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.

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.