Learning Gets Personal

Welcome to shaymikalson.com, an education blogging site dedicated to improving education through collaboration! My name is Shay Mikalson and everything I do starts with my mission to provide every child, every chance, every day.

For our kids, including three of my own that attend public schools, have only one chance for great education so together we need to make sure we get it right.  To do this together, empowering all members of the educational community to the cause, we must help all of us continually see the connections in the work we do so that what we do every day and how we utilize our increasing limited resources enables us to make good on the promise to prepare all of our youth to graduate college-prepared and future-ready.

For far too long, and especially as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we have understood K-12 performance principally in terms of math and English language arts.  This narrow-minded focus on these subjects represents and impoverished view of education’s purpose and one that is not supported by our educators, students, parents, or community.

Although many different perspectives are expressed when educational stakeholders are empowered to express what they want in their schools, clear themes always emerge. We agree that it is essential to recruit and retain excellent educators who in turn support the success of students. We agree that learning does not end at the close of the school day, nor does it happen only within school walls. We agree that an understanding of the world, its people, their languages and beliefs, is essential. We agree that critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and digital literacy are the new basic skills and we believe an artist exists in every child, that creativity and imagination must be nurtured and encouraged.  Simply put, we want more.

To accomplish this globally, the only path is locally–one student at a time.  For far too often the typical approach to understanding correlations in school systems is to look for the average behavior or outcome. But in my view this misguided approach has created what research calls, and what many school systems have become as a result No Child Left Behind’s narrowing of curriculum, the ‘culture of the average’.  For example, far too often in education when someone asks a question such as, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?”, educational systems change that question to “How fast does the average child learn to read in the classroom?”.  We then ignore the children who read faster or slower, and tailor the classroom toward the ‘average’ child.  If we focus the system merely on what is average, we will remain merely average.  Instead of focusing on the average my challenge is to enlist a collaborative crowd-sourced community of educational stakeholders to focus on the individual potential of each of our students.  Work that is not centered on moving students up to the average but instead focused on moving the entire average up in all of schools by growing each and every one of our students.

This effort demands that we move from vision and mission into action by redefining the expectations of the public school system to be around individual student performance.  A personalized performance built on a ‘culture of the yes’ instead of a ‘culture of the average’ that demands proficiency for all of our students through maximizing each students potential and talents.  In public K-12 education their is a fundamental shift needed to go from a culture of compliance–Did you bring the right number of children through your door?  Did they sit in the right seat for the right number of hours?  Did you let them go without any damage?–to a culture of personalized performance that instead asks–What have you done to help every child in your building become a successful adult?  What value was added to their skill set while they were in your care?  The standard of compliance is simply unacceptable.  It is not a high enough standard and we are not doing right by kids when we create a system that is about compliance instead of personal performance.

My theory of change towards personalized performance abides by the principle that the key to better results is to situate the energy of educators, students, families and communities as the central driving force.  Historically, districts far too many times have acted as if they think they can hammer the system into improvement.  Blow by blow.  Students not learning enough?  Adopt a new standard.  Need more college opportunities for high school students?  Pass a policy requiring it.  As a former superintendent and building principal, and in my current role as Executive Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology in the Bend-La Pine Schools in Central Oregon, I understand the temptation of attempting to regulate performance.  The reality however is that districts do not have the resources or the time to rely on this traditional top down, outside in approach to improvement. Instead, an alternate based on each member of the educational community taking ownership to say yes for whatever it takes to help each student they work with meet their fullest potential must become the norm.

This alternative is based on the understanding that human beings and human systems thrive on autonomy and feedback.  We must be tight on outcomes and flexible on process to reach them within our schools and districts.  We all want freedom to choose our course of action–and then we want the information, preferably quickly, to help us improve.  High autonomy and copious feedback are the conditions under which school systems flourish.  Fewer regulations, fewer reporting requirements, fewer mandates.  More supports, more data, a better mirror.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: