Happy to have had this booklet/bundle published today at Getting Smart; it includes a series of recent posts I wrote on the subject as well as additional pieces serving as an introduction and a conclusion to the booklet.

Enjoy, and feel free to contact me to discuss or for more information. Screen-Shot-2016-08-17-at-10.06.14-PM-907x1024

KVtl_fK_Pleased to have had my first Education Week Commentary published late last month, We Should Measure Students’ NonCognitive Skills, and to learn that it was the second most popular article or opinion piece on its website last week.   Below is the “teaser” first few paragraphs, but you can then click through to read the rest at Edweek. 

When a 9th grader in Salt Lake City—let’s call him Arnoldo—refused to do any work in his English class, his teachers weren’t finding a way to connect with him. The school’s social-emotional-learning teacher gave him an assessment of his noncognitive skills and saw he was struggling in resiliency and social awareness. She was able to support Arnoldo with strategies to improve those skills, such as setting small goals and monitoring progress. Arnoldo’s grades and attendance improved, and he began to connect with peers through school activities. Rather than approaching the problem as an academic one, Arnoldo’s teachers focused on the social-emotional skills he needed to be successful.

Recent psychological research has shown the importance of social-emotional learning for student success in the classroom and in life, and many school districts are exploring how to teach and measure noncognitive skills. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires that each state include at least one nonacademic indicator in its school evaluation measures.

Read more:  Education Week, “We Should Measure Students’ Noncognitive Skills.”

Originally posted on Getting Smart, June 17, 2016.

Happy to share this new infographic which I helped to create on this important topic, for client organization ProExam and its new assessment system, Tessera.


Transitioning to a Digital Curriculum – Think Through MathThink Through Math just published an e-book they commissioned me to research and write this spring.

Learn the key decisions and the practical steps required for ensuring your school makes the most of the digital cornucopia from which your students can nourish their hunger for knowledge.

Sections of this “playbook” include: Tactical Moves, Strategic Moves,Teacher Moves, Overcoming Obstacles, and Measuring Success

I want to offer my thanks for their input to this playbook to Sarah Hanawald, head honcho of ATLIS, the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, and Alex Inman, top dog at the edtech consulting firm Educational Collaborators.

Click here or on the image to grab a copy; hope you enjoy.



Once again, I’m delighted to share here my summer reading recommendations for educators.  As with previous years, I present these as a top ten list: these are my favorite ten educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2015-16.

As you scroll down, you’ll also find below the top ten additional suggestions for the best free educational reports and e-books of the past year or so, and a smaller set of reading for  pleasure suggestions.

For the past years’ recommendations/top ten lists, you can click the following for

Note: Asterisks attached to book titles indicates the book would be a worthy selection for a faculty summer reading list; asterisks by author names indicate (for full disclosure) that the author is someone I count as a friend—(though whether or not he or she views me the same way I cannot say).

Top Ten List

9780544935280_custom-ccc18fd6f3031c13860f037d26da4c5b9005da3c-s300-c851/ Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why*. (2016) (21k12 2016 Book of the Year)

Paul Tough, a journalist affiliated with NYTimes Magazine, has very recently published a new companion volume to his bestselling and much celebrated 2012 title, How Children Succeed. In that book, he vividly demonstrated through observation, anecdote, and research-review the importance to school success of noncognitive skills such as grit and curiosity.   This new title has been prepared to help provide a better answer to what he’s been asked in every public presentation about his former book: How do we teach children to develop these critically important qualities and attributes?    

It’s not altogether easy to explain why I think this book is so very valuable, and worthy of my annual book of the year nod. It’s not long, just over 100 pages, and it’s not particularly original: it’s largely a rehashing of other people’s research and findings. And I should add, as someone who pays close attention to this topic, I don’t think every assertion made here is entirely accurate; I disagree, partially, with some of his conclusions, including one of his most central claims, that noncognitive skills cannot be taught directly.

But concision has its value: Tough’s beautifully written work carefully reviews the field and then surfaces just a very select, curated we might say, set of activities and initiatives we can do, both our society on the whole and our educational community in particular, to bolster students noncognitive skills in ways which will make a world of difference.   Each of the critical findings or reforms is illustrated or exemplified with succinct descriptions of important actors in this arena, including some of my own favorite (and most admired) educators such as Camille Farrington, Bob Lenz, and Ron Berger.

