GUEST BLOG: Looking to Build Your Empathy Experience? Shadow a Student! — Dr. Neil Gupta, Worthington City Schools

7/5/2019

By: Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in Dr. Neil Gupta’s blog on Feb. 19, 2019.
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There’s a lot of talk about the need for empathy, so leaders spend a lot of time developing lessons and opportunities for students to engage them in experiences to be more empathetic to situations and each other as well as how to use it in taking action.

Yet, what empathy experiences can educational leaders employ? For the past four years, LaVonna Roth and I have participated in the Shadow a Student Challenge.  Why? We believe that to truly know what a student may go through on a daily basis, you must put yourself in their shoes – almost literally!

A student can be selected for various reasons depending on what kind of perspective you’d like to experience.  Here’s a link to a site that take you through all the steps on: How it Works.  

After shadowing high school students for the past three years, LaVonna and I shadowed a middle school student this year.  Based on our experiences throughout the day, we experienced the constant theme that students are more engaged when teachers create opportunities.  

Below are four areas in which Successful Teachers Create Opportunities for Success:

  1. Create Opportunities to Grow Relationships – Our students want to get to know their teachers.  They really do. No matter the age. We observed numerous opportunities where teacher’s checked in with students by asking them to share something good that happened to them over the weekend. This reminded us of the importance in sharing about yourself, telling them how your weekend went, and acknowledging birthdays (even in Spanish)! All things teachers took the time to do during our day there. The difference it makes is worth every second.

  2. Create Opportunities to Build Connections Students do have a desire to connect with classmates and collaborate with one another.  We got to see awesome teachers thoughtfully and carefully match up students to ensure they would be productive and healthy.  We were glad that students weren’t just asked to partner up on their own. Teachers provided scaffolded lessons to ensure students were on track.  And, teachers made a conscious effort to have students sharing the work by providing responsibilities through roles as well as moving around the room to provide feedback and support.

  3. Create Opportunities to Foster Curiosity – We were blown away by the hard work and creativity of each teacher creating an essential question, a “bell ringer”, or lesson to spark curiosity among the students.  Coming off the heels of the NFL “My Cause, My Cleats” game, one teacher opened class with pictures of various cleats and causes the certain NFL players showcased the previous night.  He allowed time for students to brainstorm their cause and show design as an opening activity. This proved to be a great segway to the lesson on selecting a certain historical person/perspective to research in continuing their passion project.  

  4. Create Opportunities to Support Learning – Our teachers not only provided high expectations, provided information and resources to the students, and provided clear details on how they’d be assessed, but they scaffold the learning and project steps with examples and models of expectations.  One teacher did a great job of giving specific examples of how to study for the test, and allowed the students to share their ideas with one another. Having the skills to “project plan and manage” can’t be left to students to learn on their own, regardless of age.  Helping students to develop study habits and select steps to help in their learning is not only essential but empowers them to keep moving forward.

We encourage you to break out the tennis shoes, put on your favorite sweatshirt, and shadow a student for a full day! Even if you work in a school setting all day visiting classrooms throughout the day, nothing will prepare you more or give you the same insights than shadowing a student.  This has had a lasting impact on how we support or schools, students, and teachers, and we are already planning for next year! Feel free to direct message us with any questions – and we’d love to hear your insights from your empathy experience! Good luck!

Dr. Neil Gupta is the Director of Secondary Education for Worthington City Schools. He oversees middle school and high school programs and leads the academic and safety work with the building principals. You can read Dr. Gupta's full bio and his other blog posts here

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