Hello DALL-E!

Recently I was introduced to a new OpenAI application called DALL-E (Get it? Dali?) The interface allows the user to experience “outpainting: a new feature which helps users extend their creativity by continuing an image beyond its original borders — adding visual elements in the same style, or taking a story in new directions — simply by using a natural language description.”

In other words, you type in any random string of terms and the application pulls together a picture from hundreds of thousands of art images in its database. So, for example, I type in “a surrealist picture of Greek gods in San Francisco” and I come up with an image like this:

It’s the latest example of advancements in technology and how they provide new ways to accomplish a task. An exciting way to create art.

Is it, though?

Certainly there is a synthesis of art elements….images….form and content….but what’s missing?

Authentic human experience.

If anyone can generate a random combination of elements to produce a new image, what’s its value? Does it share the effort and triumph of the artist? Can the viewer walk away with a new understanding of his or her existence? Is it transcendent of the human condition, uniting us all in a common bond?

If the answer is “No” then by its very definition it’s not art. It can bring together familiar elements. It can be visually stimulating. It can create dissonance that causes a reaction. But…art is intentional….it’s an expression of experience….the sharing of understanding between the creator and his or her audience….and in that sharing there is unique value.

This is the opportunity before us. No matter how new and novel the technology, it is our human contribution to the creative process that innovates and advances our world. The closer we can align the affordances of tech with the aspirations of humanity, the more successful we all can be.

We are poised to do great things ahead, and the common denominator is empowerment…of people…of things…of the natural world and the digital….through art, education, business, medicine, transportation, energy, construction, conservation, and so much more. It’s all in play, and we can transform our lives by thoughtfully, deliberately plugging into its potential and promise.

Are you ready? Let’s do this!

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Member Communities at ASCD, leading its Affiliate, Champions in Education, Connected Community, Professional Interest Community, Student Chapter and Emerging Leader programs.

Created with GIMP

Working successfully long-term with your most active, engaged members can lull you into a false sense of security. But as generational and societal forces shift underfoot, it doesn’t take long to feel out of kilter. No one expects to become a victim of their own success.

That uneasy feeling is fear. Fear of change. Fear of falling behind. Fear of failing…becoming ineffective and irrelevant. Fear you’re so “old school” that you don’t have the skills to handle the tide pulling you out into deeper water.

Whether it’s perception or reality, you need to shake it off. Old school is what got you here, and it doesn’t have to render you a relic during a sea change. Ancient artifacts are locked in time, but you’re not. You simply have to unlearn and relearn. You need to get new schooled.

It’s a conscious choice to ask for help. Those 20- and 30- and 40-somethings don’t see you as ancient…just…stuck. And if you don’t get unstuck, you eventually become an impediment. When you ask, be ready for the response, because it will be everything you hoped for…and more.

How do I know all this? This past spring it was time for me to make the ask, so I reached out to stakeholders. Even though a little voice in the back of my head was saying “don’t ask if you don’t want to know” I was gratified by everyone’s candor. They were so glad I asked, they didn’t hold back…and that’s a good thing.

I was gifted with a number of truths that stuck with me:

  • Openness and access are required. No self-interest. No gatekeepers. No cliques. Put away the cookie cutter, because everybody wants in and no two entry points are the same.

  • Everyone is already an established leader when they join. Treat them as such and create spaces where they can learn from one another…be sure to take notes.

  • Stakeholders drive the discussion. Yes, you are in the mix, but they need to lead their own authentic conversations. Pay attention, ask questions, get schooled.

  • The goal is to leave a lasting mark. Influence, yes. Leadership opportunities, sure. But the ultimate goal is impact. Old school experience comes in handy showing how to affect change from within existing systems.

  • You’re not so much a coach or a mentor as you are their champion. Fulfill your role and the resulting relationships will sustain your members’ success and the success of your program.

  • Don’t be just another organization unable to change. If you are, disillusioned members will take their talents elsewhere. It’s okay if some need to go forge their own path, but make a home for those committed to your mission.

I’d always prided myself in being a change agent, but this required change of me. Disconcerting? Yes. Daunting? Even more so. But it filled in so many of the blanks, I understood that this was the path forward to help members and help the organization. It wasn’t personal. There were no hard feelings. I was exhilarated by the possibilities.

So I sent out a recording of myself all new schooled, sharing my learning and asking for more help. Not a text-heavy email or a dense report, but a video speaking directly to stakeholders. As one member told me later, “That video changed everything. I was willing to take the chance that you were actually willing to make change.”

A core group of like-minded changemakers volunteered additional time and expertise to keep me honest in making those changes. It was humbling to receive their wisdom and guidance, and even more sobering to realize the key to success was me getting out of my own way. It’s challenging and exciting and nerve-racking all at once, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

As a result, I see the changes being implemented elevating the work of our most engaged members. It’s an honor to give them a platform that projects their voices beyond a local context. It’s no longer about what organizations can give busy professionals. No one is looking to sign up for a membership card and newsletters. It’s all about members contributing meaningfully to organizations with which they choose to engage. Be ready when you’re lucky enough that they choose yours.

Yes, there will be sputters and resets and more difficult conversations ahead, but out of this important work trust is born…the kind of trust that builds relationships, making a home for your most engaged members and attracting new ones. After all, the challenge isn’t the landscape shifting beneath your feet…it’s whether the map you’re holding still accurately charts your way forward.

Hope is a response to fear, and fear is an obstacle to hope. Having experienced how my old school ways left me exhausted and exasperated, I am relieved to tell you that this work gives me hope.

Thank you to everyone who provided input and ideas, and especially to Jodi, Lindsay, Izzie, Vanee, Sophie, Becca and George.

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

Redrawing Lines

This summer I have the honor of working in-person with a number of our affiliates at their board retreats after a couple of years of largely virtual meetings. It’s gratifying to see the discussion shift from surviving the COVID-19 disruption to redefining our work as society learns to manage and live with the virus. Here are twelve takeaways for your consideration:

Flip the Equation
We’re still member organizations, but we’re no longer talking about how to attract members. The value proposition has shifted to why educators should hire us to work for them. Educators expect personalized, responsive support that helps them solve specific problems and chart their progress toward their professional goals. If we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t be back.

As each board discussed this, the room got uneasily quiet. What is the job that teachers and administrators hire us to do? The answer differs from affiliate to affiliate, but without this new understanding it is easy to default to past practices. Don’t begin planning for the coming year until your board knows its answer.

Free Yourselves
Boards tend to hold on to past success even when they are being forced to change, and the reality is things were changing long before the pandemic. Web technologies democratized information and decentralized access to resources, the rising generation of professionals formed their own learning communities rather than joining traditional member organizations, and titles and experience became less valued as everyone now expects to lead from wherever they sit in their organization.

Our affiliates have to shed old ways of thinking to address these realities and remain relevant and viable. If board members can’t get out of their own way, they won’t be able to get out of the organization’s way, either. They need to shake off their history or step down from the board, placing the best interests of the organization before their own.

Boards are Human Things
Small or large, the personalities that comprise a board factor into its ability to move forward. Some board members are visionaries, while others are doers who thrive down in the details. And then there are those rare leaders who have it all going on. As leaders, it’s critical to know the players and the dynamics on your board. Working around strong, difficult or ineffective personalities to avoid conflict is not an option boards can afford in this time of transformation.

If you’ve put in the time creating close-knit cohesive relationships on your board over the years you have built in the ability to address the conflicts and roadblocks inherent in the human condition, but if you’re just starting now it will take time that you may not have. Board members are almost always relieved when the team finally discusses Jim Collins’ concept of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. It tends to work out for everyone involved.

Level-Set Expectations
Take a realistic assessment of your organization’s health. How well have you survived the past couple of years? What has become stronger? What has been lost? Are you facing an existential crisis? In multiple cases this summer, boards began their planning retreats examining worst-case scenarios, and once they looked openly at their situation it freed them to discuss their options without unspoken fears and reservations.

In one case, the board president began the meeting thinking she was throwing me “a curve ball” by asking what ground zero looks like for her board. I responded plainly and candidly and she was relieved to realize it wasn’t a curve ball at all. It’s a necessary discussion to be had by the entire board and a trusted, objective third party, and as a result the board in question finished their retreat feeling energized and excited about the coming year.

Now is the Time for Honest Conversations
To move forward fresh and ready for new opportunities, boards need to have these fearless discussions about their status and about their potential. How have we fared well the past two years? Where have we fallen short? If you’ve cut spending to adjust for incoming revenue, how do you begin to build out a calendar that begins to fuel your economic engine once again?

But it’s not just a reporting out of the  numbers. Are there competing agendas on the board? Unspoken, unresolved issues from the past? Commercial interests or entangling alliances with competitors? Unrealistic expectations that need to be tamped down? Does everyone understand and agree that there is no going back to association life pre-COVID? These things must be resolved before a board is able to look to its future.

Reestablish Boundaries
These past few years have had boards scrambling to keep the doors open and serving their core constituents even as the ground shifted beneath their feet. In the process gaps, inequities and inefficiencies became glaringly evident. When someone dropped the ball, someone else picked it up and continued to drive to the hoop. When costs had to be cut, programs and services suffered and board members who believed strongly in a certain aspect of the work put it on their back and carried it forward themselves.

Individually championing the work of the association during difficult times can be a heroic act but it’s not sustainable. As we begin to manage living with the virus, healthy organizations are reviewing and resetting boundaries for each role on the board, putting in place structures and processes that ensure viability regardless of the names and faces currently filling seats.

Build New Consensus
Accomplishing these tasks, the board is ready to identify and agree on priorities that address the new needs and expectations of its audience. What are their opportunities for growth? What are the pain points? Are there new opportunities to partner with likeminded organizations across the education, higher education, corporate, government and nonprofit sectors? Which of these help you build longterm for the future?

Affiliates did not need a brain dump to consider their options. They have had their finger on the pulse of education and the nonprofit world throughout the pandemic, and they readily discussed, sorted through and agreed upon areas to pursue. In each case, boards were of one mind in charting a vision for the next year.

Choose One Focus
Every board has a short list of initiatives and goals in their strategic plan, and every one of them is worthy in its own right. But in an era of finite options, successful boards identify a single focus at which they target all their energies. Not that there aren’t multiple facets to effective planning, but in this critical moment boards need a clear roadmap that pushes them forward to a thriving new prosperity with milestones to help track the journey.

Anything that isn’t about this single focus is not pursued. No second-guessing. No opportunist maneuvering. No flash-in-the-pan distractions. Just a single-minded commitment to bring the organization to an agreed-upon place on the post-pandemic landscape. A board that can maintain its determination to achieve their consensus outcome is well-positioned to succeed.

Reset Roles
New work requires a fresh look at board functions. Traditionally boards were organized by roles and geography. To reflect their new singular focus, boards now need to redefine each seat based on the task at hand. District rep? What talents do you bring to the new goal? Grant admin? How do funding requirements align with the coming year’s focus? Partner liaison? How can you bring your resources to bear? Even executive officers need to identify how their role supports your board’s focus beyond their title.

Present a digital graphic centered around your agreed-upon focus surrounded by related work such as advocacy, communications, memberships, partnerships and programming. Then, around the periphery, place the name/image of each board member as distinct movable objects. As the board discusses the role of each director for the coming year, move their name so it’s aligned with aspects of the work on which they will focus, and draw lines to connect them to multiple pieces of the work. The resulting graphic will generate buy-in from your board to achieve results.

