Building New Learning Models

The past couple of years are rife with challenges for our ASCD affiliates. Connected deeply within their states, provinces and countries, they are long-established as trusted voices for education advocacy and as a go-to source for professional learning, serving as an extension of ASCD’s mission and vision. Going virtual wasn’t an easy transition, not because they weren’t already online but because their members weren’t easily lured into web-based work. Some were resistant to virtual events and others were already in online overload from teaching all day. We delved into ongoing discussions about how to remain relevant and viable during this COVID-19 disruption.

We understood being online isn’t sufficient and offering quality content isn’t enough. Everyone is pushing out complimentary content and professional learning in all kinds of delivery formats. At the end of the day, busy educators don’t have the wherewithal to discern quality over quantity, and free beats pay-to-play most every time. To stand out, we committed ourselves to providing programs and services that connect high-caliber content to supportive learning communities. Quality resources are great – and ASCD is the standard-bearer for excellence – but adding a place where like-minded professionals can probe, apply and learn together from those resources provides added value not offered anywhere else: job-embedded support addressing professional problems of practice.

Our affiliates developed individually over time. No two are alike, and there is a strength in that. Yet when the pandemic hit, each affiliate was managing its own risk and taking its own losses as events had to be canceled and membership renewal rates started to sputter. As one longtime, well-respected affiliate executive director proclaimed, “We need to figure out a new model. The old way isn’t working anymore.” We decided scaling up to diminish the risk, share the workload and benefit from distributed capacity could convert these challenges into opportunities.

As a result, ASCD’s affiliates have been planning Write Your Leadership Story (#WYLS) since last fall, based on the book What’s Your Leadership Story? A School Leader’s Guide to Aligning How You Lead with Who You Are by Gretchen Oltman and Vicki Bautista (ASCD, August 2021). These dedicated faculty members from Creighton University worked with our affiliate leaders last October as part of our New Leadership study, and it was such a memorable learning experience that we invited them to work with an expanded audience: the membership of each of our affiliates. We are honored to say they accepted.

While all our affiliates participated in the discussions leading up to this event, fourteen affiliates from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Jamaica, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania agreed to pilot the new model, working together to hammer out the implementation details.

Here are key features of this model:

  • ASCD provides the oversight and coordination for the event through my office
  • Each affiliate promotes the event within its region, handles all registrations, and distributes receipts as provided in the revenue sharing agreement with the authors and ASCD
  • The event includes three live sessions March 24th, March 31st and April 7th with Gretchen & Vicki walking participants through the crafting of their personalized leadership philosophies (PLP)
  • The authors also provide feedback on participants’ PLPs, further personalizing the learning
  • After each live session, my office and participating affiliate leaders support the ongoing work of participants in a private group on the ASCD Professional Learning Community platform

In addition, Gretchen & Vicki are meeting with us in person in Chicago this coming Friday, March 18th at ASCD’s annual conference, creating personal connections beyond the virtual sessions for everyone involved.

ASCD, our affiliates and authors collaborated to build out this model in response to the immediate needs and interests of educators. The power of the pilot is learning together and tweaking the format as we go. Yes, we’ll collect the data and see how closely we hit our metrics, but most importantly we will learn from and refine the model. It’s a brave new world out there, and our affiliates are stepping up to the challenge in new and meaningful ways. We invite you to join us, either in our current pilot or in future opportunities to learn together.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

Let’s Waft!

My memories of the early 70s include summers on the beaches of Hampton, New Hampshire and Old Orchard, Maine. The warm sand, cold waters, new friends and boardwalk amusements were the stuff this boy lived for! Oversized pizza slices, fries splashed with salt and vinegar, cups brimming with whole belly clams and cones of frozen custard were all prized…especially when you only got to choose one!

The backdrop to all this was the radio. Each blanket had its own battery-operated transistor radio – some small, some large – tuned to a favorite station wafting with the sound of the surf and seagulls circling overhead. As I walked along the beach, one radio’s programming would come into earshot as another faded away behind me. There was news radio, talk radio, sports radio and, of course, music radio. One never stopped to listen…that would seem rude…but whatever was playing became a part of me as I made my way through another lazy, fun-loving beach day.

