the shadow journey


Create learning goals for your Shadow Day, choose a student, and start questioning assumptions.


Spend the entire day shadowing your student, capturing your observations along the way.


Reflect on your observations, question them, and draw connections to opportunities for action.


Based on your Shadow Day findings, create a hack, a small experiment for making changes at your school.

The Shadow a Student Challenge is a journey that starts with seeing school through your student's eyes, identifying meaningful opportunities to improve the school experience for your students, and then taking action to create change at your school site.

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The purpose of the prep phase is to help you prepare to have a meaningful shadow experience.


  • Email templates
  • Permission slips
  • Local press kit


  • Create learning goals for your shadow day
  • Choose a student
  • Coordinate with your student, parents, and staff
  • Meet your student

I had to peel back the lens that I usually see things through. I played along and followed directions and did not evaluate teaching or students. I evaluated my experience as a student.

Mary Seltzer
Lakeview Elementary School



During your shadow day, you won’t be evaluating classes, teachers, or your student. The goal is to immerse yourself in your student’s experience. Plan to spend the entire day getting to know his or her needs.


  • Meet your student at the bus stop
  • Shadow him or her for an entire day
  • Capture your learnings
  • Share your observations, photos, and have fun!

It's unnerving for leaders. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is hard and humbling.

Eric Juli
Design Lab Early College High School



You’ll reflect on the meaning behind your observations and find opportunities for action.


  • Identify your most interesting thoughts and observations
  • Turn your observations into opportunities
  • Share what you find with others

I realized how many times a student feels lost in a school day, but doesn’t feel comfortable raising their hand [in class], and asking their teacher to slow down

Bradford Hubbard
Antioch Community High School



The purpose of shadowing students is to improve their school experiences. That means taking action! But it doesn’t mean solving everything at once. In the ACT step, you’ll try small experiments called ‘hacks’ to move your school toward Deeper Learning. The toolkit is full of ways to get started. The Shadow community is here to help, too!


  • Achieve quick wins with our example hacks
  • Design your own action plan
  • Share your questions, challenges, and accomplishments

I never thought about myself as a designer. I have enjoyed leading out front and out loud for my campus..

Jofee' Tremain
O.A. Peterson Elementary

How one school leader took action

During his Shadow Day, Adrian Advinvula of Irving Elementary was surprised by the number of rules children had to follow. Between classroom rules, school-wide rules, specialist rules, and other unwritten rules,  it was difficult for the children to remember them all. Adrian designed a hack to address this:

We created a values-based system instead of a rules-based system. Instead of rules listed in our school, we instill who we want our kids to be with four values. Through these values, we can have better conversations with our students.

Adrian Advincula
Irving Elementary

A poster of the four values Adrian and his team created after his Shadow a Student day, on display all around the school.

quick wins: a few example hacks

While you may be eager to make big changes right away, it’s easier to begin with some quick wins. Rather than a full-blown solution, try a “hack” to rapidly test ideas for immediate feedback. Here is a collection of quick wins for you to try after you are done shadowing, to make it easier for you to take action.

Let's get started!

The Shadow a Student Challenge Toolkit will help you get the most out of your shadowing experience. Whether you’re a first time Shadower or you’ve done it before, download this guide to get a better understanding of the process, how to observe differently, and what small actions you can take to make big changes at your school.

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