Enlist Young Talent
While many boards are run by seasoned veterans, new approaches benefit from fresh eyes, fresh thinking, and fresh energy. Veteran directors have spent much time and energy building a model that worked, and it’s human nature to want to protect it. That having been said, the protection of the status quo is the main deterrent to successfully transforming an organization. No one intends to build a monument to becoming victims of their own success.

While many of us can relearn and refocus, the best way to attune to the next generation is to bring younger professionals onto the board. They won’t just push your thinking they’ll challenge it, and they’ll break things just to prove they’re broken. That’s exactly what’s necessary on order to slough off old assumptions and create new value.

Set Guardrails
Onboarding new talent is one thing, getting them to contribute effectively is another. Be clear about the boards vision, focus and roles, provide orientation so that expectations are clear, and set parameters for where and how new directors contribute. With clear boundaries there is less emphasis on control and more on innovation so that they can show you the way.

The results of this infusion of fresh approaches won’t resemble past models of success. Board veterans may feel uncomfortable with the new look and feel, but it’s important to allow new directors the time and space to provide insight into the needs and interests of younger professionals and to lead the board towards post-pandemic efficacy.

Be Accountable to One Another
Nothing holds back a board more than lack of follow-up and follow-through between meetings. During this crucial time of refresh and restart, associations can’t afford to allow this kind of sputtering to occur. With everything else in place, the ultimate key to success is creating a culture where everyone holds each other accountable, regardless of their title or seat on the board.

A culture of accountability affords the board the chance to look back a year from now and not only measure success, but celebrate it. Each board meeting begins with a review of action items ensuring that milestones are met. Boards that are serious about accountability identify specific colleagues to keep one another accountable. For example, if a director agrees to secure a partnership for the organization, the board identifies a second member of the board to check in with them between meetings to ensure to keep things on track and ensure they are successful. Everyone understands the importance of holding each other accountable.

In Closing
High interest, high impact topics championed by affiliates this summer include

  • redesign delivery of instruction to match how students learn today
  • mental and emotional wellness for staff and students
  • diversity, equity and inclusion for schools
  • principal and teacher leadership cohorts, and
  • job-embedded coaching

My work with affiliates is some of the most rewarding of my career. Over the years we have built relationships that have prepared us for all kinds of challenges and opportunities, learning and growing together. In fact, we have had some of our most incisive and generative discussions during the COVID-19 disruption. As we continue to learn to manage the virus from pandemic to endemic, we are poised for a fresh start and new growth ahead.

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

We live in a lazy daze, my friend. Intellectually lazy. The lure of easy answers is everywhere. And, well…it’s easy! You know: convenient…not hard on the noggin…promising quick results. Too easy…

Easy answers effortlessly plug into

preconceptions,

assumptions,

beliefs,

biases,

fears,

distrust,

ignorance,

experience,

entitlement,

and conspiracies,

giving them even more energy.

The enticement of easy answers? They require little effort:

  “I heard it on my favorite news channel.”

  “Everyone I know agrees.”

  “It’s trending online.”

  “I like my chances.”

  “It feels right.”

It’s like reverse crowdsourcing: collecting input that reinforces your existing thinking. It saves a lot of time and energy picking that low-hanging fruit, but eventually we have to start climbing…extending our reach…straining to grasp at higher branches.

Feel-good inferences, false comparisons and forced choices can’t deliver. In fact, they make things worse distracting us from the realities demanding our attention. We see this playing out in public life and we live it in our private lives: easy answers undermine the real work and our potential to get it done.

While it’s convenient to ignore this, the truth is always right there…quietly standing in its own power. And the truth isn’t easy. We have to work for it, and we have to give up intellectual laziness before that work can begin. Or not…

Everyone says they want to change things for the better. It sounds good, but it doesn’t happen without reconciling reality with the facts. If you commit to doing this, it changes everything…not at first…not all at once…but over time…things get better.

Ready? Here’s where to start:

Say, “Good riddance #ezanswerz!”

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

Work It!

It’s all about the work. Those of you who have worked side-by-side with me know this is my belief and my experience. But it’s not just mine…it’s a universal truth. If you focus on the work you do, everything else finds its place.

