Collaboration and a Culture of Yes

Our Foundation

We have a north star, a shared vision of personalized proficient learning for all. An understanding that the energy of students, educators, families, and the community must be the central driving force. And a system of reciprocal responsibility built on autonomy and continuous feedback in order to provide every child, every chance, every day.

Our Efforts

Our efforts must focus around the metrics and objectives that we expect at each level of our system to help us realize our goal toward personalized proficient learning for all.  Our mirror must be established at every level by simply asking what would we want for each of our students as if each and every one were our own children.  This must be our first priority if we are ever going to reach our world class goals established by Oregon’s Achievement Compacts and stated 40-40-20 goal, or  in our district and building school performance plans. Tight on outcomes, but with flexibility for each individual at whatever level to build on the processes they need to put in place to achieve them. This central charge of fostering each and every student to reach their greatest potential demands a central focus on improving educator effectiveness.  This starts with a common set of clear and rigorous standards for both teachers and principals paired with a system of on-going feedback and coaching to improve performance, rigorous content and curriculum at every level for our students, and most importantly a move, supported by the new possibilities of learning empowered by technology, to a student centered learning model where students know what, know why, and know how they take ownership on the journey to mastery.

Our Direction

To permanently impact any educational organization we must now diligently focus, clarify, and simplify in order to produce the stability that only comes when we all have a clear and consistent understanding of why we do what we do and the guarantee that it will not change or constantly be added upon by the next “big thing” in education. In this movement we cannot swing from one new initiative to another. Accountability demands responsibility and with responsibility comes providing support and resources to allow all of us to achieve our vision.

Our Commitment

This focus on supporting, vs. adding to the work needed for students, teachers, and principals to become proficient when toward our standards of excellence is our only work. For expectations, whether they are mastery of learning standards or my kids’ manners at the dinner table, only define the desired outcome. It is folly to think that the expectation alone actually causes the outcome to occur. How much a student learns, has more to do with the conditions we create and intentions for their growth than the expectation of what that growth should be. As we move forward, my  hope for our collaborative commitment is to become a crowd-source that focuses all of our efforts to support. We must spend our time and energy focused on providing staff and students with the tools and resources that allow them to successfully meet the performance standards and proficiencies we have put in place through a reform agenda of accountability, evaluation and assessment systems.

We can no longer expect the system to do more with less. It is not about what we think we are asking teachers, staff, and students to do, but instead it is about supporting what we prioritize so that what we do is done well:

  1. Relevant Professional Development 
  2. Effective Performance Evaluations based on a ‘Culture of Yes’
  3. Data-Driven, Personalized Proficiency-Based Learning
  4. Learning Empowered by Technology

Our Reality 

While we focus on the supports and tools that lead to excellence, the reality is that we do not have sufficient resources today to achieve all of this vision.  But we must not allow these facts-­—-the reality of the present-­‐-­‐to turn us away from the future we imagine. We must not allow the forces of cynicism to overwhelm our sense of possibilities for change. For unlike past efforts with lofty goals for improving education, our model does not depend on a top-­‐down, outside-­‐in approach. While state-­‐level leadership will be necessary to produce the significant changes in how we budget and set policy for education in Oregon, the mission will be kept alive not by the Governor, Legislature, or the Department of Education-­‐-­‐but by the students and families and teachers and support personnel who are working daily to make a difference by making learning personal. The real action will be in the classroom, not the Capitol. The learning gets personal movement will work because we have figured out how to create an educational culture that prioritizes sustainable improvement by providing actionable feedback to teachers and ensuring each teacher has the tools necessary to actualize our shared vision of personalized proficient learning for all students.

Our Future

The work that should be the one and only central focus is a simple one. Each of us must commit to continuous improvement, or as John Wooden said, “ Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

This means if I am a principal—did I work today to get better as it relates to achieving the standards of effective leadership as outlined in our administrator performance standards? Principals in the system must constantly be looking for ways to reduce waste and improve quality. In education, waste includes time spent on unproductive activities or less effective teaching strategies. Service in education is focusing on the needs of students and meeting those needs in more effective ways. Giving teachers effective feedback for growth and the time to think and talk about their work and methods (focused collaboration) is essential to constant improvement.

This means if I am a teacher—did I work today to get better as it relates to achieving the standards of quality teaching as outlined in the Danielson framework? There is no shortage of good people—only a shortage of knowledge and skills. People can be afraid of new knowledge because knowledge leads to change. All personal growth will have its roots in knowledge and feedback—in what people learn through training and coaching as they participate in discussion, read, and attend conferences. Ongoing training is essential to professional growth and personal fulfillment.

This means if I am a student—did I work today to not only understand the learning objectives, but more importantly, to understand why it is important for me to know it, and ultimately how I can apply my learning to reach my dreams? For learning is not something done to you. Learning is something you chose to do. School is at its best when it gives students tasks that will not only cause them to dream big, but dream dreams that they can work on every day until they accomplish them.

This means if I am a parent – did I work today to actively support my child’s education growth?  Did I make sure my child has good attendance?  Was I an active participant in their learning by advocating for and accessing continuous feedback on their academic growth?  Did I help my child take personal ownership and invest in the importance of their own learning by fostering their unique talents and skills?

With this purpose in mind, it is vital that we work together, for when we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a challenging world, she will never become obsolete. And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers.

Learning Gets Personal

Welcome to, 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.