Walter McKenzie

Open Campus, Open Network, Open Possibilities

It's a bright, sunny Tuesday morning, and students are entering Roosevelt Elementary school with excitement and energy. No backpacks. No luggage on wheels. Just lunch bags and handheld devices.

As they enter the renovated 75-year old building, students find places to settle in. No homerooms. No morning announcements. Everyone busily logs in to the network system using their personal devices, indicating they are present for the day, reading school announcements, and reviewing their individual schedules for the day.

No bells. No hall passes. No tardy slips. The student body shifts and resettles as small groups come together to work on their first project of the day. Original classroom walls have been taken out to create larger collaborative spaces with a lot of light from multiple sets of existing windows. There are throw rugs, chairs, couches, coffee tables, high-legged stools, and larger work tables arranged and rearranged to meet the needs of ad hoc groups, as students busily delve into their work.

Teachers move through the open spaces, listening, questioning, coaching, and mentoring. No content commandos. No task masters. No clock watchers. Everyone is interacting and engaged as a low, purposeful buzz fills every nook and cranny of this once very traditional school. Files, documents, and artifacts are captured and uploaded on the school network, which is fully secure and authenticated yet open to all student devices, much like a college campus network.

After a constructive set of meetings disperse, students reconfigure themselves in new groups based on interests, research, and projects. Imagining, brainstorming, videoconferencing, immersion excursions, and deep dives proliferate as students meaningfully engage one another, their parents and extended family, fellow local citizens, students from disparate geographic locations, and subject-matter experts from around the world. Before they know it, the morning is spent and it is time to break for lunch and get some fresh air and exercise.

Returning to work, students opt to use their time after lunch for online journaling about their work, publishing results of recently completed projects and proposing new work to solve problems and create new products in the process. Teachers are partners, equally invested with the students in finding meaningful research to do, accomplishing identified goals, and sharing the fruits of their work with other schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private corporations.

The focus in this environment is not on teaching and learning and measuring success, but on contributing meaningfully to a growing global body of knowledge around pertinent, high-interest topics that help improve society both online and off. Journaling and publishing give way to gaming and virtual reality labs as students immerse themselves in activities that stimulate all the intelligences.

Each part of the day flows into the next, and as the afternoon winds down, students huddle together in small groups to review their work for the day and discuss what tomorrow holds when they once again return to the Roosevelt campus. Devices sign out and log off of the school network as students prepare to head home and pursue their interests remotely. No homework per se; just ongoing interests fueling the desire to understand, internalize, and innovate.

School environments can look very much different for students in the future if we are willing to let go of the trappings of schools of the past. No worksheets. No one-size-fits-all texts. No computer labs. No classrooms. No grade levels. No age cut-offs. An educational career that begins at home, flowing through public education and then into higher education and the workplace.

What is your biggest challenge in making this happen: the design of your network or the design of your curriculum?

Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. A director of Constituent Services for ASCD, he served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject. Connect with McKenzie on the ASCD EDge® social network, on his Actualization blog, or by e-mail at

Comments (14)

monika hardy

July 15, 2011

i love this post Walter. reminds me of the first time i read Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class.
you are spot on.

we’re thinking much the same.. extending school even to the community. city as floorplan.

what we’re doing in a (poorly done) video here:
slidedeck here:
or a doc here:

warm regards..


July 18, 2011

Monika great resources - thanks for sharing these! I especially love the Slide deck - very in line with Whole Child!

Will Richardsonw

July 18, 2011

Hey Walter,

Where is this school?



July 18, 2011

Will it’s wherever forward-thinking educators have the conviction and commitment to make it a reality. The question at the end of the post, in my mind, is key. Some educators are convinced if we can just open up our networks, everything else described here can happen. But what about our curriculum? And what other considerations need to come into play? What do we have to do to get all the conditions ready to hit the switch on Roosevelt Elementary?


July 18, 2011


Outstanding narration of what could happen in the ideal school.  The biggest challenge in making this happen is our past…and all the parents who went through the ‘traditional’ school and are having a hard time seeing that school should be different than the one they went through.  We’re trying to engage the community in this conversation and help them understand the need for change.  Once they understand that the world has changed and school has not (in most cases) we hope that they will be on board for the experiences that your story has made us think about.  Keep pushing!!!


July 18, 2011

Amen Jeff. Our only point of reference is our own experience, and these are new waters in which we are wading. Instead of preparing our children for a future that reconciles with our existing schema, why not shed ourselves of its vestiges and open up our minds to the kinds of schools that will prepare our children for a future we can’t even fully comprehend? Thank you Jeff for weighing in on this important discussion. As you said, we all need to keep pushing!


