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10 key takeaways from ASCD 2023

Identity, dissent and diamonds were all important lessons educator Fred Ende gleaned during the ASCD 2023 conference.

7 min read

EducationEducational Leadership

Four to five people sitting on a conference stage with backs to us, facing blurred audience.

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I had the pleasure of taking part as a participant in ASCD’s annual conference earlier this month and the honor of facilitating a session while I was there. (Feel free to reach out with any questions on that slide deck.) 

Fred Ende

I have learned that there is often too much good learning available for me to decide on any one session. So, as I moved from learning opportunity to learning opportunity, gathering nuggets of great reflection, I thought creating a list of 10 ideas I thought about as I experienced the conference would be an interesting way to provide some takeaways. This a Top 10 list, per se; rather, these ideas all hold value for me as a learn and lead and, hopefully, will hold value for you as you reflect on them.

1. There is power in stories

Stories were a recurring theme over the course of the conference, with keynote speaker Brandon Fleming using the trials and tribulations he faced in life as a way to cement this idea. Fleming shared that stories change lives more than data can, and as I considered this idea, I was left thinking about how stories and data can do more than either of them alone. (See Shane Safir and Jamila Dugan’s book “Street Data” for a prime example of this.)

2. Welcome dissent

Throughout my career, I have made it a mission to surround myself with people who don’t like my ideas. It isn’t that my colleagues don’t think my ideas can have merit. Rather, they believe that I have to prove the merit of my ideas. My status and role do not dictate the value of my thinking. I have chosen to welcome dissent rather than avoid it.

During a leaders’ panel (thanks go out to Avis Williams, Jen Schwanke, PJ Caposey, Daman Harris and Anthony Rebora for the great conversation), this idea was expressed numerous times. 

Leaders who lead and learn well know that change and growth don’t come through compliance. They come from dismantling, tinkering and building collaboratively; no idea is a good one just because it exists.

3. Identity is everything

Of the many panels throughout the weekend, none was as valuable to me as the student panel on Saturday afternoon. These learners, all high-school students from various parts of Colorado, expressed their hopes and dreams for their remaining years of schooling, and the experiences they want future students to have. Most powerful for me was the regular return to the power of identity — the support students felt when their identities were acknowledged and appreciated, and the challenge they encountered when they felt like outcasts, or were “othered.” 

School systems can take many steps to improve outcomes for students. One of the most important needs to be the welcoming of all. Making school a home for all students, one where they can be welcomed and cared for, must be entwined into the identity of every single school and district.

4. Diamonds are for everyone

I know that heading is a bit of a play on words from one of the most famous jewelry advertising campaigns of all time, and I still had to use it. I can’t pass up a good pun. 

My friend and colleague Tammy Musiowsky helped remind me of the power of visuals in her session on minimalism. In helping session attendees think about strategies to prioritize, she encouraged learners and leaders to visualize a diamond, where the base of the diamond is a single, low-level priority task, and the apex of the diamond is one very high-importance task. In between? Three layers of mid-level tasks that should make up the bulk of what we focus on. She shared that in this way, we cover all spectra of importance while making sure that our time and energy get spent on what matters, rather than in a pyramid structure where we might get weighed down by only the urgent fires and those that aren’t particularly important.

5. Give people what you promise

I have been fortunate to present ideas to small and large groups of educators over the course of my career. During my session at ASCD this month, I was both fortunate and challenged to have a standing-room-only crowd, which helped me recognize the value placed on what I had planned to share — and also made me accountable to make sure it delivered what people hoped for. 

While I am sure I could have made a number of stronger facilitation moves, I felt as if my session aligned with expectations. Feedback was both positive and powerful, aligning my expectations with those of participants. I am fortunate I had the opportunity to share ideas, receive feedback and learn with a diverse collection of engaged educators.

6. Multitasking is a fallacy

This one makes me smile a bit because despite knowing that multitasking isn’t really a thing, I continue to attempt to convince myself that I can do multiple things at once without having my effectiveness or efficiency suffer. 

I was reminded of how wrong I continue to be in this area when Ann Holm shared that multitasking is nothing more than reducing the functionality of a given series of tasks. Nothing wins when we split our focus. 

That said, there is value in taking breaks and moving from one focal area to another. The key is not focusing on any at the same time.

7. Never sacrifice our humanity

Patrick Harris shared how his career has been shaped by his experiences, including shifting schools multiple times over a few short years. He also shared that in our work, we can never risk sacrificing humanity in an effort to accomplish what is in front of us. Without humanity, we lose sight of our why. And if we don’t see people first before moving beyond to the how and the what, then as learners and leaders, we have truly missed the reason we do what we do.

8. Context is worth its weight in gold

There is a lot in a title, and I remember thinking about the challenges of magical thinking when I was in the classroom. That thinking is still ever present in our world. One of the dangers we face when we forget to consider context is that we can apply one view of the world to everything and anything we need. Anthony Colanino made it clear that context matters in everything we do.

9. Want creativity? Keep it low

We often think of the word “low” as being a negative: Low energy, low engagement, low value. However, when it comes to creativity that makes a difference, low isn’t so bad. Kevin Krahenbuhl and Lando Carter shared that creativity at its best happens when ideas are low-cost, low-risk and low-distraction. If we can make hitting those lows a foundation to our designing, building and tinkering, we can foster creativity throughout our organizations.

10. Mindset shifts cause behavioral shifts

Shawn Achor closed out the conference with a compelling address. If we believe in the value of happiness, and believe that happy people are more successful people, then we need to recognize that mindset shifts cause behavioral shifts — not the other way around. A shift in behavior without first a shift in thinking leaves us engaging in change for a reason our minds can’t fully understand. It is only through first adjusting our mindset that true and lasting change in behavior can occur.

There were so many valuable takeaways from the conference that these 10 cannot truly do the experience justice. That said, these 10 will be ideas that I continue to think about over the weeks and months to come. If you attended ASCD, I would love to hear about your experience!


Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende via email or on his website or Twitter.


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