100 - Ashley LaGrow: From Teacher to Community Experience Manager

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100 – Ashley LaGrow: From Teacher to Community Experience Manager

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Ashley LaGrow is a former elementary school teacher turned community experience manager. She is also the author of The Self-Care Plan for Teachers, which you can check out here.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

From Teaching to Community Manager

Daphne:
Getting into today’s episode, I’m going to talk to Ashley LaGrow. Ashley is a former elementary teacher who turned into a community manager and online course manager for a small company that specifically helps entrepreneurs grow. She’s also the author of The Self-Care Plan for Teachers, which is a weekly program for prioritizing your well-being throughout the school year. I love the conversation that we’re going to share about her very unique position and how she landed it. So I hope you listen to the very end. Hi, Ashley. Thank you so much for being here today.

Ashley LaGrow:
Thanks for having me, Daphne. I’m so excited to be on.

Daphne:
Ashley, I know that you have a teachergram and so you have shared quite a bit on your teachergram. Is it Ashley LaGrow on Instagram?

Ashley LaGrow:
It’s @learningwithmisslagrow.

Daphne:
Okay. Sorry, I forgot that. But I’ve been following you for a while. You know were in the Teacher Career Coach course, and then I was also following you on Instagram. You have shared somewhat publicly about your reason for leaving the classroom on your Instagram. But I’d love for people who have no exposure to you to just learn a little bit about you, your experience in teaching and what ultimately made you start looking for other careers.

Why Ashley left the classroom

Ashley LaGrow:
Yeah, absolutely. I was a teacher for seven years, so I taught for five years in a small rural district, loved teaching. I was one of those people my heart and soul was teaching. I was staying late on my own accord. I loved doing over-the-top lessons in my classroom. Towards the end of, I would say my fifth year, I knew, “Okay, this isn’t really sustainable.” I taught my last two years in a more urbanized school district in a different state. I also ran into, for the first time, an administrator that was a little bit toxic. So it was a toxic work environment and it was just a whole other set of problems. Of course, I started teaching during COVID. I switched schools during COVID, which as anybody listening knows, comes with a whole bucket of issues in itself and I felt burnt out. I realized that very early on in my first year at that new school, so it’d be my sixth year of teaching. I knew I needed help somehow.


I was so passionate about education and the kids, but I’m like, “Something needs to change,” so I started seeing a therapist. In my first session with that therapist, I had a breakthrough of what I thought was the absolute biggest thing burning me out, and that was the noise of the classroom, the environment of the classroom. She pointed out to me that anytime I felt overwhelmed in the classroom was when it got loud, when there were 10 hands up at once, when it wasn’t an environment that I could fully control, I personally started to feel escalated and out of control. So that’s when I started thinking, “As much as I love some aspects of teaching, this is not a sustainable career for me anymore. This is not something that is good for my mental health, and also, just knowing if I keep continuing down this path, it’s going to get worse and I don’t deserve that. Then the kids don’t deserve a teacher that feels like that either.”

Daphne:
That’s such a really important thing to learn about yourself even later on in life what it is that sets you off and be able to identify it. That is so interesting and important to start learning about yourself. I just am curious, now that you had that breakthrough with your therapist, were you able to look back and realize other times that noise may have overstimulated you in the past?

Ashley LaGrow:
Oh, my gosh, all the time. As soon as she said that, I had flashbacks to childhood. Just throughout my life there were so many patterns where there was a loud noise that threw me off. I noticed anytime I know there’s a fire drill at school, I would get really anxious because I knew it was about to be loud or something like that. It was a breakthrough for me, but it was also a really good piece of information because I knew I was going to continue teaching. So I first saw that therapist in May, I believe, and so I was planning on teaching that next year. Frankly, I didn’t think I was going to leave education, and so knowing that really helped me figure out coping strategies in the classroom. It also really helped me separate the notion that the kids are making me feel this way and teaching is making me feel this way, and it’s the noise. It helped me understand it better, and I think that helped me get through it easier.