July 19, 2011

What about kids with different learning styles? I see this working for self-starting kids,and those who can work in an unstructured environment. But what about those who need structure and those who need direct instruction? I remember back in the day when learning centers were all the rage. They worked well for some students, but others languished without the structure of direct instruction.

Hal Portner

July 19, 2011

Right on, Walter! A teacher in the environment you describe will have developed a set of skills where she is more of a questioner and a resource of knowledge than a giver of knowledge.

This teacher is a person on the move, checking over shoulders, asking questions and teaching mini-lessons for individuals and teams. Support is customized and individualized. She sets clear expectations, provides explicit directions, and keeps the process well structured and productive. She circulates, disciplines, questions, assesses, suggests, validates, facilitates, monitors, challenges, motivates, watches, moderates, diagnoses, trouble-shoots, observes, encourages, suggests, models, clarifies, directs, redirects, and knows when to get out of the way.

This teacher engages students by asking questions: How are you going to approach this problem? What are the resources that you’re going to need? How would you know when you’re successful? What are the steps in the process that you’re going to take?

This teacher helps students develop ways to monitor their own behavior, come up with criteria for governing themselves, and create internal strategies to monitor their progress.

This teacher guides the students’ reflections. ‘What did you learn from this? What did you learn from this that you could apply to future activities? As you were engaged in this activity, what was going on inside your head? How did you know that you were being successful? What did you do when you met with frustration?’

To help the teacher carry out the role of facilitator/coach/resource, the room is set up so that the teacher is accessible to all groups and has room to walk easily from one group to another. When leaving one group to go on to another, the teacher leaves with a “challenge” aimed to raise the bar or to redirect their focus.

So how are teacher training institutions and ongoing professional development supporting this teacher and others like her? That’s our next environmental shift.

Ellen Karnowski

July 19, 2011

I really like this idea of a community-school. Especially since I just finished reading “Beyond Discipline” by Alfie Kohn. Student centered learning is the only way kids and adults will learn. Teachers and administrators “hiding” behind their role will not work. To use some of Kohn’s words: “...strengthening the adult’s relationship with each student, building students’ connections with each other, one dyad at a time; providing for numerous classwide and schoolwide activities in which students work together toward a common end; and weaving the goal of community through academic instruction.” Page 111 from the book. This sounds the same as what Walter is describing, and I love it. This is the way of education and its survival in the future.

Ellen Karnowski

July 19, 2011

To Margaret: Your comment is a valid one, and that will be the teacher’s challenge. With so many of our students having different approaches to learning, many different styles of approaching curriculum will be needed. Some will be spending time in those mini-lessons at first until they launch. Some will need more one-on-one time, but it sounds as if the school Walter described will be a part of the community, which to me means that there may be volunteers, elders, or interested student interns who may be possibly available. Once students can identify their needs and goals and how to achieve them, they will find a way that is suitable to them to meet them. This approach has NOT been done before, really, except in certain Montessori or Waldorf schools, I believe. It is a new approach that is tailored to individuals and builds on their interests.

Diane Lauer

July 20, 2011

Super narrative!  You’ve painted a beautiful picture and it can happen.

Haven’t seen the school - but I’ve seen the class - It’s Monika’s TSD Innovation Lab smile

Informal Learning by terryheick - Pearltrees

December 7, 2011

[...] Open Campus, Open Network, Open Possibilities « The Whole Child Blog « Whole Child Education The focus in this environment is not on teaching and learning and measuring success, but on contributing meaningfully to a growing global body of knowledge around pertinent, high-interest topics that help improve society both online and off. [...]

Lisa Nielsen

December 7, 2011

This sounds like the type of learning community that students would enjoy and appreciate.

One area that was not addressed is how will success of students, teachers, and administrators be measured in such a setting?

Another area that is not addressed is that unless this school forced students to take high stakes tests based on their date of manufacture, the school could not receive public funds.  In places like New York, these students would also be forced to take and pass many regents exams to earn diplomas. Doing so leaves no time for the activities you suggest.

How can challenges such as these be addressed?


December 7, 2011

Lisa of course new models of schooling will require us to think outside the box for measuring progress. But I would ask you, why would students learning this way not be able to do well on state testing? Is there a belief that one has to teach a certain way to pass standardized tests? Check out my “Story of Jamie” to appreciate my experience in this regard:

Share |

Blog Archive

Blog Tags