Tough concludes with a message all educators would benefit from careful reflection: “Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficulties is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging, even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and nations as a whole. It is work we can all do, whether or not it is the profession we have chosen. The first step is to simply embrace the idea, as those researchers did, that we can do better.”

51ca7cbc35L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_2/ Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. (2015) Robert Putnam. This book, of national and political import far beyond education, pairs well with Paul Tough’s new book. Both books unpack how deeply affected children are by the swiftly growing economic gulf of our society, showing the lasting, enormously detrimental effects of growing up in the instability and neglect poverty sometimes (not always) produces in the lives of children.   They also both work to identify and suggest how we might change policy and practice to close the gap and greatly enhance the lives of children.  And,  both highlight the importance of developing children’s noncognitive skills to enhance their success. Putnam, unlike Tough, views the situation through lens both sociological and historical, and conveys how radically changed economic and social dynamics have become such that children of poverty are far more deeply disadvantaged than they were half a century ago.

One lasting message from Putnam is the power of extracurricular activities in supporting student social and emotional growth, and how devastating it has been to see public ed cut funding and demand fees for these programs. “When fees were introduced, one in every three sports-playing kids from homes with annual incomes of $60,000 or less dropped out because of the increased cost, as compared to one in ten kids from families with incomes over $60,000. Within a few decades America’s public schools have thrust the burden of extracurricular activity, and the resulting soft skills benefits, onto the family, reversing nearly a century of settled educational policy, with predicable results in terms of equality of access.”   As someone who spends a lot of time in and around private and independent schools, schools which often ask how they might better serve all, not just a select set, of children in their community, I wonder whether by using their campus resources and coaching they might be able to step in to reduce this extracurricular opportunity gap in public education.

Putnam’s book is haunting, one which should be read by every educator and policymaker. After all, “for America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” (more…)


reposted from Getting Smart, May 31, 2016

But what would you do with it?

In sharing a series of posts over the past several weeks about the rising demand for social emotional learning (SEL) measurement and noncognitive skills assessment, we noted that new methods are emerging for doing it effectively.

Still, some are wondering what a typical (or atypical) school or district would do with the data and reports they received after administering such an assessment to their students?

Because noncognitive assessment is still so new to schools, one answer to this question is we don’t yet know. We anticipate that five years from now we may be astounded by the diverse and innovative ways in which educators wield what we believe will be a powerful and creative tool.

Nevertheless, we can speculate about how measuring and assessing noncognitive skills and character strengths might valuably assist educators, both in bolstering students’ social and emotional skills and elevating their academic skills and traditional test scores.

Top 10 Ways to Use SEL Measurement and Assessment of Noncognitive Skills

1. Affirming strengths of schools and districts. Many schools and districts have made substantial investments in supporting their students’ social and emotional learning. They’ve shown strong leadership, established core values, signaled different priorities, allocated previous resources, maintained student counseling in the face of budget shortfalls, trained teachers and implemented new curricular and instructional strategies.

Wouldn’t it nice if these leaders could collect evidence of the impact of their actions and better demonstrate the effects of their efforts? Affirmation matters: it confirms to these schools, districts and their funders that they are on the right track, and better allows them to take their rightful place in the vanguard of SEL educational programming.

2. Determining greatest opportunities for improvement. Whether we’re preparing a school improvement plan, planning for re-accreditation, selecting a new administrator or undertaking strategic planning, we are often looking for the greatest opportunity for improvement. Often this opportunity lies in SEL–but where, exactly? Measuring your students’ noncognitive skills and studying the results can illuminate what should top your agenda in the next phase of your institution’s evolution. (more…)

kegley100910stg1821Are you Prepared for the coming Personalized Learning Revolution?

You know it’s coming; surely I’m not the only one hearing the phrase and observing the initiatives happening everywhere across the breadth of all school systems and types.   As just one example, consider the extraordinary attention (and venture capital investment) that’s been devoted to the Alt School model, including a recent feature in the New Yorker.

As your school’s Director of Technology, Website, SIS, Curriculum, Studies, or Communications, or as its Registrar you already, or soon will, have a role to play in supporting and advancing this movement for your students.   Here are five questions to ask yourself to lay the groundwork and prepare for a smooth(er) transition.