There was James Taylor singing “Fire and Rain,” Carole King wailing “It’s Too Late” and Carly Simon insisting “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be.” Chicago pumped out “Feeling Stronger Every Day,” Elton bopped on “Honky Cat” and Stealers Wheel mellowed out to “Everyone’s Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine.” I received my pop music education on the beaches of New England! But it was more than that.

There were songs I didn’t like…but I still knew them…and the next blanket always promised something different. Of course, the chart-toppers kept playing over and over again from blanket to blanket, sealed in my mind, committing the lyrics to memory. It was a communal experience, every bit as much as the sand, sea and sun…a shared understanding of what it means to be alive…to feel…to belong.

I have the same experience when a show from a bygone era comes on TV. Even if I have the entire series on DVD, the fact that an episode comes up on some random channel in the cable-sphere gives me the immediate sense that I am sharing a memory with others of my age and ilk who just happen to be channel surfing at the exact same time. The same holds true when I am sitting with friends or family watching a favorite old movie together. We know every line and scene that’s coming next, but we revel in that shared experience… reliving it again in the memories and in the moment…adding an extra layer of magic I don’t get when I watch the DVD alone.

I miss the age of wafting music, energy and experience. Rather than customizing reality to reinforce personal preferences, it was wide-open…an unspoken confirmation of our common humanity. As a result, I grew as my world view expanded. I may have been limited to my parents tastes at home and in the car, but those beach days introduced me to a bigger world and a larger sense of belonging. We didn’t have to go find a tribe; we were the tribe and we were all in it together. What wasn’t accessible to me in my immediate circumstance was ascertainable through this invisible human bond.

I guess you can make the case I’m connecting dots that don’t form a straight line, but I believe we need more of this communal belonging. In an age of earbuds, personalization and playlists, there is a spike in conflict and a drop in empathy. Our communal identity has been supplanted by factions, and it’s a shame. We aspire to be more globally connected, but in reality we are far more exclusive. This having been said, I don’t believe all is lost…yet…let’s waft!  

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

On Intent, Impact & Apple Carts

In the age of just-because-I-can, the notion of “disruption” is endlessly popular. The idea of interrupting or, in fact, stopping an existing practice or system is appealing. It’s a departure from the old adage, “don’t upset the apple cart” disrupting things that are in place just for the sake of…well…disrupting!

Continuing the metaphor…

So there’s apples all over the ground and you walk away triumphantly…a true disruptor!

Now what?

How did your act of disruption change anything? And if it didn’t, why bother?

The apple cart owner corrals the apples rolling everywhere, polishing them up and rebuilding the pomme-pyramid on the cart….assuming nobody stepped on an apple during the chaos. Is that all you have to feel good about…a moment of chaos quickly corrected? Is disruption just deconstruction and reconstruction?

No, the true power of disruption is the creation of new value. Think about it. Reassembling the apple cart is the logical conclusion of the metaphor, but what’s actually being reassembled is the status quo.

What does new value look like? Well…in the apple cart business:

 – a more secure method to display/deliver apples

 – a digital apple strategy that doesn’t require carts

 – genetically engineering a square apple that doesn’t roll

 – expanding offerings to other foods that stack more securely

 – creating an activist apple lobby or a political action committee

 – crafting and passing legislation protecting the public display of apples

 – or, outlawing apples and the carts on which they are displayed

Sound ridiculous, you say? I agree. Causing disruption without creating new value…without improving ways of being and doing…is hollow. It takes little forethought or effort and it leaves a trail of short-term, easily reparable damage.

To effect change, act with intent. Have a vision. Know the next steps to fill the void once you’ve knocked over your apples. Create value that wasn’t there. Work hard within existing systems to ensure that your impact endures.

Don’t short-change your value. Let your legacy be long-lasting and worthwhile.

Disruption isn’t enough.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

It’s All About the Energy

The world is full of distractions competing for our attention. Keep your focus on where you spend your energy.

You know energy: gas, electric, hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, biomass, geothermal. All the ways we fuel our basic needs and lifestyles.

Then there’s the energy empowering us personally: food, vitamins, medicines, sleep, excitement, surprise, anger. All the ways we invest in ourselves and interact with our surroundings.

The energy we experience through our senses is just as potent: in the air, in a song, in a glance, in a touch, in the presence of a masterpiece, in the quenching of our thirst. Through these things we feel fully alive.

