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September 1, 2023
Vol. 81
No. 1
ASCD Champions in Education

Making an Impact Beyond the Classroom

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In an education career filled with twists and turns, I’ve stuck to my intentions and seen my impact grow.

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Editor's note: ASCD's Champions in Education program supports mid-career educators who continue to lead and innovate. In this space, EdChamps reflect on their impact projects and experiences.
Throughout my career in education, I've learned that impact doesn't come from the position but rather from the person in it. We often feel that we have to be in a particular role in education to leave the legacy we wish. But legacy comes from the relationships we make and the people we have the opportunity to inspire.
Like many educators, I have worked hard to cultivate a legacy that will leave our profession and the world better. As a classroom teacher, I was focused on the children in my class and their experiences. I was regularly challenged to rethink my instructional choices, and my students provided a purpose and clear audience for me to demonstrate and iterate our shared thinking. If you asked me when I was in the classroom what my goal was, I would have said it was to ensure all my students felt seen and heard—that they weren't reduced to a number or grade but rather saw themselves as fully realized individuals with the capacity to make a real difference. I took personal risks to ensure my students had different opportunities and models for approaching their goals.
As a result of my teaching experiences, opportunities to speak and write presented themselves to me. Rather than question my abilities, I seized the opportunity to put myself out there and create spaces for other educators to take what I had learned and make it their own. First, I did this through my blog, then my books and a Tedx Talk, and finally, through speaking engagements. As I met and interacted with more educators and students, I began to see that I could affect education outside the walls of my classroom.
For a long time, I anchored myself in the classroom and was almost afraid to leave it for fear that once I did, my voice would be less relevant to those I wanted to help most. But an opportunity to take on an instructional coaching role arose, and the chance to stretch myself professionally proved impossible to resist. Fortunately, in my new position, I was able to have a lab classroom. Maintaining this link to the classroom helped smooth my transition and boosted my credibility with the teachers I was coaching.
In my coaching role, I built relationships with teachers and leaders and grounded myself in students' daily learning experiences, which kept me honest. I still experienced the same struggles as my colleagues and could empathize with them. We could be critical partners and keep pushing ourselves to make our classrooms more engaging and authentic for our learners. Despite my misgivings about leaving the classroom, I felt my impact grow in the coaching role, in that I could be present in many classrooms and help support more teachers and their students.
Soon, I read a job description for a district curriculum leadership position that I knew I could be good at despite not having the licensure listed. I crafted a cover letter explaining how my experience uniquely qualified me for this position. And when I learned that the license was a legal prerequisite for the position, I returned to school to get it. Sometimes you can be paralyzed in the face of change. Instead, I closed my eyes, ran toward the deep end, and jumped in. I got the job.
For a long time, I believed that as a leader I couldn't be as impactful as I was as a classroom teacher or coach, but I was wrong. By moving into the leadership position, I could reach even more teachers and students; but first, I had to win the trust of our team and develop relationships. I did this by regularly offering to come into classrooms and model new strategies, co-teach classes, or write lesson plans and projects so they felt comfortable taking risks. Once the teachers saw that I wanted to be a partner to them and not a threat, we were able to grow individually and as a team. Many of them started leading more project-based learning and reflection activities and de-emphasizing grades in their classrooms—priorities I had emphasized. I felt proud to have supported this shift.

Private-Sector Growth

The decision to leave that leadership position was a hard one, but often we must go where the universe takes us to keep growing. I had a new opportunity to be a full-time assessment consultant, speaker, and developmental editor. Although this would be a significant change, I felt it was the right move because it capitalized on my strengths and passions as an educator without the red tape or politics that often come with being in a school or district-based position.
In my new job, I worked with teachers nationwide, assisting them in rethinking what and how they could help students develop greater ownership of their learning. And then, right as I began to hit my stride, the pandemic shifted everything. I was lucky to have a job, working with teams virtually and learning new job skills inside our company. But my company needed to pivot, and everyone on the internal team had to take on new roles. I needed to learn about marketing and being a publisher—not what I was hired for.
This was disorienting at first, but I've found that as I've gotten older and worked more jobs, starting from scratch has become easier. I took every opportunity to learn from people around me through free webinars, industry blogs, and books. My impact was different than before, but I still felt it was significant. As an editor and publisher, I was helping other educators bring their voices to an audience, often elevating their brilliant ideas and helping them prepare to share them with the world. Sometimes that meant building their confidence, making suggestions, or having hard conversations.
Then a new opportunity came my way, and I was again starting from scratch. On the strength of the assessment work I'd been doing and writing about for years, Mastery Portfolio, a company that supports standards-based grading in schools, hired me as its Chief Operating Officer. I would have to learn how to help run a company, but as I saw it, this was also an opportunity to make an industry-wide impact around assessment reform. As I build my team, I can speak at conferences, continue to write, and support educators at every level in their work in the classroom.
What I've learned by being open to risk in my career is that being a teacher or school leader isn't your only option when you're an educator. Educators have a unique set of skills that positions them to take any number of other career pathways that have the potential to magnify their impact. It's a matter of knowing yourself, your intentions, and your limiting beliefs. We have to stop defining ourselves by our roles. We must know the goal or the vision we want to see and commit to making that a reality.
As I continue to grow in my career, I will keep my eyes open for new opportunities, fearlessly taking calculated risks to increase my impact. I'm not exactly sure where my journey will take me, but I know that wherever I land, it is important to me to stay mission-aligned and provide service to those who need it.

Champions in Education

ASCD’s Champions in Education program supports mid-career educators who continue to lead and innovate. In this space, EdChamps reflect on their impact projects and experiences.

Learn more
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