Relationships? They absolutely matter. Your ability to collaborate and build on common interests can fuel your work. But it’s not the work. As you move on and evolve, so do the networks and the people in them. The work is always there.

Reputation? Absolutely. It must be in tact. It opens doors and sustains you in difficult times. So take good care of it, but don’t let it become your preoccupation. Your reputation is built on the good work for which you are known.

Connections? We all need them. Work is done in and for communities, and inasmuch as yours lift you up they can support you in your work. But belonging to a community of practice is not the same as belonging to a tribe. Know the difference.

Influence? Influence is good. It helps to see that your work matters to others. But it isn’t a constant. One minute you have it, the next minute it moves on. And then there’s the things that you allow to influence you. Be careful.

Accomplishments? Sure, they matter. They serve as benchmarks of the work and they’re incentive to do more. Still, they’re not the be-all and end-all. While it’s important to stop and celebrate your achievements, the work continues.

Impact? It’s a great indicator. Seeing that your work makes a difference is rewarding. But work happens in increments and its impact isn’t always evident (if ever). Don’t let it be the driver for what you do and how you do it.

Compensation? It can be a reflection of the value of your work, but it shouldn’t be the determinant. Once you start pursuing it, it pulls your focus away from the work itself. Likewise, it doesn’t define your value…unless you let it.

Professional advancement? It can be a natural result of your efforts, but it’s not incidental to the work. Note that being selective helps. Walking through every door that opens is risky. Eventually you may find yourself wondering how you got where you are.

While there are many variables in the work, don’t confuse them with the work itself. Because when everything else fails, the work is still there. It brings a satisfaction that is neither fleeting nor elusive. You can count on it.

The work draws you into the details. It demands your attention. It is invigorating and exhausting…unforgiving and rewarding…tedious, relentless and all-consuming. It demands everything you bring to it, and more…and it is consolation when nothing else seems to be moving forward. If you find this not to be true, find new work!

Professionally speaking, you remember (and you are remembered for) the work you do. Everything else flows from it.

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

We are living in an age of loss…a tragic confluence of unrest, turmoil and trauma. For those of us old enough to remember, it’s the most tumultuous the world has been since the 1960s. As we mourn the victims of today’s wars, riots, shootings and disease, the larger challenge for us as survivors is to move forward…even as the losses continue to mount. We are loss leaders.



Who would choose this role? None of it seems necessary. I mean, we are more enlightened and informed than any era in human history. Yet here we are. And the hardest part of this may not be surviving our losses, but surviving each other.

How do we do this? With fortitude.

Not guts, heroism, moxie, nerve, daring or fearlessness…but fortitude.

What does that look like? I’m glad you asked! Here’s a checklist:


Fortitude in action is

Calm
It’s quiet on the inside and placid on the outside. It does not churn or thrive on conflict. It seeks peace and understanding.

Kind
Addressing the challenges of the day free of anger and aggression. Provocations are met with patience and caring.

Firm
Stating your resolve plainly and clearly. Ensuring that neither language nor emotion cloud your judgement and communications.

Mindful
Feeling secure that you know yourself and others. It provides context and perspective for everyone’s actions.

Compassionate
Caring for yourself first and then extending that caring to others. Fortitude is understood by the mind and fed by the heart.

Confident
Knowing your values and your purpose. These things provide self-assurance in the face of challenges and adversity.

Nurturing
Staying in a flow of positive energy and avoiding negativity. Everyone deserves to improve their quality of life.

Proactive
Remaining focused on your long-term goals and the path that gets you there. Don’t let obstacles take you off track.

Persistent
Pursuing your goals with a tenacious perseverance that builds momentum. Letting up and catching up is unnecessary and exhausting.

Courageous
Acting with bravery and valor. You know you can take on any challenge, no matter how unwanted or uncertain.

Accomplished
Adding to a long list of human achievement. Your long game outlasts short-sightedness and self-interest.

