I had an epiphany in my role as an instructional leader. Like most good ideas I implement, it seems simple and logical in hindsight. And also like most good ideas I implement, it did not originate with me. In February, I did what all good parents in education do and used my 3rd grade twins as guinea pigs.

I gave them a template to use throughout the school day with three categories to complete for each subject:

  1. Describe the lesson or activity
  2. Describe the homework
  3. Obtain extra copies of any materials or resources, including copies of textbook pages used.

The idea was to get a snapshot of what a student’s day looked like from their perspective and to be able to analyze the rigor of their work—from the percentage of fiction vs. non-fiction and the complexity of the text they’re reading to the type of critical thinking they’re doing in math class. I loved the idea because my classroom visits only gave me a glimpse of a student’s day from an external vantage that focused on teacher pedagogy. This exercise focused more on the student experience as the recipient of the instruction.

The insight I gained from my children’s assignment motivated me to expand this to all students grade 3-12. I had at least two students in each grade fill in the template for an entire day. I had the middle and high school students also write down all questions the teacher asked during the class. I was blown away by the depth of insight I gained about what was taking place in the classrooms in my school. It helped me understand that some of the perceptions I had were based on observer perspective rather than learner perspective. It also helped me identify areas where I was lacking as an instructional leader and where I needed to direct my teacher support.

This activity was a game changer for me and filled a niche that was missing in my method of instructional analysis. I can say without a doubt this is the best exercise I have done as an instructional leader. With Common Core State Standards implementation and PARCC readiness in full swing, what better way to get a pulse on the classroom than from the consumer: the student in the desk?