ASCD Champions in Education: Elevating Voices of Expertise and Experience

Walt McKenzie
Walt McKenzie Administrator, Moderator Posts: 76 admin
edited July 19 in ASCD Chit Chat
This past year, Walter McKenzie and Gretchen Oltman designed and launched a new ASCD program to support and empower mid-to-late career educators who continue to innovate and lead in the always changing field of education: ASCD Champions in Education (#ASCDEdChamps).

Reflecting a society in transition, the institutions of education have never been better poised for transformation, but leadership development is often slow to catch up to the needs of experienced professionals; those with years in the field, expertise, and knowledge built on practice. In essence, the goal of this new ASCD initiative is to recognize and meet the need to elevate those educators who are not simply talking about disrupting and dismantling, but taking the profession towards a new vision of what it means to be prepared to participate in a free, open, educated society.

Working as an educator in today’s schools in any capacity is a known challenge. Turn on the news or browse social media and witness the steady stream of educators leaving the profession earlier than expected. Some report high levels of dissatisfaction while others report an overwhelming propensity for burnout, personally and professionally. Yet, in these times of political challenge, changing technologies, and cultural evolution, we desperately need our most seasoned educators to commit to staying in our schools.

Most professional organizations offer a wealth of resources for preservice and new classroom teachers, and this makes sense in the infancy of professional careers. Very few professional organizations, however, offer targeted, collaborative support for veteran leaders in education, those who have substantive years of lived experience and interactions with students, and who have witnessed the pendulum of education swing back and forth more than once. We recognize the professional growth needs of these educators are often ignored, and understandably so, as their insights are often more refined, their understanding of the depth of educational issues is based on first-hand experience, and their demands are for a more meaningful and enriching experience beyond traditional sit-and-get professional development. These are the champions working towards real change.

With experience comes wisdom, an added asset each EdChamp brings to the program. Each participant explores the how and why behind their professional passion and how that passion primes the longevity of their careers. We ask, “On the last day of work, when you close your classroom/office door for the final time, what impact do you want to know, without a doubt, that you’ve made?” as a guiding question, recognizing that all of us have a limited time to make a difference. If we simply spend our days responding to the demands of the work at hand, how do we have any confidence that we will make lasting impact on anyone or anything? How do we map out a specific plan of impact to achieve it?

Regardless of title, role, district, or organization, the central characteristics of those who enter the field with a passion and truly want to leave a legacy of impact have common identifiers. They are innovators, visionaries, dreamers, doers, and pioneers. Without fail, each Champion in Education is able to look back on the first half of their career to find meaning in the challenges, failures, and moments of growth that all young professionals face. With this perspective, looking forward becomes more strategic and values driven.

As our Champions share their individual stories, they note that their commitment to a challenging career is not necessarily driven by passion as much as by the fact that accomplishing meaningful change is exceptionally difficult. No one has an easy journey, from personal challenges, to unprofessional working conditions to being treated as an outsider because innovative thinking doesn't conform to the status quo. Reflecting on this creates rich dialogue about what the second half of one’s career can really look be. What if all the struggle can be put to good use? How does it strengthen one’s resolve? What if lived experience is street cred in leading others to a better future?

Impact, as defined by leadership author Braden Douglas is “influence that inspires others towards perpetual positive behavior." We lean into this definition to consider what influence we each have in creating perpetual positive behavior in others? Our students? Our families? Our friends? Our colleagues? The beauty of this program is that when you are pioneering uncharted territory, there’s no predetermined path. We are free to decide what we want to influence and the perpetual positive behaviors we hope to influence.

Paving your path of impact can be lonely, and that is where the need for nurturing professional community is vitally necessary in the program. Our need for support, reassurance, and purposeful reflection does not wane as we achieve veteran status. Rather, introspection over time becomes more profound, so preparing a space for with special care is necessary to develop self-reflective habits, ask and answer hard questions, and face fears about the future. In this space, individual differences are welcome and asking deeply probing questions is the norm. Leading the program, we also use this space to understand the professional needs of mid-to-later career educators more deeply, from managing chronic stress to exploring how to pivot into new professional roles. Over the course of time Champions reflect upon all these things. In year one, several EdChamps made previously unanticipated career moves they attribute specifically to their participation in the program.

The ASCD Champions in Education program is an organizational response to a pressing need to affirm the value of experienced professionals. Instead of assuming they are self-sufficient or that they are set in their ways and unwilling to change we partner with each participant as they build a promising future; one that offers hope, continued growth, and an even better understanding of why the demands of our work matters. We celebrate the knowledge and expertise of those with the most wisdom, recognizing that impact comes through time and commitment, not in social media popularity nor accolades and awards. Veteran leaders in education are our most important asset in education and they are the ones we can least afford to lose.

Beginning in September, 2023 ASCD is launching a new monthly Educational Leadership feature showcasing its Champions in Education as they share their passion and their plan for a legacy of impact. You’ll see their variety of experience and unique talents, and insight into why educators in the second half of their career have a unique way of thinking about today’s challenges. We hope it will inspire you in your own work, and as a result you will consider the possibilities for your own legacy of impact when you wrap up your career.


  • First Jamaica ASCD
    First Jamaica ASCD Community Member Posts: 12

    I absolutely love this idea. Kudos Walter and Gretchen...this is well needed to affirm and show appreciation for educational leaders who have served and have gains invaluable experiences that can further level up the field of education..

  • Walt McKenzie
    Walt McKenzie Administrator, Moderator Posts: 76 admin
    Thank you, @First Jamaica ASCD !