Daphne:
I recognize so much of myself in this story, and it’s something that I’ve been learning quite a bit of about myself as well with the therapist that I’ve been working with. I even find myself in a movie theater setting. If someone is whispering three rows behind me and the movie is 10 times louder, I am hyper-focused on, “What are they saying?” I’m so angry and I’m so distracted and I can’t get out of it. I’ve talked to my husband about it afterwards and he’ll just say, “I heard them, but I was able to ignore it.” For me, I can’t.

Ashley LaGrow:
No. It got to a point where if we think about it’s very commonplace I feel like now in schools that you’re teaching in the classroom and then you hear something in the hallway and there’s a student not having a great time in the hallway or something like that, or even just a class walking down the hall, and I feel like it’s commonplace to, “Okay, kids. Let’s focus in,” but you can’t focus in yourself. So it’s hard to give the full attention and carry out the duties of the job when my mind is elsewhere and I am trying to put myself first in that. Knowing that is when I really started to realize, “Okay, I don’t think the classroom’s for me.”

Daphne:
It’s just unfortunately not a good fit. I kept feeling so burned out and I couldn’t describe it like, “I just don’t feel like myself, and for some reason, I am overstimulated in this environment,” and I thought it was decision fatigue on top of anxiety in the pressure and just the burnout.

Ashley LaGrow:
Yes.

Daphne:
But I also now am recognizing that I am also extra sensitive to noises and to a point where I get angry sometimes, and that’s not-

Ashley LaGrow:
Same.

Daphne:
… who I wanted to be inside of a classroom as well.

Ashley LaGrow:
Even during my last year of teaching, when inside I knew, “Okay, I think I’m leaving at the end of this year. I’m doing what I need to do,” I became a teacher that I didn’t like because something would trigger something like a student would have a meltdown or the classroom just got loud because they were excited or something happened at lunch. I would just get angry, and that’s not okay, and I knew that’s not okay. It also got to a point where I shared these struggles with my students, which I definitely endorse anybody who maybe sees themself in my situation or a similar mental health situation. I’m not saying, “Absolutely disclose your mental health with your students,” but it led to some really great conversations. There were also multiple of my third graders that saw themselves in me that then felt comfortable coming to me saying, “It’s too loud in here. I can’t think. Can I do my work in the hallway?” “We formed those relationships that way and students were able to see it’s okay to learn and think differently. Our brains are all different, and that’s okay.

Daphne:
So you went through this discovery process, you were burned out like many other teachers. You also had a toxic administration that you were working for, and then you started looking for roles outside of the classroom. What were your first steps there? What were you really exploring, and how did you figure out what you wanted?

How Ashley found her next career path

Ashley LaGrow:
Absolutely. I would say during even my fourth year teaching, fifth year teaching, I was set on being an instructional coach. I love education. I love teaching. I love curriculum, and I still love all of those things, and I’m like, “Wow, that’s a great fit.” But as I realized what’s not working for me in a school setting, that wasn’t going to be a good fit for me either. So it was actually, I discovered your podcast last fall, so the beginning of my seventh year, and I remembered the specific moment when I promised myself I would get out of schools. It felt like just a weight lifted off me, it was bittersweet. I realized that the best fit for me was outside of schools in general, and especially listening to your podcast, I realized how many different roles are out there that use the skills I already had.


So I would just listen to podcasts about different roles, and I started narrowing down, “Okay, what’s going to work for me? What can I see myself in?” I really did a lot of reflecting throughout the fall and early winter, and then I in, I would say January. So I also worked in a state that it made it really hard to break contract and also in a district that made it really hard to break contract. So I promised myself as hard as it was, I was going to stay until June. In January is when I really started getting my resumes together, formatting them, figuring out how can I translate my skills in narrowing down the roles that I wanted to look into. Then in March I started applying places and I had a few interviews. I got my first yes in April–end of April.

Daphne:
Do you mind if I share behind the scenes of how that went down?

Ashley LaGrow:
I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to say, “Yes, please do.”

