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Learning at its Best

Learning from Mick Wilz

“Don’t just talk about change. Show it.”

Mick Wilz’s post in The New York Times is a simple, but rich and complex, narrative that sense-makes the teaching and learning process from an alternative point of view. I’d like to think that any professional educator who takes the time to read his story would find both reinforcement for – and cause to question what s/he does each day.

“I WAS born in 1956. I should have been reading in grade school, but I’m dyslexic — I have trouble reading, writing and spelling — and few people knew much about the condition in those days. My mother realized that something was wrong, but she didn’t know what. She advocated for me at school and told my teachers not to give up on me. I attended five grammar schools because my mother was constantly looking for something to help me. It was a lonely childhood, and I hate to think how I might have ended up if she hadn’t been so supportive.”

The dyslexic Director of Enterprise Excellence Mick Wilz has created a visual workplace at Sur-Seal, a kind of Ira Socol “toolbelt” space. His voice frames why in his op ed post:

“… visual aids help everyone, but they’re especially good for workers like me. I’m still not a good reader. When I’ve had to read work instructions — say, if someone has a question about them — I’ve told the person I might need a little time. Or, if I’ve been given something to read in a meeting, I’ve gone into the hallway and followed the text with my finger.”

I don’t see spatial relationships in 2D (or sometimes 3D) so Mick Wilz’s use of his children’s Legos to help employees see and help with a “factory floor” redesign are examples of adaptive teaching and tool strategies that would help me, too. The areas of my life where Mick Wilz might see me as handicapped are his very strengths.

Using the tools we need to create 2-way access, both input and output of knowledge and ideas, is prerequisite to maximizing learning. When we limit accessibility to, whether it’s as simple as TTS/STT apps, a range of technologies, or even comfort in space, we limit the possibilities and potential of others – and ourselves. Mick Wilz gets that in his company and in his life.

“The iPad has changed my life. Ten years ago, I read very little. But with the iPad, I’m listening to an audiobook a week. When I need to write something, I use apps like Dragon Dictation and Speak It. I dictate what I want to write, then play it back and write from that. It’s easier than sitting down and trying to write in the moment. Spell-check has been a godsend.”

Mick Wilz figured out how to apply a version of “toolbelt” theory in his own life (advanced some years ago by @irasocol, in his own learning research.) Then, Wilz created a visual workplace, supportive of learning and workplace processing differences among his employees.

However, I believe the most important aspect of today’s lesson from the factory floor isn’t the learning design use of Legos by Wilz at all.

It’s that Mick Wilz, who struggled himself in school, sees his employees through the eyes of a “toolbelt theory” teacher. He’s created alternative entry points through which they can access what they need to know to become contributors in a transactional learning process involving each of them. Wilz regards his employees even when they struggle in the adult work world and he supports them to find paths to success.

“BECAUSE I had a difficult time when I was young, I believe in treating others as I would like to have been treated… I give employees second chances because I know what it’s like to struggle.”

I finished his post early this morning asking this question:

Shouldn’t Mick Wilz’s consideration for each employee’s accessibility to learning be a starting point for every lesson we professional educators design for our own learners, too?

How a Factory Floor Redesigned Itself: Sur-Seal

About pamelamoran

Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning: We create paths to contemporary learning by supporting participants from member divisions to engage in critical inquiry to develop curriculum, assessment, and Instruction consistent with a focus on supporting learners to acquire competencies of critical thinking, communication, citizenship, collaboration, and creativity.


2 thoughts on “Learning from Mick Wilz

  1. a couple of comments – I did not realize I was dyslexic until I was in my forties. I taught myself to read (words and music) at age 3. By the time I was 10 I had a card for the adult section of my public library. I read in English at over 1,000 wpm. But I do n’t read linearly – I grab chunks of text and reinterpret them in my mind. Which is why I struggled when I tried languages with different alphabets – Hebrew, Russian, Greek.

    Having had my experience and my belated recognition, I have reexamined how I approach students entrusted to my care.

    One thing that is clear – not all students learn at the same pace or in the same way, and insofar as our educational policies ignore that, they are wrong and need to be changed.

    Posted by Kenneth Bernstein | December 30, 2012, 12:33 pm
    • Ken,

      It’s hard for schools full of teachers who did well in school -generally speaking- to wrap around the struggles of children who do not see the alphabet in the same way as those with verbal-linguistic intelligence. I’ve sometimes wondered what life would be like if the world ran from the capabilities of dyslexics and not their print capable peers. What would “special ed” IEPs look like then? Would skills would we be forced to practice? How would we be assessed?

      Thanks for sharing your experiences- we need to do better for kids who have so much to offer but who often are not given an accessible seat at the learning table. Mick Wilz makes that happen for his employees which really drew me to him as an example of teaching outside the profession.


      Posted by pamelamoran | December 30, 2012, 12:47 pm

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