Then there are the ways we are energized through our emotions: in a memory, in a dream, in a feeling, in an idea, in an encounter, in escaping danger. Palpable and powerful, this kind of energy can leave us invigorated and exhausted.

Spiritual energy fuels our aspirations: in a state of peace, in a belief, in a movement, in a sacrifice, in the work, in the impact, in the achievement. We generate energy by making a difference, transcending human limitations.

Socially we energize each other: one on one, in families, in groups, in classrooms, in crowds, as communities, nations and species. Our interactions spark everything from relationships to revolutions.

Of course, energy doesn’t always move us forward. There is power in the struggle, in the pain, in the loss, in the lesson, in the new understanding, no matter how unwelcome. Growth generates energy, too.

So yes, it’s all about the energy, but it’s even more about how we choose to spend it. The choices are more than fossil or renewable, burning or conserving. It’s about when and where we choose to spend our energy. Don’t like something? Why give it energy? Want to improve circumstances? Spend more energy there. Feeling a drain from people or situations? Hit the off switch. When we stop fueling negativity, it loses its power.

As we celebrate the holidays and prepare for another year, I wish for you new insight into the things to which you give your energy, and how those things help you to grow and thrive and find fulfillment…and then…choose accordingly.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

No Ledge

Access to applications and information is so prevalent today, it’s easy to think these things alone empower us to make significant impact. Consider these examples from popular culture:


A young girl works on her homework while her father fixes dinner. She begins asking a string of questions. “Do trees tell each other stories? Do clouds take naps? Can birds draw pictures? Do stars visit their friends?” When her phone can’t provide answers her Dad suggests, “Why don’t we go find out?” and knowingly whisks her away to Tamanawas Falls park where she sees first-hand the answers to each question. How did Dad know where to take her in the park with perfect timing to experience each phenomenon as it is happening?


Paul, a diabetic, is frustrated by his dietary restrictions, especially when eating out. He uses his continuous monitoring system on the back of his arm to know what his current glucose level is. With this knowledge, he gleefully orders meals with confidence in his choices. While the glucose reading is good data, it doesn’t provide all Paul’s nutrition and portion size options. How does he know how to apply that number so that his selections are healthy for him?


Maysi talks about how happy she is as a customer of her virtual bank, with no monthly fees and direct deposits arriving sooner in her account than traditional check deposits. “I feel like I can finally trust my bank,” she shares. “I always have peace of mind that my money’s in the right place and in good hands!” The convenience of fintech is a huge selling point, but how does she know that this bank is more safe and trustworthy than previous financial institutions?

This is certainly the age of convenience, but meaningful access requires more. Data reports on what we know here and now, but it isn’t transformative.


Knowledge has no ledge…no footing from which we can spring forward.

Human context, experience and insight are the springboard to the future.


Twenty years after my first book on intelligence and technology, I continue to maintain that our minds are the ultimate operating system. There’s no tool to supplant questioning, vetting of data, and visioning.

Influence and impact require more than access…they demand our personal commitment to the whys and hows of today’s opportunities. Push past the allure of convenience and dig into the rewarding work of making a difference.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

Brand Aim

Everyone is brand aware these days…personally…professionally…as producers and consumers. It’s more than your calling card, it’s who you are and what you want to become. And the more authentic your aim, the more it resonates with others.

We tend to romanticize all of this:

– Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

– If you can dream it, you can do it.

– If you build it, they will come.

– You always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

These simplistic sentiments have an allure, but they ultimately get in the way. Effective aim isn’t about where you want to be; it’s about where you are.

Rather than looking to the skies, assess where your shots are falling. How close are they to actually hitting your target? Are you even aiming at the target you want to hit? Are there patterns in where your shots tend to fall? What can you learn as you collect your arrows off the ground?

Of course the goal is to hit that bullseye, but how close have you gotten?

Getting Your Foot in the Door
You know your brand has value, and you use it to begin conversations that rarely seem to produce results. You assume getting everyone’s attention is the key, but it isn’t enough to get you all the way inside the door…and it’s awkward extricating your foot.

Aligning Yourself Authentically
You understand your realm of influence and you work hard to make sure your messaging and actions are consistent with those within your sphere. You understand talking the talk and walking the walk, but you’re more fortifying than growing your brand.

Amplifying Your Reach
Your followers meaningfully connect with you and promote your brand to others beyond your reach, expanding your influence. You represent values and goals to which others aspire, and they in turn inform and strengthen your brand both in person and online.