Daphne:
So for anyone listening, I do work with hiring managers and teams from time to time, but Ashley’s success story is even more unique than that where I had someone from a business that I personally endorsed actually reach out to me and say, “I know that you have this huge network of transitioning teachers, and we see the value in transitioning teachers. We’re looking for someone even more unique with a couple of extra skill sets. In addition to just being a transitioning teacher, they may have some social media savvy skills or just be an entrepreneur themselves.” So I gave them a very small handful of people that I’d personally connected with, that I could personally endorse for this very specific role. Ashley was the one who ended up ultimately getting the job. Let’s talk a little bit about that. What was the process like and what is your new job title?

Ashley LaGrow:
Absolutely. I adore my new job and I am forever indebted to you for that. Like you said, first of all, I ended up purchasing your course in January mainly as a promise to myself that, “Okay, I am going to get out of the classroom. This is a commitment to myself,” and started posting in the community, and that’s how we got to know each other. So when you messaged me, you had emailed me a job description and essentially described to me what you just said. They’re looking for a teacher, but they also would love someone with an entrepreneurial background, someone who’s social media savvy. I was like, “Wait, everything you’re describing is me.” I was a little bit skeptical at first because I was so set on working in a traditional K-12 ed tech setting, and this was not the traditional K-12 setting, but the more I read about the role, I was like, “This is really intriguing.”


This was, I think, the only job I applied for that was not through a traditional application system. Most of the jobs I applied for were through company websites or LinkedIn. This one, I emailed my resume directly due to the networking I did. So I emailed my now manager my resume, and she wanted to set up a time to chat and interview. It was one of those things where from the first interview, I knew I really wanted the job just because it didn’t feel like an interview. It felt like a conversation with a friend, and so I immediately was able to gauge the company culture that way. I ended up having two more interviews with different members of the team, and I got the job at the end of April. So I think the whole process took maybe a little over a month or just about a month.

Daphne:
The reason why I think there’s some nervousness and hesitation to even share the story is because we know so many people are listening who are needing someone to put in a good word for them, and they’re like, “How do we help? Or how can we get ahold of the Teacher Career Coach team and they can help match us with something?” Unfortunately, because of just how many people are in this community, we are not able to do this very often. It’s why we started the Teacher Career Coach Jobs Board, because that’s the best way when companies are like, “We are looking for someone with a very specific skillset.”
We put it on there and then that’s how people match up. But with this specific company, I did have a very personal relationship with them. When I was talking to Ashley, I kept saying, “If I did not run this company, this would’ve been the job that I would have secretly wanted, so you better take it, or else we are not going to be friends after this.” Just kidding. But I did have a small handful of people that I had handed over to them. So what is your job title itself and what does the day-to-day look like in that role?

Ashley’s experience working as a community experience manager

Ashley LaGrow:
Absolutely. So my job title is community experience manager, and I did not even know this type of job existed before I got the job listing. So what I do, I work for a small digital media company that has resources for entrepreneurs, which is a mouthful. So what we do is we offer online courses, podcasts, paid communities, blogs, things like that to help support entrepreneurs and help them grow. So what I do is I oversee one of our paid communities that helps bring entrepreneurs together, but the specific reason they wanted a teacher is this is a brand-new community. We actually just publicly launched a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve been working for months getting this ready to go. The people in this community have access to all of our online courses and workshops.
Not only do I oversee our online courses now due to my curriculum background and my instructional background, I also have created cohort opportunities and broken them down in that way. I help facilitate learning experiences for people. I create weekly events to help entrepreneurs learn in what they need. I’m constantly listening in to figure out how they learn, what they need. It’s a lot of what I did in teaching just in a different setting. So I also work at what would be considered a startup, and that was also very scary at first. The company is decently successful. It’s been running for a few years, but like I said, I was so zoned in on wanting to work for an established K-12 ed tech curriculum company, and now I’m one of 11 employees. So it’s a totally different work environment than I pictured, but it’s exactly what I needed. Both the job itself and the work environment fits my needs to a T.

