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How to Improve School Cultures, Part 5: Simple, In-House PD

By Dave Stuart Jr.

In an article for HaYidion, a principal at a Jewish day school in Houston describes his recent experiment in shadowing a student for a whole day. Among other benefits, he explains that this “day in the life” exercise gave him greater empathy for students, credibility with students, and insight into effective instruction.

It got me wondering: how hard would it be to get a school's whole staff to experience something like this?

Financially and logistically, it wouldn't have to be crazy. You'd be out the money for substitute teachers, but that's it — no registration fees, travel expenses, or speaker rates. It'd take some schedule wrangling, but it's the kind of thing where you could pick the top substitutes in your system, get them all booked for a week or two straight, and then just work through your roster of teachers.

Afterward, you'd hold an earnest and amicable argument — perhaps using a pop-up debate with the aid of a speaking structure like the Graff/Birkenstein-inspired Paraphrase Plus — with those who participated around a few simple questions:

  1. What are we currently doing that's likely to promote the long-term flourishing of as many of our kids as possible?
  2. What are we currently doing that may be getting in the way of long-term flourishing for kids?
  3. What is clear to us but unclear to our students based on this “day in the life” student shadowing activity? How could we improve the coherence of the school day for our kids?
  4. Where can we work better together as staff — smarter not harder?

Watching good teachers do their thing is one of the most effective and enjoyable kinds of professional development I'm aware of. And yet, I can't think of a single day in my career where I've shadowed a kid all day long. (Nor have I asked to, by the way.) This is the kind of simple professional learning that diminishes isolationism (a common trait of poor school cultures) and increases the odds that we'll make the best kinds of learning environments for our students.

Have you ever done the “day in the life” experiment? Might this be a next step to explore for you, your team, or your school?


Thank you to Kim Marshall, whose “Marshall Memo” put me on to Oberman's article in HaYidion. I should also thank Mike Schmoker, who insisted I check out Kim's work. Mike is right. The Marshall Memo is incredible. And finally, this is all Dr. Paul Oberman's idea — I'm thankful for his leadership both in his school there in Houston and for the rest of us reading his work online.

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5 Responses to How to Improve School Cultures, Part 5: Simple, In-House PD

  1. Erica April 17, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

    Just want to thank you for all your posts. I enjoy all the resources you have shared.

  2. Rebecca April 20, 2018 at 7:04 am #

    This is the one of the first steps in the Stanford d.school’s School ReTool workshops for school leaders.

    • davestuartjr April 20, 2018 at 8:06 am #

      That sounds like a great program, Rebecca!

  3. Paul Oberman May 16, 2018 at 8:09 am #

    Thanks so much for the shout out!

    • davestuartjr May 21, 2018 at 9:04 am #

      Of course, Paul — thank you for your leadership 🙂

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