Student Shadowing as Professional Development


A fantastic learning experience for teachers which I have used in several schools in the past is ‘Student Shadowing’. Shadowing students is the process of following a student in all of their academic classes throughout the school day to gain insight into a student’s experiences in the classroom on a daily basis. Through this, teachers have an opportunity to share students’ perspectives on their learning. 

Potential Benefits

Educators who have engaged in shadowing students report they have developed:

  • New perspectives on a student’s experience of being in the classroom 
  • A deeper understanding of interactions among students, and between students and teachers
  • Greater clarity about pedagogical practices
  • Awareness of support that exists (or doesn’t exist) for students with varying levels of English language proficiency or learning difficulties
  • Insight into when and under what conditions students are most likely to focus their motivation
  • Insight into the amount and quality of student writing
  • Empathy for students and teachers
  • Ideas for school improvement



Teachers participate in a full day of lessons and complete the work in the exact manner as the students in the class. They do not take calls, answer emails and are completely from disruption throughout the day.

At the end of the day, the teacher will take some notes reflecting on their learning experience. This may be split into two categories:

  1. Observations – These statements describe only what they actually see without inferences, intentions or assumptions.
  2. Their thoughts, feelings and emerging questions.

Teachers will then have two separate debriefing sessions at the completion of the process. One session will be held among themselves and the other session will be held with the Director of Teaching and Learning. The goal of shadowing, of course, is not just learning about students’ experiences but aiming to apply those insights to their teaching by learning and adapting practices accordingly. The process may involve sharing these observations with other teachers and asking for their ideas.

Join us for an over-breakfast discussion around your school’s performance development program

“As a form of inquiry-focused professional learning, shadowing supports teachers’ desires to improve their own instruction. It engages teachers’ imaginations as they connect the dots between students, curriculum, pedagogy, and the school environment. Further, shadowing students can be transformative. The insights teachers gain by seeing the school day through a student’s eyes, and the meaning they construct from that experience, can fundamentally alter how they view students, instructional interactions and their own commitment to continuous improvement”. (Ginsberg, 2012)

The feedback from staff who have participated in this experience has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the learning they gained from the day.  Not to mention, the students love reminding their teachers ‘to make sure you do your homework tonight’.

Are your school’s individual professional learning plans linked to school priorities for development and to achieving better student outcomes?

To discuss more innovative ideas and share your experiences, please join us at one of Touchstone’s upcoming Professional Learning network events this November.  


By Brett Foster

Brought to by CIRCLE Central