect parts they were discovering, and beautifully collaborated in figuring out the best way to manage their process. “Look, Steve, we found another bird skull...holy mackerel!”
Importance of play : OK...I have to admit something. During my time at SFS, I have only gone on the adventure playground slide once (when I first started) and I have never held one of the chickens. Does that surprise you? There was no turning back on this shadow day for me. As we raced out of the classroom door, I was immediately shepherded by a group of students to the slide, instructed on the various ways I could go down, and I was off...not once, but twice! Once I reached the bottom, the students brought me to the barn where I was shown how to properly hold a chicken, and all of the sudden Tamsley, the chicken, was in my arms. Meanwhile, a middle school student had brought her iPad to the barn with instructions about how to diagnose our bunnies for heat stroke (For what it is worth, I have held the bunnies many times!). The rabbit was, in fact, suffering from minor heat exhaustion according to this 7th Grader, so the students took the bunny to the air conditioned library, where, yes...the rabbit spent the rest of the day. My time with the students in the Adventure Playground seemed to come just at the right time. After two plus hours of deep classroom learning, I was a bit surprised how much I too needed the playtime. This offered us a time to recharge our batteries, and prime our pumps for the second half of the day.
Specialty classes play an essential role: The second half of the day was filled with two speciality classes - art and music. In addition to seeing wonderful teaching on display, I think what surprised me the most is how much these two classes gave students the opportunity to shine in different ways. For example, students who may have had a quieter voice in one of the earlier academic classes, were differently engaged during these sessions. There were new leaders in these classes, and roles and responsibilities seamlessly changed for some. Additionally, I was so pleased to see that history was alive in music when James gave a lesson on the Boston Tea Party, and science was very present in art as Tiphani discussed the various dynamics of bird life as students drew their birds. The integration of our speciality classes into the overall school day clearly plays an essential dynamic in student learning.
In closing, one of my biggest reflections is that the students were “all in, all day.” They rarely slowed down, and were always eager for what came next. Meanwhile, I was exhausted by day’s end! I learned so much about our students, teachers, time at SFS, as well as the fact that I too have a friend in Tamsley the chicken. I can't believe it has taken me this long to do something like this, and although this day had a specific purpose for our Schedule Redesign, it is something that I plan to do every year going forward!