Your Personal PD for August: Follow Your Bliss!

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“When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else…”  – Joseph Campbell

In 1996 I was teaching fifth grade in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and I was invited by Sara Branner to accompany her, Corky Talley and Laura Brown to attend the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) conference to be held in Baltimore, Maryland. It was an honor to be asked, and I had no idea what I was about to encounter. I thought the Baltimore Convention Center, just up the street from the Inner Harbor complex, was highly anticipated. But the venue was nothing compared to the conference experience itself; huge in scope, highly organized, and full of choices and possibilities. What do I remember looking back? SO many sessions I just couldn’t get to see them all. A great workshop with Jay McTighe who was very proud of his pencil-sized little pointer he could use on his overhead projector to call attention to bullets on his sheet of acetate. And sitting in Roger Taylor’s standing-room-only session in which he built us up to a crescendo and then had as all holding hands and signing “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” as we basked in the glow of our common experience. Wow. I had never seen anything like it.

Roll ahead a few years and I am Director of Information Systems for the Salem, Massachusetts schools. My eIditarod Project has won recognition from the state Department of Education and I am doing a presentation on it at the ASCD conference in Orlando, Florida. It’s a glorious convention center and I was thrilled to be back at an ASCD conference for the first time since Baltimore. I made my case for the project, tying in multiple intelligences theory and project-based learning, and I was really satisfied with the turnout for the presentation and my delivery of the topic. I got back to Salem and one of my staff and now long-time good friend Scott Moore stopped by to see me and said, “I had friends in Orlando for the conference. They sat in on your session. Said you totally nailed it. You got it right on every instructional count!” I was amazed. Word travels fast and I was glad the feedback was good!


Play it forward some more and I am sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Colonial in Wakefield, Massachusetts waiting to be interviews by Mary Forté Hayes, executive director for the Massachusetts Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, who was looking for a Director of Communications for her print and electronic publications: journal, books, web site, online store and email announcements. She had seen my work doing similar support for the state ISTE affiliate, MassCUE, and long story short she offered me the job. I wasn’t doing it for the money. I was the Director of Technology for my hometown school system of Northborough, and this was part-time work with a stipend. I was thrilled to be working for my home state ASCD affiliate, contributing where I could! We pumped out some great issues of the journal, totally overhauled the web site and made the online store a reality. We even won the award for best publications from the parent association, ASCD.

Four years ago I left my home state of Massachusetts once again to take on the position of Assistant Superintendent of Information Services with the Arlington, Virginia Public Schools. It seemed like the logical next step; perhaps I could affect even more change at this higher level within a prominent school division. For all the good things we accomplished there, I was coming to terms with the fact that the higher up I went in public ed, the less likely it was I was going to accomplish the kinds of change I wanted to see. I may have had a bird’s eye view of the landscape, but I was that much farther removed from what was actually happening on the ground. It seemed to me moving up to superintendent at some point wasn’t going to do the trick; I would still be staring at the same impediments and challenges. As I pondered this, out of nowhere came this opportunity: Director of Constituent Services for ASCD. It included expertise in education, experience working with associations, a need for someone comfortable with technology and social media in particular….I decided to apply. That was February of last year. Screening interviews were in March and April, then interviews with the Constituent Service unit in May. My take was, if it’s meant to be….it will be.

The offer came, and after 25 years in public education, 14 in the classroom and 11 in administration, I made the move to work for a professional education association I had admired and been a member of for a number of years. As I looked back over my career, it all seemed to fall into place: that first conference in Baltimore, presenting in Orlando, Director of Communications for the Massachusetts affiliate, and now serving as Director of Constituent Services. Each experience built upon the previous, creating an identifiable path in my journey that brings me to where I am as I write today. If you had told me back in 1996 that my career would eventually lead me to work for this world-class organization now known simply by its original acronym ASCD, I would have thought you were crazy. But as I look back and realize where doors opened and I walked through, it all seems to have been part of some cosmic karma. As I worked the 2011 ASCD Annual Conference in San Francisco this past week, it felt as though I had closed the loop full-circle. Another world-class, large-scale, well-delivered professional education conference like no one else can do it….and I was a part of it on the staff side for the very first time.


I have always followed my bliss….wherever it has taken me. When I left education for a stint to work for the federal government, I knew it’s what I needed to do. The experience outside education looking in has provided me with invaluable experience ever since. When I left Arlington, Virginia schools the first time in 2003 to return to my home state of Massachusetts for my first technology directorship, I knew it’s what I had to do. And by the time I was happy and secure serving as tech Director for my hometown, never dreaming I would ever want to leave, and I took the offer to return to Arlington as an Assistant Superintendent, that was following my bliss too. It didn’t always seem like a conscious choice, but I always instinctively trusted my inner voice….and here I am now to talk about it with some perspective.

From the first time I heard Joseph Campbell speak, I was immediately drawn into his ability to tell stories from traditions around the world that resonated with my own experience. It was sometime in the early nineties that I first came across his quote about “following your bliss.” I was still in the classroom but it awakened something in me. This is why I always knew I would teach. This is why the right people came into my life every step of the way to share their experience and insight. This is why I have always felt like I was connected to some greater purpose than just putting in hours. Education is more than just a job. More than just a career. For me it is a vocation. Whether in the classroom or serving in administration or now working for the premier education association in the world, I am always a learner and a teacher.

My message to you this summer is to follow your bliss….if you have faith in your vocation and you know that your inner voice will lead you in finding your way….then everything will fall into place for you. It may not seem evident to you right now where it will be or what it will look like, but it will happen. And like me you will be able to look back one day and see with perspective and understanding why everything has happened as it has and how you have arrived where you are meant to be. Because when you follow your bliss….you do find doors where you never realized there were doors before….and they are there for you when they may not be there for anyone else….and you can rest at peace in the knowledge that at any point in time as an educator you are where you are meant to be and you are on the journey which you are meant to take. You will realize your full potential and you will be rewarded in ways you never imagined. I want this for each of you. And all you have to do is…


For Further Personal PD Reading…

Joseph Campbell Background

The Joseph Campbell Foundation

The Center for Story and Symbol

The Power of Myth (Amazon softcover)

Bill Moyers Interviews Joseph Campbell On The Power Of Myth

The Hero’s Adventure

2 thoughts on “Your Personal PD for August: Follow Your Bliss!

  1. Sara Branner says:

    WOW! I love this message, Walter! I’m so thrilled to have been a small part of your educational journey, especially the connection with ASCD. During my years as a central office administrator focusing on professional development and curriculum and instruction, my favorite place to be was anything connected with ASCD.

    So proud of your accomplishments and where you are today! Keep up the great work!!!!

    Myself…After retiring three years ago with 34 years in public education, I am leading a Smart Beginnings coalition in our region as we work to invest in getting our youngest citizens ready for school – ready for life. I am “following my bliss.” 🙂

    Thank you for the birthday greetings!!!
    Happy Summer Days………….Sara 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara you are such a great role model for all of us who have been fortunate enough to work with you over the years! I feel so lucky to have met you and for all the opportunities you provided to learn and grow. You introduced me to ASCD, VSTE and Howard Gardner, and gave me so many ways to grow and expand myself. THANK YOU for being one of those seminal people in my life. I KNOW you continue to touch and inspire others through your example in your new work….showing them what it looks like to follow one’s bliss. How could you not? It is who you are. I hope you had a wonderful birthday! 🙂


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