Sustaining Your Following
You attract and keep those who share in your brand experience, building a loyal following that believes in the things for which you stand. This kind of allegiance perpetuates itself as your followers continue to come back to connect into the value you offer.

Achieving Iconic Status
Your brand delivers vibrant experiences that make a difference in people’s lives, so much so that they integrate your brand into their personal identity, aspiring to transform themselves and their world. Your brand is resilient and sustainable for the future..

Where are your shots actually landing?

Your answer to this question is the first step to recalibrating your aim, improving your accuracy…straighter…higher…farther…so that you can hit that bullseye.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

The Age of Grand Gestures

We live in an age of grand gestures. They’re all around us, a mile wide and an inch deep.

They don’t require forethought or deliberation. Grand gestures fulfill their potential simply by being offered. A sweeping statement. A gratuitous gesture. They are seemingly instantly magnanimous…noble…jaw-dropping…provocative…yet devoid of deeper examination.

One size fits all…but differently…because we each respond to grand gestures based on our own expectations and understandings. Are you pro-something? Then this grand gesture is for you! Anti-something? The same gesture confirms your beliefs! With their hard-to-nail-down ambiguity, we are free to fill in the blanks to suit ourselves. Grand gestures pander to our most base instincts.

You see them everywhere: feel-good memes, attention-getting sound bites, coy dog whistles and cynical tropes. We cheer, jeer, resist, protest, laugh, cry, poke, prod, celebrate, negate and gloat in self-fulfilling reaffirmation of whom we want to be.

Grand gestures address anything, everything and nothing all at once. They require no effort to look beyond our own inference. They reinforce our personal biases, beliefs and passions, giving us license to be lazy…listening for what we want to hear…reinforcing our reality. “I’m right, I know I’m right, and since I’m right I know I’m not wrong, so don’t burst my bubble!” Mindless, feel-good free-floating bubbles, rising like easy answers…seemingly ascertainable…but ultimately endlessly elusive…

It can be very comfortable in the age of grand gestures, making it harder to effect change…in business…in education…in the community…in our selves. To overcome this easy answer allure, we need to push beyond feeling and believing, digging deeper…to watching, asking and seeking out facts…keeping us grounded in the work at hand.

Deeper thinking is the bubble-popping gesture-stopping antidote to grand gestures.

Administer the antidote by asking:

  • What response does this gesture seek to elicit?
  • Why does it seem to have such broad appeal?
  • Does our response move us forward, or hold us back?  

Grand gestures aren’t going to change, and neither is human nature, but we can stop being so easily influenced.

Grand gestures are easy. Grand actions are hard.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.


A shift is taking place. It’s hard to say when it began or where it ends, but it’s definitely happening. It’s messy, uncomfortable and uncontainable…and hard to watch. We characterize it as a “disruption” in the hopes it’s going away, but it’s not. Awash in a surge of change, treading water in the hopes of regaining our footing, wherever we land will be unfamiliar. How am I doing summarizing our recent experience?

A more realistic response acknowledges the messiness and helps us adapt. After all, the imperative is not only to survive, but to thrive. What if we come out of this shift in an open, evolving ecosystem that creates collective strength and resilience in the face of constant change?

Ecosystems are communities that are:

 – organic

– interdependent

– adaptive

 – evolving, and

 – self-sustaining

And they’re not necessarily biological.

Ecosystems celebrate diversity, not conformity, and that variety meets our needs in ways we cannot on our own. What one organism produces another consumes, creating endless cycles of growth. In the same way, organizations are forming ecosystems…orgcosystems.

Traditionally existing in industry silos, built to withstand head-to-head competition…a survival of the fittest…today’s organizations are seeking ways to connect and support one another through both their common purpose and unique differences. Their old assumptions and pathways have washed away, and while they may continue to lead, they can no longer do so within the security of a single, well-defined lane.

In an orgcosystem, companies find ways to contribute to one another’s program, product and service offerings, and everyone involved amplifies the resulting value proposition.

Consider the possibilities:

It’s a different way of thinking…doing…being. Organizations that weren’t even in your sphere in the past are now interested and available to form working relationships…not just transactional relationships…but interdependent relationships. Whether or not they directly map to your bottom line, they can provide you with stakeholders, services and supports that help sustain you moving forward.

