Aidyn Grice is a 6th-grade doing 9th-grade math and is a student at Norris Academy in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. I met Aidyn and his mom, Nicole, at the Aurora Institute (past was iNACOL) conference in October 2019 in Palm Springs where Aidyn who was an amazing speaker on the student panel. After talking to Aidyn, his mom, and Johnna Noll, Executive Director of Norris Academy, we decided it was time for a conversation with Aidyn on my podcast.
Where did you grow up
I was born and raised in a small city outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. About two years ago, we moved to Mukwonago when my mom got a job at Norris Academy.
Aidyn eating pancakes with maple syrup he made at Norris Academy.
They tapped maple trees and boiled the sap down to make the syrup.
Let’s talk about school
I thought school was normal until I went to Norris Academy and I saw how big a change it was and how the communities are different than my other school. Kindergarten was fun at West Allis with a good environment and nice people. Then starting in first grade, we were sitting at desks doing your work all day through session after session. We did math in the morning and then reading in the afternoon every day for the entire year. It kind of got boring after a while. I thought that’s what school was going to be like for the rest of my life. This is what I would have to do: suck it up and deal with school so I could go on with my life.
After you started Norris Academy, what was different about school for you?
It was really different, actually. There is a big difference between this school and the local school in how the school is structured and the environment. This school is way more about you and not always thinking it’s the kids, sometimes it may be the teacher. Sometimes you might like a teacher but sometimes you may need a different teacher. In my other school, if there was a problem, it was the kids problem. But at Norris, we look at both sides of it so we can work it out.
Johnna Noll, Executive Director of Norris Academy, jumped in. “As the staff here at Norris, we focus on a learner-centered environment. What Aidyn was explaining is that at some schools, people tend to look at the learner and what they are doing wrong and why they aren’t improving. For us, we look at the lack of growth and improvement of any of our learners as our failure of what we’re doing and what can do to better support that learner. When I heard Aidyn say it is sometimes the teacher or its other people, I think that is indicative of when we see a learner has not had much success, we wrap a team around that and try to offer supports that will be more helpful to Aidyn.”
Aidyn and his Learner Profile
At first, when I worked on my Learner Profile, I thought it was a little weird. Then I got used to it and I realized what they were doing. It felt good to write about me. You always learn stuff about yourself and then the teacher knows about you and how you learn best. The questions they asked like “what are your triggers?” and “what do you like doing?” and “what do you want to do on a break?” and “what’s your favorite subject?” helped them to get to know me. They’re not trying to figure it out on their own.
What is it like for you at Norris Academy?
I can read articles to get science and math competencies together instead of separate like at my other school. Each grade level has its own amount of competencies within the subjects. If you get all of those competencies, basically, you keep going up in your subjects. My cousin is in a local school and has all straight As and cannot go up and beyond what she is doing higher than her grade level.
When I confer with my learning specialist three times a week or more, I share the evidence of my learning and how much I’ve grown in my pathways. We usually talk about how we’re going to the next step forward and maybe beyond. We talk about new pathways that she can make for me. Our profile is on Google and we link everything we do onto our profile there. The specialist can get to my profile to learn all the things they need to know about me right from the first day of school. Everything can be accessed from my profile. The video from the student panel at the conference will go there. I also created a resumé for things I’ve done and put that in there and a few other things I do. I help around the school and clean the floors. I sold eggs for a while.
Aidyn and the chickens with the Farm Fresh egg Division of Norris
One year, someone had a pathway where he wanted to build a chicken coop with chickens. Now we clean the eggs and sell them. I made a pathway a little while ago to be a pilot and used VR to make a plane and fix it. I did research on all the different planes. I talked to the employability specialist and we found a pilot who taught me all about the plane. He took me in the cockpit up into the sky and told me what to look for when flying.
I also have other things I’m interested in learning more about like being a police officer and playing football.
Do you have any advice for teachers on what they can do to change their teaching?
Don’t control me and treat me like a robot. In my other school, you are the robot and the teachers control you. You do what you are told to do and there are consequences. At Norris, you have your controller. If you don’t necessarily do what they want or expected, teachers can work around that instead of just sending you to the office. Your teachers can still have you in class and work around what your needs are right now. You can be the controller of your own learning.
About Norris Academy from Johnna Noll
Johnna shared: Norris Academy is part of the Norris School District and has been here for 100 years. About five years ago, our board of education made a commitment to transform the Norris School District to a learner-centered environment. That is when Norris Academy emerged. We are the smallest public school district in the state of Wisconsin. We serve not only residents in our school district, but we also have a large population are joining us through tuition payments from other districts as well as open enrollment learners. We’ve really diversified our learners as we made a shift to learner-centered environments that is competency-based.
All of our learners have a profile across four dimensions: Academic, Citizenship, Employability, and Wellness and do self-reflections among those dimensions. Learners then meet with a learning specialist to develop personalized plans and pathways that are unique to their interests and needs across those dimensions. They work on their competencies at their level such as Aidyn as a 6th grader is doing math at a 9th-grade level.
- The Power of Profiles: Developing a Sense of Urgency on Leaders and Learners at All Levels. Voyager Weekly, Insights. November 21, 2019
- Designing a Framework of Innovation. Wisconsin School News. March 2019, p 30-31.
- This is What Learner Agency Looks Like, Pioneering, May 2018
- Education Reimagined: Academy Profile, November 2017
- Ed Surge, Rewriting the Game of School, August 2017
- Norris Macrocosm Overview
- Norris Profile of a Learner
- Norris Learner Outcomes
Here’s the picture I took of Aidyn on the stage at the Aurora Institute in front of 3,000 educators.
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