  1. Have you Defined Its Meaning to Your School?

The term personalized learning entails and implies a lot of different things, and it’s never too soon to take the lead in clarifying and establishing what it means for your school. One source you could consider examining is the Gates Foundation which has created what they call personalized learning’s four pillars:

  • learners’ strengths and weaknesses are profiled;
  • students are encouraged along a personal learning path;
  • students progress by acquiring competencies;
  • and school environments support the learning goals.

Another resource is the 2010 National Ed Tech Plan, which carefully compares and differentiates the terms personalization, differentiation, and individualization of learning, and defines personalization as a term effectively encompassing all three approaches, saying it is

Instruction paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and adapted to the specific interests of different learners.   In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.    

  1. How thoroughly do you know your students and their learning needs and preferences?

As it is explained in a Center for Digital Education report on Personalized Learning (Creating a Relevant Learning Culture for the Next Generation), “Teachers will be guiding learners to learn and use the skills they need to select the path for learning based on their interests, talents and aspirations, and to choose the appropriate tools to meet their learning goals.”

51b7PE7MbrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_To do so effectively, educators need more information than they have now about students’ strengths, needs, interests, and opportunities for growth.   A simple once-a-year standardized test of math and ELA isn’t going to provide enough information.   Schools will have to think about whether to do more formative and interim testing and benchmarking (as is provided by the NWEA MAP test), add in noncognitive skills and SEL assessments to ensure those areas area also being attended to, and do more interviews and surveys of students to help identify their passions and preferences for instructional modality.


All this information, which can be labeled a Personal Learning Profile (Bray and McClaskey, Make Learning Personal), will require a vehicle or platform for organization, storage, and ready access; another thing which technology directors are doubtless already thinking about and working on. (more…)

I had the honor and pleasure of addressing the graduating class of City High School  (AZ) last night, as a member of its Board of its Directors.

Poet, math whiz, kind and compassionate friend, science enthusiast, rapper, headed to engineering-college, record company intern, someone extremely patient and generous with others.

Perhaps you think that with these labels I’m describing many different individuals in this graduating class, but some of you have probably already realized I’m not: all of those descriptors are for just a single graduate sitting here today. And he’s not an exception. Here’s another single student: Artist, farmer, social activist, coffee connoisseur, techie geek, foodie.

I could continue in this vein for each member of the class, and I wish I had the time to do so. Because of the kind of education these graduates have experienced at City High, and because of the kind of young person City attracts, every graduate sitting here today could be described this way, as utterly and uniquely diverse in the breadth and depth of his or her interests, activities, and strengths.

And yet—problematically, for far too long far too many have had the wrong view of our human individuality.   There’s a famous story from 1945, for instance, when a Cleveland doctor, after collecting data about nine physical dimensions from 15,000 women, created a statue of what he called the “ideal girl,” with every part of the statue made to match the exact average of each dimension —“Norma” he named the statue, to represent her “perfect” normalcy.

downloadNorma went viral, in our terms (though not in the language of 1945) . She was the “perfect woman”—the standard all others should aspire to and be judged by, it was said in magazines nationally.   They then conducted a search for the actual human woman who most perfectly matched Norma’s dimensions, a contest 4000 women participated in.   Although the judges expected the contest to come down to a few millimeters difference in just one of the nine dimensions, they were proven deeply mistaken.   None of the 4000 were even near average in all nine, or even eight of the dimensions, and just a handful in six or seven. What would you guess: how many of these 4000 women was at or near the average in even five of those nine dimensions? 40, just 40 out of 4000 were average in even five!  There is no average person, we’ve learned—there is no such thing– —and there is no reason whatsoever to view the mythical idea of an average as an ideal.

Because we are all creatures representing an enormous number of different dimensions: not just physical but intellectual, social, emotional, and many many more, and because there are very little correlations between these many different dimensions—which is to say each dimension is unrelated to each other, that to be very tall has nothing to do with whether you are very thin; that to be very perceptive about other people’s feelings has nothing to do with whether you are very good at solving math problems— none of are Normas, none of us are normal or regular, clean and square in all our many dimensions. Instead, we are all, we might say, “jagged” in our shape, outlying the norm is so many ways. (more…)

Reposted from a piece I wrote for Getting Smart, May 23, 2016

51aje84UleL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Can we grow grit in ourselves and others? And if so, how best might we do so?

