The Age of Grand Gestures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Administer the antidote by asking:

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

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

Grand gestures are easy. Grand actions are hard.

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


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

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

Ecosystems are communities that are:

 – organic

– interdependent

– adaptive

 – evolving, and

 – self-sustaining

And they’re not necessarily biological.

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

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

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

Consider the possibilities:

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

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

 – Former direct competitors that provide expertise after making the shift

 – Product suppliers that make key components for your business

 – Service providers that support key processes in your organization

 – Community partners that help you connect to your stakeholders

 – Higher education partners that provide action research and analysis

 – Member associations that offer you access to their audience

 – Nonprofits that share your organization’s values and vision

 – Charities and foundations to fund your worthy philanthropic ventures

 – Government agencies that serve your stakeholders

 – Technology providers that offer solutions and services

 – Media agencies that enhance and extend your public relations impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s do this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leap the Leap

Leap the Leap

So you’ve talked the talk and walked the walk. Now leap the leap!

All those years of admiring future-facing thought-leaders in that “wouldn’t it be great” mindset, if only the timing and conditions were right…that’s over.

Talking the talk may have gotten you into the conversation, and walking the walk may have gotten you in the door, but how far did it get you after that? We have been log-jammed by the conventions of our age, stumbling over the would’ve, should’ve, could’ves underfoot. Aspirations are great…in the future tense.

But we’re here and now, and the talk and the walk are answers to a world that no longer exists. Assumptions, expectations, priorities…it’s all changed…and as a result the opportunity to break the logjam is right in front of us…not by talking about the logs or walking on them, but by taking the leap and hitting the ground running free of all those things that made it difficult to transform our circumstances.

What’s the biggest dream you’ve ever had? Personally? Professionally? Philanthropically?

There’s no going back, so make the leap to an improved existence, a better way of doing business, a commitment to leaving the world a better place than you found it: leap the leap.

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

Core Components


With the advent of Web 3.0, the value of an organization’s components – affiliates, chapters, affinity groups and other member communities – remains an asset in changing times. What once was easily defined through the sharing of exclusive members-only information and events, the value of belonging to any organization as a member or as a customer is shifting as you read this. Few things remain constant anymore, but components help anchor an organization during this seismic shift, helping it to remain vibrant, relevant and resilient, positioning it optimally for the future.

Here are five digital age game-changers::

How do components address these realities for associations, nonprofits and other businesses?

  1. Components flatten and open your organization
    As your organization morphs from a top-down model to a knowledge ecosystem, staff are freed up to receive input from your membership base and industry intelligence, figuratively opening the windows and letting in fresh ideas and new perspectives. It makes your organization more inclusive by enlisting member input and involving members in your important work. As this takes root, your company becomes more agile and responsive to member needs, as well as industry trends.
  1. Components extend sustainability
    During economic downturns, organizations with mature component programs weather a recession more robustly than those that do not provide member communities or affinity groups. Associations without component programs cut staff and services and even merge with like-minded organizations in order to remain solvent. In extreme cases, these organizations close their doors because they cannot maintain the value proposition that initially attracted their member base. Components help organizations last through their economy of scale and direct connection to members on the ground.
  1. Components personalize the membership experience
    Your company’s mission is the proclamation that attracts followers, but it does so at a 30,000 foot level. Professionals today seek tailored experiences that give them a sense of being personally involved in the organizations with whom they identify. The larger your base, the harder it is to create this sense of personal connectedness for each member. Components customize your member experience through local names, faces and events that promote professional learning and career advancement opportunities where members live and work.
  1. Components provide two-way intelligence
    Often organizations assess the value of their components through their ability to deliver messaging and content. In truth, effective components also bring valuable member and marketplace intelligence back to headquarters, via two-way communication. This data from the field keeps companies relevant and responsive in current work and in planning for future growth. There is no cornering the market on business intelligence anymore, and tapping into your components’ ability to provide energy and ideas helps to future-proof your organization.
  1. Components create context
    Global organizations provide a solid foundation for the work to which they dedicate themselves, and their goals are crafted to be purposely broad to attract a wide range of members. Components interpret these goals to fit a member context, plugging into local values, priorities and issues. While members join the organization for its overarching reach, they stay because of its everyday relevance. Components provide this local context, while ensuring a clear connection back to the parent organization.
  1. Components foster engagement
    Local by definition, components are able to engage professionals on an ongoing basis, compared to their sponsoring organization that provides impact from a distance. This ability to engage members on the ground provides customized services and support, learning by doing, chances to lead, and difference-making in the community that headquarters simply can’t. The granularity of focus is a unique value-add that only components can provide, and that members cannot find anywhere else.
  1. Components nurture innovation
    Organizations are often slow to make change, because of the scale of their operations and because they tend to build upon existing success. While this provides stability and continuity for the company’s brand, it makes it difficult to remain agile in the ever-changing marketplace of ideas. Only those organizations that are receptive and responsive survive. Components are smaller in size and more readily adaptable to new ways of thinking and doing, so they serve as excellent incubators for innovation. As components launch and learn from different initiatives, the parent organization benefits, replicating and scaling out successful programs for its larger audience.
  1. Components feed a leadership pipeline
    While staff are hired centrally to perform the everyday work of the organization, there is also opportunity to build a vital leadership pipeline from grassroots membership. Component leaders gain experience and hone their skills locally and eventually climb upward to serve on committees and boards at the national level. Through this process, the organization has multiple opportunities to vet rising leaders and groom them for new opportunities to lead. Grassroots leaders grow into leaders of the entire organization.
  1. Components energize your member base
    The number one driver for joining a member organization is its ability to help professionals solve problems and support their professional aspirations. Connected in the community, component groups are well-positioned to champion causes that promote the needs, interests and priorities of their members. Whether it is regional practices, policies, regulations or legislation, components can motivate and mobilize members to speak and write on behalf of the organization, raising funds and voting for worthy causes. Energized members give back to organizations that help them to learn, grow and make a difference.
  1. Components build member loyalty
    Components are not transactional in nature, and attempts to monetize them betray a misunderstanding of their value. They do not exist as a revenue stream, but they do help to ensure a healthy bottom line, through contributions of time, talent and commitment from their well-connected and ultra-engaged members. The component pay-off to the organization is a member base that remains engaged and energized as the landscape continues to shift underfoot. Member loyalty is the coin of the realm in successful organizations.