Daphne:
This is something that I know I talk about in the Teacher Career Coach course is the differences between working in an established large company, let’s say just using a random number of over 50 employees or, quote, unquote, “startup company.” Startup companies, you can find roles that have really impressive job titles. There’s the potential to grow faster in that role, but there is also that risk of, “I work at a startup, is this the same stability as teaching?” Other larger companies look great on a resume, but they might even have more rigorous rules.
There’s really strict onboarding processes and exactly how you’re going to handle things where startups are sometimes a little bit more chaotic. I can speak from personal experience. I technically own and run a startup company, and the processes are getting figured out and things change from quarter to quarter. So there’s different personalities that work in different atmospheres, and there’s also pros and cons to both of them, so keeping an open mind is really important. Did you find when you entered this, did you have some misconceptions of what a startup actually would be like when you got involved that quickly changed?

Ashley LaGrow:
I think what worried me the most looking into startups, because this actually wasn’t the only startup I applied to, and the other one I ended up applying to was another one I found through networking, but it was brand new from the ground up. This one had been established for a few years. They already had their processes going. They have a large audience already. I think a big misconception that people have about startups is that they are unstable. I work at a company that our processes are set.
There is so much already written out for us. I have exact job duties I need to do. There is a team, we have a team retreat every year. Everything is really set and it’s not chaotic feeling like I thought it would be. One thing I actually really like that this might not be for everyone, but I wear multiple hats at the company and I’m able to try things out. That also builds up my resume if I ever do want to go elsewhere in the future. I’m currently with our founder working on setting up a TikTok next month. We are doing a TikTok for our company. I help with email campaigns even though I’m not on the marketing team. So I’m able to build up my strengths and really broaden my skills too.

Daphne:
Yeah. I worked for, and it’s labeled a startup, but it was at the time over 100 employees and it’s scaled to over 600 employees. It was one of the fastest growing tech startups. One of the perks that came with that was I did get to work in different departments. It didn’t have as strict of rules even though it was a large company. But then also, there are financial incentives that sometimes come with startups depending on its level of success, you can get stock options. So all of the TV shows that you’ve seen about tech startups and Silicon Valley of people who get stock options and they cash out and they’re rich, that’s rare. But it’s still cool to be a part of it for the first time if it is one of the perks of working for a company, so always checking that benefits page.

Ashley LaGrow:
Absolutely. One thing I really like about working for such a small company, like I said, I’m one of 11 full-time employees. We do have a few contractors and things like that. I have a lot of say in what happens at the company, and I’ve only been working here for just over six months now, but I have changed the direction of some launches we’ve done. I have had the courage to speak up and say, “I don’t think that’s going to work, and here’s why,” and also just have a say in how I work, how the company works, and just the climate overall. We get weekly surveys on, “How are you doing? How do you think things are going?” It’s such a small company that they’re able to look at it and things can change week by week if something needs to change.

Daphne:
I love that. When you were actually interviewing for this role, did they ask any very specific questions about why you were leaving teaching or how you were qualified for the position? I’d love to hear how you helped showcase your skills, if so.

Ashley LaGrow:
Yeah, so in the interviews it was a lot of, “How do your teaching skills translate to this job description? You’re leaving education, why do you want to leave?” A big thing that I did, I didn’t focus on the things that were pushing me out of education because I also was really excited to get into a new career too, and it was becoming not scary, but exciting. So I focused on a lot of my curriculum experience, my facilitation experience essentially in a way, my role is also a lot of customer success. So I focused on talking to families, figuring out the individual needs of all of my students, and that really transfers over into what I do now.

Daphne:
Do you feel like you used the Teacher Career Coach course resources for this part of the process also?

Ashley LaGrow:
Yes, I did. The couple of things I tell people all the time are the resume templates and the interview workbook was invaluable because it really helped me break down what I do in teaching and how it translates to the specific role I’m going after. I would say I applied to 20 something jobs and I ended up interviewing at four different places and they were all very different roles. So being able to sit down and figure out how do my skills translate to this specific role and not just in general was really valuable.

Daphne:
Yeah. Being able to actually sit down and formulate a plan and practice that is so vital because there are going to be trick questions or questions that you didn’t anticipate, but knowing the behind-the-scenes of what hiring managers are looking for in those answers is just such a key point to the process. For your role, I know that I have worked with a lot of different companies that are doing online learning resources, whether or not it is B2B or B2C, there are online learning resources going everywhere. Then there’s also this huge moment of online learning community. I’ve talked to a couple of entrepreneurs or business owners that have said, “This is a great role for teachers when someone needs to have a community manager,” but for those who are hearing that term for the very first time, what does a community look like? What does a community manager even do?

