More than ten years ago, ASCD convened students and educators from around the world to envision the future of education. The result was a collection of flagship policy and practice recommendations known as our Whole Child initiative, and it defines the association’s work to this day. It was successful not because of predetermined outcomes, but because of the coming together of motivated stakeholders with a common purpose. You can see the results in “The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action” (ASCD, 2007).

In an age of connectedness where everyone has a voice, this kind of convening is the true work of membership organizations. Gone are the days of exclusive access to content and experts. Today’s professionals expect to ask their own questions and find their own answers.

Consider these ways our ASCD member groups empower educators through the act of convening:

  • Our annual Leader to Leader conference (L2L) has never been the same event twice, as leaders from ASCD Affiliates, Connected Communities, Professional Interest Communities, Emerging Leaders and Student Chapters programs come together to pursue and inform their own professional learning.
  • Working across countries and cultures, our Gulf Cooperation Council ASCD Connected Community provides a place for educators from Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to share, learn and work together.
  • To open up professional learning to educators at all levels, Maine ASCD is just releasing Whole Child nano- and micro-credentials so that teacher-leaders can customize and personalize their learning on-the-fly and just-in-time. In pursuing this new approach to professional learning, our Maine affiliate is pioneering trails on which its parent organization has yet to embark.
  • To address the need of school districts to support students with mental health concerns, New York State ASCD hosted a Powered by Teach to Lead summit that brought together teams from across the state to learn from one another and generate ready-to-implement solutions. Participants noted they were able to have critical discussions with teammates at this convening that had never happened when their members were busy back in their district.
  • ASCD’s Canadian Communities in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador and Ontario have launched a cultural intelligence initiative, to support educators in accommodating the influx of immigrant families in their communities. The most recent development in this work is the launch of a Relationship Based Schools project that champions the importance of social-emotional learning for students.
  • Our Emerging Leaders proposed and won approval for an Alumni ASCD Affiliate where all 400 members of the fraternity can self-organize and contribute to the organization in ways that help to keep it relevant and evolving in the 21st century. This revolutionary hybrid of two different ASCD programs opens up new opportunities for our next generation of leaders to plug into the association.
  • Michigan ASCD just concluded a Teaching to Strengths virtual symposium, connecting ten centers around the state so that teams of teachers learned together and took solutions back to their classrooms for immediate implementation. The focus on trauma-informed practices and interactive technologies modeled a new way to engage the Whole Child.
  • Based in New Providence, Bahamas ASCD works across all of its family islands to bring educators together in a discourse of what is best for children, engaging stakeholders from preservice teachers at the University of the Bahamas to policy leaders at the Ministry of Education, providing a voice for practitioners at all levels across this archipelago nation.
  • To learn more about the needs of the educators they serve, Colorado ASCD held Gallery Gatherings around the state inviting teachers to come out and share their interests and needs with one another through original Ignite presentations. The information gathered from across this state with large urban centers and even larger rural populations continues to inform the affiliate’s work.
  • Florida ASCD has assembled a Bill of Rights for Children that is free to reproduce and share with education stakeholders around the state and beyond. Incorporating the tenets of ASCD’s Whole Child, this declaration is a living document that elevates and advances the dialogue around what is best for children and their families.
  • Pakistan ASCD’s Umair Qureshi and Singapore ASCD’s Tammy Musiowsky bring together educators and ideas in their Ed-Talk Live initiative, featuring ongoing virtual discussions around leadership while creating impact for teacher-leaders. Six topics have already been posted on the project’s YouTube channel, with more to come.
  • To support and engage beginning teachers, Virginia ASCD offers a free membership to all first year teachers in the state to form a New Teacher Network, convening a cohort of support and learning for everyone involved. Through their participation, these new teachers are welcomed as valued members of the educator community.
  • ASCD member groups are building EDAdvantage bundles around high-interest topics, soliciting original articles, videos and tools from practitioners to provide a unique new benefit to their members. The first bundle on School Safety was released March 1st, and the second issue on Trauma-Informed Schools is slated to be released this summer.

Two years ago my office stopped publishing newsletters for leaders of our member groups, replacing them with private Facebook groups where everyone can share questions and ideas in real time as the need arises. Now our leaders interact more directly, immediately and meaningfully…so much so that waiting to hear “news from the mountaintop” seems archaic and unnecessary. Convening doesn’t have to be conveniently scheduled anymore!

The key is to foster a climate and culture that supports grassroots leadership. While ASCD staff can create spaces and opportunities to connect energized educators, it is truly our member groups leading the organization that keeps it vibrant and thriving, as the education landscape continues to evolve ever more quickly.

