Today, I Went Back to High School
Submitted by: Ms. Myers, Associate Head of School

That’s not a stock image. I’m right there, in the middle. And I totally went back to high school. 

Sterne recently joined hundreds of other schools across the country in a Shadow a Student Challenge. Orchestrated by School Retool, a professional development fellowship, this initiative was conceived to encourage school leaders to more closely examine their schools through a process of observation, reflection, synthesis, and finally, action. I, along with several Sterne Board Members, agreed to teleport myself back in time, and arrive at Sterne as a high school student. 

To help me frame my journey, the Shadow a Student Challenge workbook suggested establishing a learning goal. I decided on two: To see what makes Sterne different from other school programs, and to assess whether we were doing what we said we were in the high school.

On a rainy day in January, I became teenaged Melissa (I mercifully forewent the Catholic school uniform), and shadowed SHS 9th grade student, Ash. [Ash was one of nearly a dozen students who volunteered to shadow me for a day. (Aren’t our students great?)] 

Ash was a gracious host who really helped me settle into the classrooms and put me at ease throughout the day. I sat in Literature & Composition, Biology, Spanish I, Studio Art, joined students for lunch in the breezeway, and generally tried much harder than I thought I would need to, to put my phone and computer away and stop checking my email.  

Speaking of tech, one enormous takeaway from this experience was the necessity of our “no-phone” policy.  I found that even having my phone on my desk facedown, disengaged me from the learning activities.

But tech is a policy, and what impressed me the most about my experience was--not surprisingly--the teachers and students.  So many of the lesson plans and activities thoughtfully imbedded simple strategies and skills for executive function, to the point that they became second-nature to students. Lessons had meaning and clear goals, and teachers were definitely their students’ biggest fans. You could tell how much they wanted to see “their kids” succeed. Students were self-advocates and dedicated learners, with so many of them encouraging each other, raising their hands fearlessly, and pushing their classmates to go deeper or think more globally. Learning was often fun, and always interactive in some way. 

No shadow day would be complete without identifying areas of growth, and I did identify a few: The most glaring one was our lack of a gym space. The kids really needed a place to hang out, play basketball, and eat during lunch (especially since it was raining, and the roof was not open.) Other observations were things that are more easily fixed; for example, I felt like Goldilocks with my too-tall desk in one classroom, and my too-short desk in another. I also found that I wasn’t moving around the classroom as much as I wanted to. The activities were interesting and engaging, but for those of us who are a bit more fidgety, I really wanted to get up and move. Incorporating kinesthetic movement and activities in classes is often a teachers’ biggest challenge, so this wasn’t surprising, but it is something I think we can work on. 

Watch this video to see me in action and view my report.