Ashley LaGrow:
Yes. So for all of my fellow millennials especially, I grew up on the message boards. If you think back, if you were ever on one of those message boards for whatever it might be, I’m a total nerd and was on a titanic message board. But what it is, is you essentially moderate a message board times 10. So my community is broken down into a variety of spaces where entrepreneurs can ask for feedback, where they can get help with the specific course they’re working on, where they want to try to form an accountability group, where they want to show off their latest podcast episode.
So as a community manager, what I do is I oversee all of those posts. I moderate, I get to know our members. As I get to know people and figure out what they need, I plan weekly events, helping them grow. So I’ll bring in people from our other community, which is more established entrepreneurs, and they will talk about a certain topic. I also helped start monthly workshops, which is something completely new for our company where they’re not only just webinars, but I was able to use my teaching knowledge to make them a lot more hands-on and make them meaningful for the people going through them.

Daphne:
Yeah. So these are going to be not as common at every company. It’s a very unique niche kind of thing that’s popping up. But even just searching community as a job title and saying if there’s community engagement specialist, community manager roles, they’re going to be various titles that might fit a similar-ish position. But I have heard from multiple people, “Wow, teachers would probably be really great at this based on great written and oral skills. So they’re able to type out a really well-formulated, thoughtful answer, but then on top of that, they just love being helpers.” That’s like you’re just the online community helper that helps whoever’s in the community make sure that they have a really great positive experience. As you left teaching, a couple of doors opened up for you, and I know that this is very unique because you are in the entrepreneur space as well. So I’d love to go into what else was happening behind the scenes now that you’re working in this company and then with your own business as well.

How Ashley grew her side business

Ashley LaGrow:
Yeah. For about five years, I have done Teachers Pay Teachers on the side. I realized early in teaching that just teaching alone was not going to cut it financially for me. Especially the area I was in, I was not making a lot. I’m sure some people listening can relate to that. So I started doing Teachers Pay Teachers mainly to just get some extra coffee money every month. I was like, “That will be a success if I can do that.” I saw how profitable it can be just putting up resources that I already make for my students. So it grew and grew and I became addicted to that. I learned. I really like doing that sort of thing and using my creative skills to help other teachers and it’s grown ever since. Since then, I’ve created a blog and somehow in, would’ve been April, a publisher found me, found a couple of my blogs and approached me with a book idea.


I had to take a step back and think, “How on earth am I qualified for this? I’ve never written a book before. I’ve taken no writing courses since undergrad.” I, long story short, ended up writing a book to help teachers that were in a similar boat as I was. So I wrote a book called The Self-Care Plan for Teachers. It’s a 36-week plan, so it’s meant to start at the beginning of a school year, so in August, but you can really start at any time and it’s week by week. It helps you learn more about how to take care of yourself with different themes and it’s research based, because I feel so often one of the things that really bothered me while teaching is an administrator or someone else with power in education would say, “Well, you just need to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself this weekend.” But it’s so hard when teachers don’t have the resources or the time to do that.

Daphne:
Yeah, it’s like, “Oh, cool. Cool thought, but how? How do I do that? When you’re telling me that it feels dismissive like you’re not paying attention to the fact that you put so much on my plate. There is zero time to do it.”

Ashley LaGrow:
Exactly. I first wanted the publisher to know, I said, “I’ll do this if it’s not just a general, fluffy self-help book because that’s not what teachers need.” So it’s very practical. I did a lot of research. I did this at the end of my last year of teaching and through the summer as I started a new job because I was so passionate about it and I knew that this was something that’s so needed and it’s meant to read in four or five-page chunks. It’s like a little bit every week, and it has action items for every week that are easily implementable for teachers and takes into account the demands of teaching life.

Daphne:
I love that. I know that for me, it’s easier sometimes to just have an actual plan, whether it’s for, “Okay, I know that I need to work out, but I just need someone to tell me what am I supposed to do this week?” Or, “I know I need to start working on my career goals, I just want someone to create a plan for me,” which is the Teacher Career Coach course. That’s where it’s like some people just want to have it chunked out into bite-size pieces. Is there anything that you learned when researching and writing this book that you think would be interesting that teachers would not have known really about self-care?