Component programs sustain organizations, nurturing a vibrant, loyal member base that serves its long-term interests. Building thriving affiliates, chapters, affinity groups and other member-based communities is an effective strategy for maximizing your organization’s capacity today and in the 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.

On Suspending One’s Disbelief

This holiday break my kids took me to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker currently in theaters. I hadn’t been to a Star Wars showing in years, and I’m not a big theater-goer these days, but it was fun to share the afternoon with them.

What struck me beginning with the previews, was the absolute assault on the senses movie-going has become: the in-your-face visual stimulation, the pounding sounds reverberating throughout your body, and the repurposed physical environment to help you surrender to the writer’s will for a few hours.

Story itself is a powerful driver in society, as everyone tunes into compelling narratives even as they continue to craft their own. The Jedis and Siths fight to the death and somehow still live on, through an alchemy of lore, legend and special effects, but our takeaways mesh with our own values and experiences, celebrating the common experience of all humanity. Successful storytelling reflects reality, and in the process reveals timeless truths, but the WOW factor of making a story a multisensory experience takes its inherent power to an entirely new level.

This having been said, Star Wars purists have problems with The Rise of Skywalker, pointing out inconsistencies and unlikely twists in the Lucas legacy that offend their sensibilities while mainstream fans gladly celebrate a new welcome installment of the enduring Star Wars saga. My longtime friend and former teacher, Peter, a playwright, is fascinated with this facet of storycrafting: luring the audience to willingly suspend their disbelief with a story so inviting they gladly let go and embrace the reality of the writer.

With so many advances in technology, today’s stories are making it hard to resist this allure. And in terms of entertainment, why not? Everyone loves to escape to another place and time once in a while. But here’s the thing…there are so many voices trying to draw us in on a daily basis through television, movies, gaming and social media. It’s personalized and pervasive…and it’s easy to give in to its allure.

Guilty pleasures aside, in real life suspending one’s disbelief is becoming the new normal. The news is rife with people and media presenting the same information…yet sounding like completely different stories. Meanwhile, the public gravitates towards news sources and online communities that reinforce what they choose to believe. Yet none of this changes the fact that the only way to get to the truth is pushing back with a reality check…asking questions…poking holes…refusing to surrender one’s disbelief.

In Star Wars terms, our force is the truth: agreed-upon facts and the natural, logical consequences learned through real-life experience. In seeking out only what we want to hear…we surrender that power in exchange for convenience. Everything becomes negotiable…everything is in play…and while it can unleash endless possibilities in virtual environments, there’s no such thing as “alternate facts” in the real world. You can’t code reality into a contrived convenience mode. Try, and the error messages start flying.

There is no dark side in the truth…it simply is…and it reveals itself in time. No matter how exhausting it is to resist an assault on it, the eventual reckoning if we don’t is ten times worse.

Make your narrative solid enough to withstand the allure of easy answers…resist the temptation to suspend your disbelief!

And now back to our regular programming…

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



My favorite cities are my favorites for a reason. They are one-of-a-kind destinations with skylines that can’t be mistaken for anywhere else. There are too many cities whose skylines are uninspiring, with diminutive downtowns, suburban strip malls full of cookie-cutter chains, and little uniqueness. My favorite cities on this continent stand out because they are outstanding…in character, reputation and design. They don’t blend in; there is nowhere else like them. You, no doubt, have your own favorites…and deservedly so…but hear me out…

Driving eastbound on the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) into Boston gives me the impression that I am going to drive straight into the iconic Prudential building. But as I come closer and enter the tunnels heading into downtown, I’m suddenly faced with all kinds of choices, from the Boston Common and Public Gardens to the city’s distinct landmarks and historic sites. Flying into Logan over Boston Harbor, I can see south shore towards Quincy and the Cape, westward along the Charles towards MIT and Harvard, and north shore towards Salem and Gloucester. From downtown, I can take in the waterfront, the Bunker Hill Monument, the Zakim Bridge, the Hancock and the Prudential, Fenway Park, and so many other one-of-a-kind structures. When I’m in Boston, I know I’m in Boston! There’s nowhere else like it.