Since grit grew to great heights of public awareness in the early 2010s thanks to a combination of magazine articles, best-selling books and TED talks, its significance has preoccupied many educators. Dr. Angela Duckworth’s research struck a nerve, secured her a MacArthur genius grant and launched a million conversations across the nation.

Many educators have appreciated seeing their common-sense beliefs being ratified by scientific research; many also have appreciated that the attention given to grit has led to an expanded recognition of the significance of character strengths and noncognitive skills in general.

On the other hand, some thoughtful educators believe we might be blaming students for their own lack of grit, trading in stereotypes of race and class, and/or perpetuating a Horatio Alger myth. Accordingly, it is essential we carefully weigh this counter-narrative in our judgments and actions when promoting grit.

But for some, the buzz about grit was only appetite whetting—drawing us in but not filling us up. OK, so grit is great—what do we do about that fact? Knowing its importance is barely half the battle: what we really need to know is how to grow it in ourselves and others.

Grow Your Grit From Within

Understandably then, readers are flocking to the recent publication of Dr. Duckworth’s first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. At the time of this writing, it is the eleventh bestselling book overall on Amazon and second on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Dr. Duckworth is to be congratulated: her historical review and scientific research about this somewhat complex psychosocial construct is rendered in extremely accessible language and colored by warm personal stories. Convincingly she articulates the value of grit for success, provides illustrative examples and— most importantly— points the way for educators and others to understand how grit can indeed be grown in children and adults alike. (more…)

Download your free eBookJust out is a new e-book I prepared for client organization ProExam; it can be found and downloaded for free at this link (registration required).

It’s about 20 pages, and provides big picture guidance for leaders and administrators on communicating the urgency of Social and Emotional Learning, defining your terms in your school or district, considering two approaches to embedding whole child education in the curriculum, and exploring the role of formative assessment and standardized measurement for this work.

Enjoy, and please let me know any feedback you might have.




I wrote this  piece for my client organization,ProExam with Jeremy Burrus, Ph.D.; it was originally published at the Getting Smart website, and is reposted here. 

The headlines shout that it can’t be done: that there aren’t effective, evidence-based methods for measuring noncognitive skills.

Our response: Yes it can and yes there are.

A front page news article in The New York Times, Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills, prompted several swift follow-up pieces around the web.

It is excellent to see the effort and attention being dedicated to this subject. We now know that social and emotional skills–which overlap with what many call character strengths, and others label noncognitive attributes–are as or more important than intellectual ability and cognitive aptitude for student and adult success in school, college, careers and life.

Social Emotional Learning Efforts

Developing noncognitive strengths is something nearly every teacher addresses daily. Increasingly schools, districts, networks and states are upping the ante for social-emotional learning (SEL), investing more time, energy and expense into these programs. Accompanying this stepping up is a greater attention to evaluating what’s working and for whom by collecting evidence and assessing needs, opportunities and impact.

Regarding SEL measurement, The New York Times quotes California CORE districts Chief Accountability Officer Noah Bookman: “This work is so phenomenally important to the success of our kids in school and life.” Were it only so simple. Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.‚ a University of Pennsylvania professor who has become widely known for popularizing the term “grit,” is quoted in the piece with what will be for many readers the most salient takeaway: “I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea.”

Their concerns are reasonable: the specific measurement methods cited in the article do have limitations. We concur with reporter Kate Zernike in her statement that relying on “surveys asking students to evaluate recent behaviors or mind-sets, like how many days they remembered their homework, or if they consider themselves hard workers . . . makes the testing highly susceptible to fakery and subjectivity.”

We get it. Our colleague Rich Roberts, Ph.D., chief scientist at ProExam, who is a former principal research scientist at ETS and senior lecturer at University of Sydney, literally wrote the book on the issue of faking and other problems in self-report and survey.

We are familiar with the concerns about what Zernike refers to as subjectivity, also known as reference bias. When you’re evaluating your own proficiency, or evaluating your growth over time, to what peer groups and standards are you comparing yourself?