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

Energized and Engaged

members cheering

The education landscape continues to morph and membership organizations are scrambling to keep up. Research indicates associations with a solid membership base withstood the last decade’s recession statistically better than non-member organizations, but still lost members as a result. How do associations rebuild and retain membership moving forward? What do professionals want and need, and how can they best be served?

The answer is member-driven engagement. While successful associations continue to refine tried-and-true membership practices, today’s professionals seek organizations that make it easy to actively contribute. A shift needs to take place so members can:

  • Organize themselves
  • Take the lead in association tasks
  • Network to build agency and capacity
  • Participate in new experiences
  • Acquire new skills
  • Mentor other members
  • Represent the organization locally where they live and work
  • Advocate for policy and legislation at federal, state, provincial and local levels
  • Serve as the practitioner voice in association visioning and planning
  • Give feedback on programs, products and services
  • Provide input into new initiatives
  • Pilot grassroots efforts
  • Speak at association events
  • Write for organization publications
  • Run for elected offices, and
  • Serve on committees

In short, members want to make a difference. To make this happen, associations have to be highly adaptive and responsive in engaging members in the work of the organization.

Membership associations built their reputations serving as reliable purveyors of training and content, providing exclusive access with the incentive to renew annually. Since the advent of content and networking on the World Wide Web, however, this transactional model is providing increasingly diminished returns.

Either associations evolve or become victims of their past success. Professionals today seek work-life balance not by compartmentalizing each side of the equation, but by naturally integrating their personal and professional interests across their career. They forge networks of organic connections, and any organization they join helps them grow their personal brand and expand their professional learning ecosystem. Associations will either deliver or fade into irrelevance.

While the business functions of building and maintaining a membership base (branding, events, products, services, marketing, public relations) remain core components of effective association management, thriving professional organizations augment these core processes with rich, responsive, meaningful member engagement. This requires the reallocating of institutional resources to maintain critical business functions while growing a layer of engagement that wraps around the entire organization. This welcoming layer invites members and potential members to easily plug in to the association at their entry point of choice, and the resulting interaction helps transform the organization.

A key shift in making this transformation is the balance between board governance and grassroots involvement. While the board leads and protects the fiduciary interests of the organization, members infuse the association with fresh eyes, willing hands and new energy. A healthy flow of ideas and initiative top-down and bottom-up (and from every other direction) infuses an association’s vision with the kind of responsiveness that ensures relevance. Ultimately, highly engaged members seek to serve on the board.

A second key shift is the balance of employees and members in accomplishing the work of the organization. Whereas the traditional model required well-staffed internal teams to move the organization forward, today’s successful associations welcome the involvement of members in all facets of the work, collaborating with staff to help the association evolve in ways that matter to practitioners. This allows organizational accountability and continuity while providing fresh insight and investment in the life of the association.

It’s a new era for professional associations, and though these strategies may feel counterintuitive, they build a thriving base that invigorates an organization with energized, engaged members committed to its future.


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

Intents & Purposes

holding hands
Intent doesn’t matter.

Sure in a courtroom or an ethics class or a therapist’s office, intent is relevant. But in human relationships, it serves little purpose.

Why bother to make the distinction? Because too often peoples’ initial reaction when they realize they have hurt someone is to say

   “I didn’t mean to…”

   “It was an accident…”

   “I didn’t do it on purpose…”

Pleading intent misses the point.

It’s about caring. If people think of you as malicious, they aren’t going to let you get close to them in the first place. So when they let you get close and you inadvertently hurt them, minimizing your role suggests you don’t care. Saying “I didn’t mean to…” may make you feel better about it, but it doesn’t acknowledge the other person’s experience…it puts pressure on them to drop the issue. Selfishness quashes caring.

Instead of pleading intent, validate what’s happened. It’s not about blame, it’s about compassion. Own it. Keep it real. You have the power to make it better. Indeed, if everyone does this, the world will be a much better place.

To be clear, I don’t think this applies to people who are threatened by points of view that differ from their own. Keeping it real requires us to engage in rigorous, respectful vetting of one another’s ideas and values. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that having been said, insensitivity does not cancel out sensitivity; it exacerbates it.



“Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still…” 
   -T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday (1930)   


Own who you are, but not at the expense of others. Take charge of your actions…in relationships…in work…in life. When your actions do damage, caring makes the difference.



Don’t be “that guy.”

Find your tribe.

Is that a “thing?”

