“Education is truly the great equalizer”: Q&A with Frederic Washington, EdD ’18
Working to create positive change in education seems to constantly be at the forefront of Frederic Washington’s mind. Washington recently earned his EdD in Transformational Leadership from Concordia University-Portland and has served in the field in a variety of ways, from substitute teacher to policy consultant to academic counselor. I connected with Washington to learn more about his professional experiences and his doctoral journey.
What inspired you to work in education?
My inspiration for working in the field of education traces back to the caring educators I had the honor of calling my teachers, and how they made me feel better about myself as a student. I recall my third-grade teacher at Vivian Elementary/Middle School throwing away old transparencies and workbooks toward the end of the 1997-1998 school year. I asked her if I could take them home to “play school.” From there I began “playing school” with anyone who would let me be the teacher, which usually included my siblings, cousins, and friends from the neighborhood.
When we had more participants, I would take over as principal. At the family reunions, there were even more people, which gave me the rare chance to play superintendent of schools. My family must have known I was destined to be an educator because they almost always went along with “playing school.”
In high school, I developed a program for fellow classmates who struggled with passing the state’s Graduation Exit Exam and the program experienced an 80% pass rate. Around that time, I also started speaking at school board meetings, mentoring local elementary school students, and writing education columns. To this day, I still get excited about highlighters, copier paper, and pens! I’ve ALWAYS wanted to serve professionally in the field of education.
What challenges and responsibilities are involved in being an academic counselor?
As an academic counselor for the College of Arts and Sciences at Louisiana State University, Shreveport, my primary population of students are freshmen or first year in college students (FYIC). These students represent over a dozen academic majors offered through two schools: the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the School of Mathematics and Sciences. I am charged with designing and implementing a centralized advising framework that supports existing retention efforts.
In my work, I also engage with students throughout their first year of college and work to ensure they are equipped with the resources, tools, and advisement to be successful for the remainder of their college career. I connect students to programs and services favorable to their unique needs. Through presenting in the freshman seminar courses, collaborating with department chairs, hosting advising workshops, conducting Q & A sessions, and corresponding with students on a monthly basis, success has been achieved in the respect of intervention-based, proactive advising measures.
What keeps you motivated and passionate about education?
In a ten-year period, I have worked as a substitute, a teacher’s aide, an enrichment teacher, a policy consultant to education stakeholders, an education policy analyst, and an education columnist. In each of these roles, I have realized how education continues to serve as a catalyst towards achieving dreams and surmounting challenges. It is truly the great equalizer, and I consider it an honor to be engaged in the academic affairs of bright scholars.
What was the focus of your dissertation and what surprised you most about your findings?
My dissertation focused on educators’ perceptions of the impact that nonprofits have on academically unacceptable schools in an urban Louisiana community. The most surprising thing about this research was the de facto acknowledgment that for decades, American nonprofit organizations have collectively served as an external intervention by providing a number of unique programs to struggling public schools. This has been done in an effort to address issues such as discipline, attendance, conflict resolution/fight diversion, morale, academic interventions, professional development, and a lack of enrichment programs in the visual and performing arts, among many others.
The findings from my study affirmed that classroom teachers have the innate ability to survey interventions and connect through evidence and salient examples, how such interventions influence culture, climate and, ultimately, school performance. Educators were able to connect how nonprofit programs supplement services that would be otherwise streamlined as a result of budget implications plaguing many public education agencies.
How has your research benefited your community?
Academic achievement has long been an issue for Louisiana and its public schools. Studies and reports continuously rank the state at or near the bottom when it comes to how well students are doing in mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies, compared to other states. The challenges in addressing the achievement gap are largely realized in both urban and rural communities throughout the state, and new nonprofit programs are continuing to form to serve as an external intervention.
The findings from my study add to discussions relative to partnerships between nonprofit organizations and schools, the effectiveness of nonprofit-sanctioned programs in schools identified as struggling academically, program evaluation to measure social impact, and engaging various stakeholders in the community.
You’ve held various positions in education. Are there any common themes you’ve seen in working with 5th grade to college students?
The relevance and effectiveness of transformational leadership have been the common theme that I’ve seen working with students in both K-12 and higher education settings. Transformational leadership is rooted in the idea of connecting individuals to the scope and mission of the organization (or school in this case) in an effort to achieve the desired change. I have noticed that students rise to the challenge when expectations are communicated, and when they can connect the relevance of their academic pursuits to their interests and purpose. Positive morale is a prerequisite for achieving effective change. Students from all levels perform better when they feel a sense of belonging.
How were you able to balance everything while earning your EdD?
The balance of personal, professional, and academic life over the course of my doctoral journey was rooted in a simple piece of advice handed to me from my beloved grandmother: “Baby, take it one day at a time.” Working, studying, and trying to keep an active presence with family and friends was a challenge; however, establishing personal deadlines and sticking to them helped me stay afloat with my professional, personal, and academic obligations. Simple to-do lists have been a life hack for me during my doctoral journey.
What was the biggest challenge for you during your doctoral program and who or what helped you through it?
The biggest challenge for me during the doctoral program was the matter of finishing strong. I had gone all the way through school (early childhood through college) without a break in studies, so there were instances where motivation became a challenge; however, there were outstanding faculty members, including my dissertation chair, Dr. Mark Jimenez, who always offered substantive feedback, advisement, and encouragement. Dr. Jimenez’s meaningful feedback, positive affirmations, and accessibility presented me no other option but to finish. I am grateful for him and the members of my dissertation committee!
Do you have any tips or advice for current or prospective EdD students?
Take it one day at a time, keep your eyes on the prize, and seek clarity when needed. Sometimes the smallest areas of clarity enhance our scholarly contributions. You didn’t get this far by accident. Always keep that in mind going forward with your dissertation!
What skills did you hone as a result of your program?
The doctoral program at Concordia University-Portland has helped me become a reflective thinker, planner, researcher, and educator. The experience in the program has honed my ability to research, critique scholarly journals, synthesize common themes between research, analyze data, and present it in a way that is readily understood by stakeholders and, most importantly, apply it to professional practice.
What, if anything, did you appreciate about Concordia’s faith-based values?
Concordia’s faith-based values are evidenced in the way faculty interacts and expresses genuine interest and concern for student learning and success. Even in distance learning, Concordia has mastered the art of instilling a sense of belonging among its students, inspiring them through a rigorous curriculum to become transformational leaders.
What do you still hope to achieve?
There are a number of things that I hope to achieve in my post-doctoral journey, including submitting works to academic journals in my field, continuing to publish articles about topics such as local schools’ struggles and academic hurdles in my community, presenting at conferences in an effort to share knowledge, serving graduate students with an interest in education, and advancing professionally in the field of higher education. Most of all, I hope to inspire others to defy odds and achieve their wildest dreams.
Kara Wyman earned a MEd and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She’s served as the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland and is now the managing editor of Concordia’s Room 241 blog.