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Can educators ever really know their students?

As a school leader, you’ve spent your share of time in classrooms. But how long has it been since you sat where your students sit now? Do you remember what it was like to be a student—the learning, the pressure, the cliques and pimples, the homework?

This week, educators from across the country will have the opportunity to experience those feelings again. The Shadow a Student Challenge asks principals, administrators, superintendents, and other school leaders to clear their work schedules, and accompany one of their students from the first morning bell through afternoon dismissal.

Sponsored by School Retool, IDEO, and K12 Lab Network, this “one-day crash course in empathy” gives educators an opportunity to walk a day in students’ shoes. In an effort to understand the challenges K12 learners face, participating educators will complete classroom assignments, eat in the school cafeteria, and even ride the school bus home.

Organizers hope the experience will help educators identify what’s working in their schools, uncover hidden challenges and problems, and develop a true sense for what their students go through day in and day out.

All school leaders who partake in the program are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #ShadowAStudent. As a follow-up to their experiences and observations, they are encouraged to create “hacks,” or simple solutions, intended to address the problems and challenges they encounter.

More than just one day
We write often on this blog about the power of listening and community engagement. This challenge is a great way to raise awareness about the need to bring student voices into the conversation. But it takes more than a one-off, once-a-year event to truly understand the challenges your students face.

Every school and school district needs a process and plan for continually engaging students in important discussions about their motivations and experiences. That work might start during the school day, but extends outward to home and athletic fields and concert halls and all the places where students engage in conversations about their education.

For more information and materials to complete the challenge, visit Shadow a Student.

Want an always-on solution to extend student conversations beyond the four walls of the classroom? Let’s Talk! gives students a way to provide feedback about your schools and their experiences in them 24/7.