Walter McKenzie

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat!

"You're gonna need a bigger boat!" —Police Chief Brody, Jaws

Three able men are shoveling chum out into the water to attract the menace terrorizing their beaches. Suddenly an image begins to take form beneath the water, circling the small fishing vessel. They assess they are looking at a 25-foot, three-ton great white shark. Police Chief Martin Brody exclaims, "You're gonna need a bigger boat!" A patently obvious observation? Granted, but remember the theater breaking out in nervous laughter when Schneider blurted it out in 1975? But as Shark Week is celebrated this week, it's also an apt allegory for capacity building ... personal capacity building.

Capacity building typically refers to an organization's ability to offer new services that add value for those it serves. You have to have the capacity before you attempt to take your services to a higher level. For example, it doesn't make sense to increase your student body by 300 percent if you don't have the staff and room to accommodate three times as many learners. Sure, you'd have more revenue from increased enrollments, but you wouldn't be able to meet everyone's needs and expectations. You have to have the capacity to handle your goals once you realize them.

The concept of capacity building holds true for each of us individually. It makes no sense to pursue goals that you aren't personally ready to handle, because once you arrive at your desired destination, the reality will hit hard that you can't handle what you thought you wanted. Be careful what you wish for, but more importantly, when you know what you want to go after in life, be sure you have built your inner capacity so you can fully engage and enjoy it! When your ship comes in, do you want to meet it at the docks with a station wagon or an eighteen-wheel moving van?

Educators, think of it like instructional scaffolding. We don't expect students to sink or swim as they work to master new skills and concepts. We provide support for them to build on their strengths and successes as they take risks, make mistakes and learn. The same holds true for us as adults, whether on the job or at home. To build personal capacity we need to be able to push ourselves to take risks, learn, and grow. Sounds simple, but what is required?

  1. Push yourself beyond where you are. If you're too comfortable where you currently live or work, you're not going to grow.
  2. Identify new small challenges. Nothing earth-shattering; something you can attain using your current skills.
  3. Commit your personal strengths to meet your challenge. You're making it a priority to take risks to grow.
  4. Invest your time and energy to make it happen. Stretch yourself to meet and surpass the challenge you've set.
  5. Monitor your progress. Be self-aware, learn as you go and make adjustments as needed.
  6. Be persistent. Push yourself and refuse to give up to develop resilience and tenacity.
  7. Be flexible. Consider multiple ways to meet your challenge from different perspectives.
  8. Hit your target. Give yourself credit for progress and know when you meet your challenge.
  9. Appreciate your new capacity. Recognize how meeting your challenge helped you grow.
  10. Build on little victories. Identify new challenges that will push you to grow and build more capacity so that you will eventually realize your goals.

If Quint's boat had the proper capacity to deal with his nemesis, Jaws could have ended much differently. No one wants to find themselves sitting in a boat too small to handle the shark encircling it!

So how about you? How do you want your story to end? Now is the time—today is the day—to start purposefully developing your personal capacity.

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 (2)

Shahila Edwards-Grey

August 7, 2013

Beautiful article. Recently, I started a masters program where we have been discussing collaboration in education.I read your article, I realized it would be a great piece to share.

I am a new teacher in the United States and the wealth of new ideas that I come across each day can be overwhelming. There are times I tell myself that it is just not worth it to stay in this field. I realize now that it takes more than the outer influences to develop a sense of dedication to achieve. Yes, I had some inner drive, but at some point my foot was stepping so hard on the brakes I just did not have the will to go anywhere nor try anything new.

As you stated, “You have to have the capacity to handle your goals once you realize them”, I know what my goals are and I am better aware of how to achieve them, as well as the importance of being purpose driven.

What are your views on professional learning communities and collaboration? Do you think they are important factors in a teacher achieving his or her own sense of purpose as an educator?


August 7, 2013

Shahila I am glad you are realizing so many things as you continue on your professional journey! In an age where quality professional development that targets your specific needs and interests is harder and harder to come by, professional learning communities can be important in finding other educators who share your dreams and aspirations and become part of your journey. They can re-energize you and inspire you and share in your growth and success, The challenge is to know where your needs and interests lie and find the right professional learning community for you. Thank you for your thoughtful reflection! I hope my response is helpful.  -Walter

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