Each year, my school district’s education foundation hosts an auction that raises money to support our schools. In support of that effort, I am asked to “donate” the role of “Superintendent for a Day” for students. I’m not sure why being a Superintendent for a day is attractive, and yet, the children who have joined me have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned a ton about leadership.
This year I had the pleasure of hosting two of our students--one a third grader and the other a sixth grader. I loved seeing the world through their eyes for a day and having them see the world through mine. The experience reminds me of the power of empathy to understand another’s point of view. One of my favorite initiatives in education is the Shadow a Student Challenge sponsored by the School Retool organization. The Challenge encourages educators and community leaders to walk in the shoes of a student for a day by shadowing a student in their local schools. The experience is powerful.
In the spirit of celebrating the “walking in the shoes” of someone, I thought I’d share some of the experience of the two young students who walked in my shoes and through whose eyes I saw my district.
The sixth grader who joined me, Arhaan, had the opportunity to meet with our city’s mayor, Ray Mueller, to discuss how our city could better meet the needs of youth in our community. Here’s what Arhaan wrote about his experience:
As Superintendent of the Day, I had the opportunity to visit most of the schools in our district. One main event that happened today is that I interviewed the Menlo Park mayor. We talked about topics that affect students like: crossing guards to ensure student safety and downtown shop owners welcoming youth and being extra nice to them. We also discussed how the middle school experience as a student is a lot different than being behind the scenes like a superintendent or mayor. One thing Mayor Mueller talked about was how he tried to pass an initiative called Menlo Park Loves Kids. When he heard my thoughts on improvements the city could pursue, he was inspired to try and pass his initiative again. He said that as part of his job, he talks with people who feel frustrated or sad about something and want to see something to improve in their community. He said that sometimes if people have a need, that they may even walk up to his front door and knock in order to get his attention.
When Mayor Mueller and I were talking about crossing guards, we both agreed that there should be one on El Camino [a main thoroughfare in our community]. This is because this is a major road for kids on one side of town to get to the middle school on the other side. If there were to be a crossing guard then those kids could have an easier and safer way of getting to school. When I was shadowing Superintendent Burmeister, I learned that there are many things that are different between our schools, aside from their location.
How cool that our mayor took time out of his day to talk to our Superintendent for the Day, and that our student was able to share insightful feedback and learn more about the community partnerships that make cities work?
My third grade protege, Jacob, requested that he be able to reflect on his experience and ask some questions by interviewing me in a “vlog” (video blog) format. He even came prepared with questions that he asked his mom to help him with before spending the day with me. Take a look at this fun and insightful interaction.
There are so many perks of working in schools and getting to impact the lives of our young people. One of them is the regular opportunity to see the world through their eyes. The more I do it, the better I am at my job! Maybe a summer challenge for you could be, “How can you find a way to spend some time walking in someone else’s shoes?” You might be surprised by how much you gain from the experience.
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Erik Burmeister is the Superintendent of Menlo Park City School District in the heart of Silicon Valley.