Enduring
Leaving a legacy that contributes to the greater good. We live in the moment, but the mark we leave on the world is timeless.


Of course, checklists are easy…being human is hard. We have a strong emotional response to pain, loss and injustice. We tend to react to force using greater force. And we define our lives by wins and losses. It’s all part of how we survive as a species. But if we let these things drive us, they drain us.

Fortitude honors our humanity while keeping us focused…effective…resilient. It keeps our dignity in tact and allows us to treat others with respect…even when it’s not reciprocated. Fortitude lets us reset the present and redefine the future.

As an educator, fortitude makes you a better leader

  • in your classroom
  • on your faculty, and
  • across your networks

As a human being, fortitude keeps you centered as you

  • confront ignorance
  • relieve suffering and
  • stand strong in the face of inhumanity

You don’t have to be born with fortitude. It’s a mindset, and this checklist helps to target its key components as you practice and develop it over time.



We will get through this, you and me, with fortitude.

We will survive…no…we will do more than survive…we will shine…and together we will move beyond the age of loss. What do you want the next age to be?

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

50 years ago this anthem brought closure in a time full of unrest and uncertainty.
May it provide us solace once again in these turbulent
times.

The American psyche is built on the image of the rugged individual….a nonconformist maverick who stands alone in charting his or her destiny. And while it serves a purpose in old western films and folklore, it holds us back today.

Consider the parallels in these two disparate examples:

Sports have become remarkably focused on individual stats, trades, and owner and player interactions. This fuels fantasy sports leagues, where fans build their own “teams” from an array of players from different franchises, tracking those players’ individual performances. It’s not really a team at all – it’s one fan touting a collection of athletes based on their personal stats. Add to this the sports betting industry, enticing fans to put their money where their mouth is, and it takes on a life of its own. In an age of isolation and impersonalization, there is an allure in this. Though nearly everyone loses money gambling, the bets keep on coming. It provides a sense that, in spite of all the ways you may feel marginalized in everyday life, you can still strive to be a rugged individual in your own little world. It’s not really about the teams and games….it’s all about you!

Public education falls prey to these same dynamics. We generally understand that American education’s mission is to provide a skilled, learned citizenry that contributes to society. Yet when you talk to stakeholders, their points of reference are often their own school experience from decades ago, their needs as parents today, and their priorities as taxpayers. None of this has anything to do with the actual learning taking place in classrooms. In fact, it often has an adverse impact on teaching and learning, losing sight of the greater good. It’s a reflection of our polarized, politicized society that schools and school board meetings are a new battleground. When you feel entitled to force my-way-or-the-highway confrontations with educators, you aren’t really thinking about students or learning….it’s all about you!

The most tragic implication of this rugged individualism is manifested in students who feel so isolated and alienated that they strike out violently against their communities. From Parkland to Newtown, Columbine to Buffalo, we all recognize this is not working, yet people react by digging in even more in their John Wayne-ways. As long as this continues, it’s all but impossible to build consensus towards a solution.

Of course, sports is not as high-stakes as education. After all the talking and speculating and wagering, everyone has to face the final score. It doesn’t matter what any individual believes or says or wants to will into reality. It rarely even matters what any one athlete does. A team wins or loses together. Everyone has their role, and everyone contributes. If one player has an off day, others have to pick up the slack. Imagine the strides we could make if everyone worked together like this on behalf of education!

The first thing public education needs is a level playing field. Our schools are not a fantasy league where we compete against one another, picking winners and losers. Education needs to be transformed into a “citizenship league” where we all come together to ensure that all students are connected and supported and successful in school and in life….and not just locally….globally.

We know better. The world portrayed by the likes of James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, D.W. Griffith, John Sturges and Sergio Leone no longer exists, if it ever did. The longer we cling to this mythology the more it costs us in lives and futures and prosperity. Our sustainability….our very survival…depends on our working together.

We all belong. We all make a difference. It’s all about US!

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

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.