While the graphic defines direct connections with your organization, each entity surrounding yours also has free-flowing relationships with one another. Of course, your orgcosystem won’t be as large as the one pictured, but it will provide you needed value through a select combination of:

 – Former direct competitors that provide expertise after making the shift

 – Product suppliers that make key components for your business

 – Service providers that support key processes in your organization

 – Community partners that help you connect to your stakeholders

 – Higher education partners that provide action research and analysis

 – Member associations that offer you access to their audience

 – Nonprofits that share your organization’s values and vision

 – Charities and foundations to fund your worthy philanthropic ventures

 – Government agencies that serve your stakeholders

 – Technology providers that offer solutions and services

 – Media agencies that enhance and extend your public relations impact

 – Transportation providers (cars, buses, trains, airlines) using your services

 – Health groups that share your values and use your products/services

 – Entertainment providers (television, movies, music) promoting your vision

In the same way, you provide reciprocal value to the other organizations in your orgcosystem, creating a mutually beneficial balance.

Orgcosystems adapt and evolve to remain viable. As they grow in size and complexity, more energy is distributed across the entire community. As a result, organizations can divest themselves of processes they previously paid for to remain self-sustaining and redirect those resources to their core mission.

Imagine the power of even five or six organizations forming an orgcosystem. It’s time you start building yours.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

The Push

History is full of our accomplishments; some monumental advancements, others everyday enhancements. And while we can’t choose our moment in time, we leave our mark no matter when and where we live.

Routinely, there are those immediate life improvements that boast bigger, better, faster, cheaper breakthroughs in transportation and entertainment, communication and collaboration, and remedies for everything from nail fungus to migraines. We bring to bear what the market demands.

Then, every so often, something stops life as we know it, commanding our attention: war, famine, disease, climate change…any of a number of cataclysmic events overwhelms the status quo…and epic change occurs.

The difference between routine progress and profound societal change is the push. Whatever “normal” was, it’s broken beyond repair and we can’t go back. We have no choice but to chart new territory on an unknown landscape, pushing forward to different ways of being and doing and living.

Sure, we espouse truisms about change: think differently, forge new paths, and move outside your comfort zone! But we resist until we face an existential threat. It’s true in schools…in business…in government…locally…globally. When the push finally comes, we have no choice but to respond.

No one likes being pushed. It’s unexpected. We stumble and regain our footing or we fall and pick ourselves up. Regardless, we’re fully capable of recovering and resuming life, whatever that looks like.

Push, bump, shove, ram, jolt…however we feel it, it’s happened. There are no sidelines or peanut galleries. We’re all in this together as we test, fail, learn and find ways to move forward in uncertain, unfamiliar times.

Let’s do this!

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

Rupt: to break. Interrupt. Disrupt. Abrupt. Erupt.

Global disruption is a once in a lifetime phenomenon…if we’re lucky. The sudden slowdown and stop of everyday life creates a sense of loss and isolation both personally and communally. Against this backdrop, organizations struggle to continue to engage stakeholders who are preoccupied with the disruption of their own lives.

For organizations doing well, this can be especially challenging. It’s hard to shift priorities when you’re enjoying success. Established calendars, revenue streams and partnerships suddenly have to be renegotiated, and it’s counterintuitive. No one likes having their hand forced

For organizations already struggling – for whatever reason – this disruption can shut things down for good. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Entrepreneurial leaders see the opportunity to rethink and relaunch business. The choice isn’t to save the ship or go down with it; it’s to find a new way to continue the journey.

Give yourself permission to take risks. The old rules don’t apply and the new rules are yet to be written. So based on your experience, what do you want to do differently? Now is your chance. Since there’s no going back, what’s your new way forward?

  • What new stakeholder needs do you see on the landscape?
  • Do they point to an underserved audience?
  • Can you craft a value proposition to address the need?
  • What business model best aligns with this new value proposition?
  • Will this model make your organization more receptive and responsive to input?
  • How can you connect and convene stakeholders as a value-added benefit?
  • Are there ways to customize delivery of services unique to each stakeholder?
  • Can you tailor communications to optimize response rates and brand loyalty?
  • Is this new model built for digital success?
  • What does online engagement look like the next year? The next five years?
  • How do you immediately begin to make the shift to your new model?

All disruptions come to an end. Use this time to find answers and position your organization for success.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.