Overcoming the Issues

Overcoming these obstacles is the task to which Dr. Roberts and his many colleagues and co-authors have devoted most of their careers. His team at ProExam’s Center for Innovative Assessments is currently building a multifaceted assessment solution that gives K-12 students and schools comprehensive reports of noncognitive skills and character strengths named Tessera. (more…)

Sunday’s NY Times featured an Op-Ed from researcher and keynoter Angela Duckworth, arguing that we shouldn’t “grade schools on grit,” a piece I’ve seen many educators and writers I know, like, and admire praise and promote in their feeds.   My favorite popular journal, Slate, contributed its view with an article entitled “No, of Course You Can’t Judge Schools on Students’ “Grit.”” The comments sections in both the Times and Slate similarly reflect a near consensus that seeking to do so represents a kind of insanity.   

So call me nuts, but I think the argument deserves to be engaged with more critically, and alternative viewpoints should be put forth.  In this piece, written for a client organization of mine, ProExam, I set aside the narrow and specific argument about “grading “schools, and instead address what I believe some readers will take away more generally from Duckworth, that we shouldn’t be measuring SEL at at all in schools.   

However, I do want to go on record saying I admire, endorse, and applaud the California school districts known grouped together as “CORE” for their innovative and exciting school accountability index, which does include, as I think every school dashboard, accreditation, and accountability portfolio should include, measurements of student noncognitive skills and their growth.  More on that topic coming soon. 


reposted from ProExam blog, 3.30.16, written with Rich Roberts, Ph.D.

Angela Duckworth has garnered a great deal of attention this week for her Sunday New York Times op-ed, entitled “Don’t Grade Schools On Grit.” In it, she cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the effect that schools have a responsibility to educate for character. She also marshals compelling evidence on the social and emotional learning (SEL) skills we often call character, such as grit, and that “teaching social and emotional skills can improve behavior and raise academic achievement.”

We agree wholeheartedly about the importance of SEL and character, and we appreciate all Dr. Duckworth has done to bring it attention. We write as friendly associates with Dr. Duckworth: Dr. Roberts has known her since she was a graduate student, and she has co-authored articles with him; I have met with her in small groups several times, interviewed her, and written about her frequently with great admiration.

One might think that advocates of social emotional learning, knowing the importance character development and recognizing the value of using evidence for better decision-making, would strongly support measurement of student learning in this domain. Surely we would want schools to better be able to know which students are developing these competencies and which are not, so we can better direct our attention to their needs. We need to know which programs are accomplishing our goals and which are not; we should better evaluate which approaches we should fund and promote and which we should de-emphasize.

However, in her piece, Dr. Duckworth strongly opposes measuring social emotional learning for accountability, as can be seen in the headline and in multiple quotes throughout the piece, such as “this is not at all a good idea.” Likely many readers will take this to mean that employment of reliable character assessment systems for any purposes is unwise or premature.

We at ProExam share Dr. Duckworth’s concern about giving undue weight to or inappropriate application of character assessment. If the stakes for any single assessment become so high that educators ignore other indicators of student ability (e.g. grades, courses taken, etc.) then that should cause concern. Nobody wants to see measurements that are flawed by reference bias inaccuracies, create perverse incentives for cheating, or motivate extrinsically to their detriment.

But Dr. Duckworth’s concerns about the use of problematic measurement systems and about the misuse of measurement in schools shouldn’t be taken to settle the question of whether we should use such measurements at all. Rather, we think it is the responsibility of researchers to develop and educators to use more sophisticated, research-validated character assessments.

Our message: Don’t abandon character measures because they’re not yet perfect; use better measures, test them, and continuously improve them so they can be powerful aids to advancing social and emotional learning.  

The good purposes to which these assessments can be applied are nearly infinite.

  • Teachers and counselors can better know their hundreds of students and better plan curriculum and programming to develop their skills.
  • Principals and district administrators can better design, implement, and evaluate professional development for their teachers to strengthen social and emotional learning by having more information about needs and what’s working.
  • Districts can select programs, prioritize interventions, and allocate resources to areas of greatest need or initiatives with greatest opportunities.
  • School teams can be paired with like-demographic schools performing better on SEL assessments to compare practices and find inspiration.
  • Principals can identify the key levers in SEL which data suggest will best boost academic achievement, reduce drop-outs, increase college attendance, or enhance life satisfaction of students.

The very same Martin Luther King quote that Dr. Duckworth employed to head her Times Op-Ed was used by Dr. Roberts as the epigraph for the concluding chapter in his latest book, Psychosocial Skills and School Systems, published in February. As he wrote there, by emphasizing and effectively assessing social and emotional learning, we will be “getting closer towards the ‘truly complete broad’ education that Dr. King envisaged nearly seven decades ago.” It is precisely the moral force of Dr. King’s argument which demands that we not abandon developing and deploying measures of social and emotional learning.

