Principal Shadows Student, Gets Schooled

A Day in the Life of an 8th Grader

I had just finished my morning coffee. Looking out of my office window, I saw AC entering the building with his sister. I popped up from my desk, met him at the door and asked, “Are you ready?”

“Yep,” he eagerly replied.

From there, we proceeded to breakfast in the cafeteria. I could tell he didn’t know quite what to think about the fact that his principal had dressed in ‘regular’ clothes and was planning to follow him around school the entire day. I wondered how students and teachers would react when they saw me in class.

I joined the Shadow A Student Challenge, a national movement where principals were encouraged to clear their schedules for an entire day in order to experience a school day from a student’s perspective. I went in with no assumptions, no preconceived notions…just the hope to experience a real day in the life of an 8th grader at West Grand Middle School.

8:00—bell rings. 1st period. We went to ‘our’ locker, got our materials and proceeded to Social Studies. Substitute today. Translation… busy work.

8:58—class ends. Time for P.E. Rush to get dressed, line up, be ready to begin the day’s activities promptly at 9:05. Today’s game—blindfold volleyball. Fun. Challenging. Exhausting.

9:51—Dress out and off to technology class to continue our adventure in coding. For a closet gamer such as myself, coding is an exciting challenge. For AC, not so much. “I don’t understand the point” was his description of the class when asked his thoughts.

10:44—back to our locker for Algebra materials, chat briefly with a few friends, then back to the classroom. Whole group instruction, partner work, then time to work on our own. Before we know it, the 11:37 bell rings and it is time to go to science. Today’s topic: Parts of the Eye (ugh!).

12:27—morning rat race ends. Lunch! Books are put away for now. Time for a breather before the final push to end the day.

1:00—English/Language Arts. We spend half of class studying new vocabulary terms and the other half preparing for the upcoming poetry slam. AC and his classmates wrote some pretty cool stuff.

2:34—Physical Science

3:20—Graphic Arts/Yearbook

4:00—The school day ends!

We chatted for a few more minutes before he left for the day. Hinting at the fact that kids were rather well behaved, I asked, “Are most days like this?”

“No.” (At one point during the day, I overheard one of his classmates say, “Don’t worry, Mr. Buller is a student today. He won’t do anything.”)

I prodded further. “Do you feel like school is a race?”


I could tell AC was exhausted, so I thanked him and said goodbye. But his last answer has stuck with me. I did not realize how fast-paced school is. AC is a good student but it is almost as if he simply ducks his head, avoids making any waves, gets his work done, takes the test and moves on. Throughout the day I saw AC laugh and smile at times, but it never felt like a joyful experience. That saddens me.

As educators, are we so caught up in the have to’s of school that we fail to realize when education is being done ‘to’ students instead of experienced ‘with’ them?

That is not the school I want to lead. That is not the school I want to create for children—mine included. The Shadow A Student Challenge gave me a renewed sense of mission—to reach the child who hungers for purpose. I believe students enter each and every school year hoping this will be the best year yet. How can we make that a reality if all we seek to do is run them through content-heavy instruction like bricks in a factory?


Principals like me need people like you to help us make school better for students. You have a voice that we need to hear so positive change can happen. We want to hear you. Join us at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum on June 4 for edOS: A New Operating System for Education. This design thinking adventure will engage business leaders and educators to discern/decipher/distill key questions and action steps to pivot the models in education and empower students to reach their highest potential.edOS Event Flow

Together, we can find new answers for our children. Our presenters are gifted in the art of asking the right questions because they know that questions put the journey into motion. IDEO and Stanford founder David Kelley will be joining remotely with two on-site presenters—Ellen Deutscher and Mary Cantwell—who excel in the application of design thinking to EdWorld and beyond. Ted Fujimoto of will present how to #PivotTheModel and create change in addition to California principals Kaleb Rashad and Dr. Eric Chagala who have transformed their schools with project-based learning and design labs. Local presenters include Mark Hyatt (COO; Wings Over the Rockies) and Elizabeth Davis (Principal; Academy 20), two leading edge innovators on the Colorado education scene.

Register for edOS @ Wings today and help pivot the educational landscape: