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.

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