Nowadays it’s easy to let people, situations, and…yes…even mindless expressions…define you.
But here’s the thing: DON’T!

Don’t let ANYTHING define you. Resist that tendency. Because the more you get cornered and labeled, the more you get pigeonholed and marginalized…limited…stuck. And no one does that to you better than you. Defy being defined…DEFY-ne!

Nope. Don’t be defined by brands, beliefs, biases, colors, flavors, talents, weaknesses, habits, routines or styles. Resist being corralled by words, thoughts, feelings, titles, careers, dogmas, ideologies and pet peeves. Never think of yourself as locked into relationships, social circles, favorites, preferences, desires, dreams, successes, failures or mistakes. Even in things you didn’t choose or you don’t have control over, like family, friends, neighbors, rivals, adversaries and enemies…refuse to see yourself as the sum total of what’s around you.

At the same time, don’t be hemmed in by goals, objectives, drama, assumptions, expectations, fears, threats, pleasures, compulsions, obsessions or addictions. Refuse to think of yourself as predominantly competitive, aggressive, ambitious, opportunist, lazy, vulnerable or invincible. And never be limited by history, poverty, prosperity, attitudes, achievements, awards, nor your reputation as it stands in the moment.

Defy being defined! Any time you get comfortable or complacent, change it up. Be open to what’s not immediately in front of you. Demand different. Keep it fresh. Keep them guessing…keep yourself guessing! Because every time you allow yourself to be reined in, you’re limiting your awareness of new experiences, new possibilities, new happiness.

Sure hometowns and  home teams, alma maters and political parties have a place on the landscape. But if they’re forcing you to think and do and be like everyone else…bang a U-ey*, do a 180, roll down the windows, hit the gas, hold on tight and rediscover the exhilaration of the open road. It can take you places you’ve never been!

It’s too easy to be defined. Never settle. Push back. Question. Don’t be intellectually lazy. Stay hungry! Relish the raw. Savor the surprise. Renegotiate reality and claim what makes you never-endingly unique!

Easy to say? Don’t talk or think about it. Do it. It’s in your DNA.

Morph. Grow. Evolve.


*Bostonian for “make a U-turn!”
  Read all of my thinking out loud at!

What If?


Imagine educators running for congress in droves this November! Not running as democrats or republicans…but on a kids-first platform…a pragmatic, non-partisan, what’s-best-for-all-of-us, consensus-building, invest-in-the-future tidal wave of a mandate educators ride into office.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • Ending blind loyalties
  • Voting out ideologues
  • Rejecting quid pro quo business as usual
  • Repudiating the politics of personal destruction
  • Terminating cynical catering to identified political bases
  • Striking the death knell for pandering to ignorance, bias, bigotry, hatred and intellectual laziness

Imagine the country becoming one giant, energized community of learners and doers, where teachers lead with a moral imperative to do what is best for everyone:

  • Setting a tone and expectation that brings out our best in one another
  • Demonstrating respect and tolerance for all ideas
  • Making decisions based on facts and data
  • Crafting policy and legislation that funds and fuels the promise of the common good
  • Working with our public institutions to ensure all children are healthy, safe, supported, engaged and challenged to realize their full potential
  • Espousing an inclusive vision based in a belief that we all matter and we can all make a difference
  • Modeling impartial, ethical choices
  • Redirecting inappropriate behavior
  • Implementing policies and laws fairly and equitably
  • Creating a culture of mutual support and accountability so things get done

What if?

Not that it’s going to happen this November…but it could happen…someday.

Imagine the possibilities leading by example…just like we do in our schools! Setting high standards! Following through on what we say and do! Fostering cooperation and collaboration! Even offering remedial citizenship classes for those who don’t know how to play nicely! Indeed, a vote for kids-first candidates is like sending business-as-usual career-politicians to time out to think about what they’ve been doing! <insert smirk here>

In the meantime, what if every one of us who puts children first gets out and votes in November to let those who are elected know our values and priorities, and that we hold them accountable? Let’s start there…

Vote in November!

Run in 2020!

What are your priorities when you ride that tidal wave into office?


Need to Know

It’s in the knowing.

It’s not in the guessing, the posturing, the fake it til you make it…you need to know.

Leadership is on a need to know basis.

Yes there’s all kinds of feel-good notions about pulling a sword from a stone…mystically finding one’s way…but leaders are not preordained nor predestined. When it counts, you either know…or you don’t.

Of course you factor in strategy and culture and context and relationships…but in that lonely, imminent moment when a decision must be made…you need to know. You’ve seen the scene before. The players are different, but the feel is familiar. And you lead.

