This week, school principals across the globe are lacing up their sneakers and toting their brown bags to school as part of Shadow a Student Challenge, a program to help school principals better understand their students’ experiences.
As of Monday, more than 1,200 school leaders have taken the challenge in all 50 states in the U.S. and in 24 countries. Looking at the tweets coming from these experienced school leaders, it’s fascinating to see their revelations from standing in the shoes of their students for a day. Turns out being a student is hard work!
“2 classes, two 40+ question tests so far…the kids are such troopers! I’m exhausted already!” tweeted Jonathan Adel (@jonathanadel).
“Health to ELA to Math…Communicable diseases to Text Features to an Algebra 1 test on Multi-Step equations = worn out :)” wrote Ed Gettenmeier (@egettenmeier).
“Spanish, Eng, math, now government…my head is spinning. I was so lost in math,” wrote Bradford Hubbard (@hubbardbradford). He followed up, “Feels very vulnerable to say, ‘I don’t know.’”
This is what empathy is all about. Not just sympathy for someone else’s circumstances, but the deep intuition for what it feels like to live their lives. When they sign up to follow a child for a full day during the week, these school leaders are clearing their calendars to commute to school, attend classes, and eat lunch alongside their students to see the entire school experience through their eyes.
The organizers of the challenge — IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and the Hewlett Foundation — are providing resources to help school leaders, who are asked to hack potential solutions where they find a need during their days as students.
There’s a big idea here for all of us who play a leadership role (and most of us do in some way lead others) — to try shadowing our own “student” for a day. Of course, it doesn’t have to literally be a student, per se, but someone who you may have responsibility for, someone whose daily work life you haven’t experienced.
If you manage a store, for example, try ringing up customers at the checkout. If you run a logistics center, try working on the warehouse floor. If you manage project teams, sign up to be a regular project team member for a day. Whatever it might be, go experience the day of someone you lead.
Just as with the principals, you may find it harder work than you imagined, and it may give you insights into how to create better experiences for your colleagues.
(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)