“From the windows of my office in Boston … I can see the Golden Stairs from Boston Harbor where all eight of my great-grandparents set foot on this great land for the first time. That immigrant spirit of limitless possibility animates America even today.”
-Ted Kennedy

“Massachusetts has been the wheel within New England, and Boston the wheel within Massachusetts. Boston therefore is often called the “hub of the world,” since it has been the source and fountain of the ideas that have reared and made America.”
-Rev. F. B. Zinckle

Driving west and north on the Queen Elizabeth from Buffalo, I eventually come around the curve of Lake Ontario in Burlington, and on a clear day I can see the Toronto skyline north across the water. Striking and majestic, it feeds my appetite to get closer and take in more. Approaching Toronto, the beautifully landscaped parks, the tall, imposing buildings, and the gorgeous views of the lake are unlike anywhere else. I am taken in by the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre right beside it, Scotia Plaza, First Canadian Place, the Fairmont Royal York Hotel‎ and the new City Hall (never mind the old City Hall), all marvelously eye-catching. I am told to really take my breath away, I need to take a ferry out to the islands just off the coast and turn around to take in the entire skyline on the mainland. Someday. When I’m in Toronto, I know I’m in Toronto! There’s nowhere else like it.


“The fact that over 50 per cent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially. That is easily a city’s biggest strength, and it is Toronto’s unique strength.”
-Anthony Bourdain

“There are some cities that you go to that bring something out of you.
Toronto is one of them.”
-Kevin Owens

Driving in from O’Hare on the Kennedy Expressway towards downtown Chicago, I follow along the blue line railway through well-established neighborhoods as I come closer and closer to the spectacular skyscrapers of the city with big shoulders. There’s the pointy-eared John Hancock Center, the Willis and Tribune Towers, and the classic art deco architecture along State Street and Wabash Avenue. Grant Park is a celebration of the city, and the drive south on Lakeshore Drive has me immediately amazed at the awe-inspiring edifices of the Field Museum, Soldier Field and McCormick Place. To take in the waterfront, I can do so on the Navy Pier, from the Northwestern Law School Library, and on a half-four drive up the coast to picturesque Evanston. But there’s perhaps no better way to take it all in than from the air as I fly in over Lake Michigan. When I’m in Chicago, I know I’m in Chicago! There’s nowhere else like it.

Summer day in Chicago

“It is the most perfect presentation of nineteenth-century individualistic industrialism I have ever seen. Chicago is one hoarse cry for discipline.”
-H.G. Wells

“I’m impressed with the people from Chicago. Hollywood is hype,
New York is talk, Chicago is work.”
-Michael Douglas

Driving across the Bay Bridge from Oakland into San Francisco is perhaps my favorite way to enter one of my favorite cities, taking in its full expanse from its detailed waterfront to its legendary hills. There’s Pier 39 right there as I hit the mainland, with the smell of the salt air and the barking of sea lions on the rocks below. There’s the Ferry Building, The Transamerica Pyramid, the Millennium and Salesforce Towers, and Oracle and Candlestick Parks. Whether I’m driving or being driven, there’s nothing else like going up-and-over-and-down those steep San Francisco streets. It’s thrilling and humbling all at once! And as I look back over San Francisco Bay from one of those numerous summits, the spectacle of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance are enough to make me pause and appreciate just how special a city this is. When I’m in San Francisco, I know I’m in San Francisco! There’s nowhere else like it.


“Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco.”
-Joe Flower

“If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life.”
-William Saroyan

It strikes me that people are a lot like the cities they build. While there are various and sundry cities across North America, there are only a handful that are so awe-inspiring I know them immediately by their skylines.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times in my life when I’ve simply wanted to blend in, but people and circumstances forged me into a unique, inimitable original. Take it or leave it, at this point in life, I like standing out…not bigger-than-life in the foreground…but in a quiet, confident standing-tall-against-the-backdrop kind of way.

I want people to look at me the way I look at Boston and Toronto and Chicago and San Francisco…I want them to know me for the character and reputation that define my profile…my personal skyline…instantly recognizable. In the end, it’s not about fleeting flash and flamboyance. It’s about longstanding stature and steadfastness…what I stand for regardless of where I am situated.

I wish the same for you. May your personal skyline be unlike anyone else’s, discernible and distinct. It’s too easy to give in to the urge to blend in. Stand out. Stand firm. Be unique. Be unmistakably you.

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



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.