You know the ask.

You know yourself.

You know what matters.

You know what doesn’t.

Everything else is background noise.

It’s not hardwired or handed to you. You earn it…you learn it by doing…rolling up your sleeves and getting your fingernails dirty. There’s no substitute, no finesse, no smoke and mirrors that compensates for the lack of it.

Leading is a challenge even when you know…leading with anything less is folly.



In-Your-Face Civics

Ervin and Baker

In the fall of 1973, I cam home from sixth grade every afternoon to the Watergate hearings live on television. The bushy browed Sam Ervin presided over the senate investigation, and the ranking Republican Howard Baker coined the now infamous phrase, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

It was a constitutional crisis, and no one was sure how it would (or was supposed to) play out. Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, presidential domestic affairs advisor John Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell, White House counsel John Dean, special counsel to the President Charles Colson, White House staff and ex-CIA operatives E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, and the security director for the council to reelect the president James McCord were all casualties as the truth slowly came out and the Nixon administration unraveled, in spite of the president’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, (known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”) in a vain attempt to thwart the investigation. In the end, mindful of his place in history, the president resigned, rather than escalate the crisis further. It was high drama. And at twelve years of age, I was learning reams about how our constitution works.

In the aftermath, respected news analysts of the day proclaimed the entire inexorable drama a current events civics lesson, because, not unlike my sixth-grade self, most adults of the day were learning the practical application of checks and balances as the news spilled out of our TV sets into our living rooms. Sure, we had been taught about our government as students, but there was nothing like the real-life hearings and resulting firings, jailings and (eventually) impeachment and resignation of the president, to help reinforce the fact that we are not a nation of men, but a nation of laws.

The parallels to today’s investigation into the Trump administration are undeniable. As the conflict continues to escalate and tensions continue to rise, there is endless speculation as to where the special counsel’s investigation will take us, and how the president will respond. As indictments become public and sentences are handed down, we are on the verge of a new constitutional crisis, even more compelling than the Watergate showdown some forty-four years ago. No one has a stomach for this; no sane person would sign up for it. Yet here we are.

My point? No matter where the coming months lead this country (and you may be well-advised to fasten your seatbelts tightly) the American people are about to be schooled once again on the inner-workings of our government, and the intricacies of our most sacred and enduring living document, the United States constitution. In the early 1970s, there were no cable news networks, yet we had a steady diet of live coverage across all three (yes count them, three!) networks. Needless to say, there is no end to the coverage in 2018; every big news story these days gets to be overkill (why is everything “breaking news”?!). Tune it out when it adds no value and turn it off when you’ve had enough, but don’t miss the opportunity to witness history, and to benefit from our very own in-your-face American civics lesson. Because, God willing, we won’t see another confluence of events like this in our lifetime.


Happy Mulligan’s Day!

I wish for you a happy Mulligan’s Day! Please celebrate accordingly!do-over

Well….what would you do if you could call “Do Over!” for one significant choice in your life? Getting a chance to back up, start over, and move forward is a gift not all of us have had the chance to enjoy. But what if you could?

You don’t have to be a grizzled veteran to make good use of a mulligan. From early on we make choices that become life lessons…experience we sign up for unwittingly through:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Careers
  • Relationships
  • Confrontations
  • Disappointments
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Travel

Ah, the sweet benefits of hindsight!

But, you get my point. If you could pick one thing on Mulligan’s Day 2018 to go back and do differently from your past, what would it be? And what if you knew you could give yourself a mulligan once a year, every year? How would that change your thinking about yourself and your future?

Now let’s zoom out a little. What would your mulligan be as an educator…not necessarily for you personally, but for the profession? Imagine the possibilities! Consider the implications! How can you work to make it happen?

The concept of Mulligan’s Day can be an opportunity for reflection, a rhetorical musing, or a fun conversation starter; but however you choose to observe it, I encourage you to make the time to celebrate. As educators, each of us deserves to celebrate Mulligan’s Day, because in observing it, we honor ourselves, and our profession.

As I write this, Mulligan’s Day is not necessarily a set day…it’s not today or tomorrow…not akin to St. Patrick’s Day. Mulligan’s Day can be any day you give yourself permission to take an honest self-assessment, acknowledge what you’ve learned, forgive yourself, and award yourself a do-over.

N.B. Mulligan’s Day is not about moving on. It’s about revisiting your choices and doing things differently.

So regardless of when you choose to celebrate Mulligan’s Day, I wish for you this rare gift…the freedom and the power of doing it over and doing it better.

Happy Mulligan’s Day!