Rather than walk away from such measures, as Dr. Duckworth can be read to suggest, we should step up our efforts. Doing so will raise the level of educators’ professional practice, and provide educators more information on how to strengthen student outcomes in the areas that matter most not just for test scores but for life success and fulfillment.

We are looking still for a few more middle schools to volunteer to participate in a pilot of our instrument in development (Tessera)– at no expense– for our research to “keep improving” this kind of measurement.   Little is required of schools other than providing about 45 minutes for students to take the fun and friendly assessment online.  Contact me at jonathanemartin@gmail.com 


Thrilled to see online today that School Retool is promoting what I hope will be a new annual event, Shadow a Student Day.   They’re asking and encouraging school-leaders– though I know not why they are limiting their invite to school-leaders: why not all educators?– to commit to a full day of student shadowing during the week of February 29-March 4.

Commit to rethinking the student experience-starting by walking in the shoes of a student.

Some of my readers know how enthusiastic I am about student shadowing as a form of professional learning, empathy strengthening, and pedagogical inspiration.   I recommend this practice in nearly every presentation I make, but when I ask for a show of hands of whom in the audience has ever done it, it’s rare to see more than two or three arms go up.

Student shadowing, simply put, changed my life.  In 2008, during a sabbatical year, I visited 21 21st century high schools, shadowing students, usually 11th graders, for entire school days at each site.   At each, I made every effort to sit in the student seat, experience the class as a student would, partake of most the tasks students were performing, while also (furiously) keyboarding on my Macbook, writing for my blog.   Over the course of these several months, I immersed myself in both traditional and innovative curriculum and instruction, and came away with a newfound and deeply help appreciation for the true potential of secondary learning and a pained sense of how frequently we fall far short.

As a result, my work in school leadership changed dramatically, and not too long thereafter, my career course changed, to work trying to support all, not just one, school in shifting in the directions identified from my shadowing observations.

Each day visiting resulted in blog posts of 1000-3000 words; I recapped my experience in a post called “lessons learned,” available here. 

But that post contains the lessons learned about schooling– not about shadowing.   Here let me draw upon those 21 days, and subsequent reflection and discovery, to offer suggestions for those embarking on student shadowing.

  1.  Consider reading or reviewing some of the excellent writing that exists about the experience of shadowing students.   I’d direct people to one of the following three resources (in addition to my own, of course): Michael Thompson’s book, The Pressured Child; Denise Pope’s book, Doing School; and Alexis Wiggins’ reflection on Grant Wiggins’ blog.
  2. Take your reflections further by writing, and not just writing afterwards, and not just writing for yourself.  Make the commitment to make the most of your time by writing during the day, sneaking in a few moments as you are able, and then returning to write more at the end of the day- not the next.  And post, publish, distribute, make transparent your observations and learning.
  3. Select several, but not too many, questions you wish to pursue over the course of the day– and own them as close to your vest as you can.   “Am I learning?  Do I feel engaged/motivated/respected/encouraged in this context? Is what we’re doing here meaningful/preparatory/significant to my life and to how I can partially perceive a student’s life?”  Of course you can and will make observations and find answers to questions above and beyond the original set of questions you ask, (and of course there are real limits to how fully you can inhabit the worldview and life experience of your students), but clarifying for yourself what you are looking for, what you seek to understand better, will help make more meaning of the experience.
  4. Do the work.  I noted this above, but I want to reiterate.  Be more than an observer.  If asked to do a quiz, or write an essay, or work in groups, or listen to the lecture, do so: do what the students are asked to do.
  5. Shadow a second time.   Comparison is critical to insight: without it, it is so much harder to make judgment.   Try wine tasting, for instance, without multiple wines: there is so much more to infer, more to learn, more to comprehend when comparing two or more samples.    It is more time and maybe that makes it impossible, but seek to shadow two students on two days: a boy and a girl; a student from a relatively more advantaged background and one from a less advantaged circumstance; a student at your school and one at a school you know to be very different from your own.

Take the initiative, commit the time, and invest your all: student shadowing provides insights which will inspire and inform your leadership for months or years to come.