Ashley LaGrow:
Yeah, and a lot of what I learned through my research is that self-care, it sounds like such a broad, fluffy term. It reminds you, I feel like, of just getting massages and pedicures and face masks, and it’s so much more than that. It’s as simple as carving out a half-hour a night to make sure you are spending time with a loved one not grading papers or something like that. I think a big thing that made sense when I was reading so much research is how self-care not only affects our mindset in the brain, but affects our physical health too.
It’s so much more than just working out and taking walks, but self-care, all of the things I talk about in the book and I figured out effects our immune system when we’re not … and it makes sense when you think about it. But when you’re not caring for yourself, you’re getting sick, that’s when everything’s happening. So that’s why I wanted to really break it down and make it actionable and help people realize, “You can do this,” and especially, I’ve put so many of these tips in practice for myself, even just when I was learning at the end of teaching and just in my everyday life now. I feel like I can think clearer. I can focus on my relationships better. I can compartmentalize more and just really enjoy my life again.

Daphne:
I feel like I have to focus on self-care practices that soothe my over stimulation. So massages are absolutely part of it, bubble baths, all of those types of things. But sometimes it’s just like a weighted blanket on my lap that I can touch and just making sure I have a candle going while I’m working or taking times for mindfulness or throwing my phone in the other room at a certain part of the day so I’m not pulling myself back and forth. But if I’m not taking the time to prioritize those types of small things, I feel it in, I clench my jaw, and the whole side of my mouth is sore or-

Ashley LaGrow:
Yep, me too.

Daphne:
… I just feel extremely scattered. I also do find myself getting more sick, which is ultimately part of my own origin story of I was going to the doctor that whole last year with intense strange headaches, really bad stomach issues, and just a variety of things that they just kept saying over and over again, “It’s the stress of this job. We can only tell you that these are all stress related illnesses. They’re concerning because of how rapidly they’re coming on and how many times they’re coming in.” Then actually removing myself from that situation, I started healing and getting better. So thank you so much for the work that you’re doing because this is so important and so needed. Once again, it’s a buzzword that I think people, their eyes roll in the back of their head because there’s not research, there’s not a plan, but this is such an important thing that you put together and I’m just so happy for you. Congratulations. I want to end with one question that I ask all the other teachers when they’re on this podcast, which is, what did you learn about yourself during this process?

Ashley LaGrow:
That is a loaded question. I would say I learned a lot about myself because I feel like for seven years my identity was a teacher. I feel like with everything that comes with that and what society says about teachers, my identity became everything society said like, “Teachers are warm. Teachers are helpful, and they are great communicators.” But I learned so much more about myself, and I realized I was, in a way, holding myself back. I am a very driven person, and that is not to say that you cannot be driven in the teaching profession, but through this process, I’ve learned how many opportunities are out there and how many professions are out there where I can grow and learn.
I felt like teaching wasn’t a profession that I could grow from much personally. Where I am now in the field I’m in, I can grow to new roles. I can try out different things. I’m getting skills for my own side business through it too, and it’s just so exciting. I think you said this at the beginning, just leaving teaching essentially helped you find yourself. For so long through teaching, I was so focused on others and was so focused on everything around me that I couldn’t just take a minute and figure out, “Who am I and what do I need? I’ve realized after leaving that I’ve changed as a person in the past few years and teaching’s no longer a great fit in a lot of ways, and that’s okay and there are things out there that can really help me thrive.

Daphne:
That’s such an important part. I think so many people listening are really hesitant to prioritize like, “This is the year of me. I’m going to learn what I need. I’m going to focus on my own needs, because intuitively, we went into a career where we want to put other people first. So this is the most challenging decision of your life is to say, “Actually, you know what? For right now, this might hurt other people. This might hurt people that I care a lot about, but I’ve realized that I need this.” That’s a huge moment for you and your personal growth and being able to do that and still put other people first, but in a new blight. With your new role, you’re still helping other people, and with your work writing books specifically for teachers who are planning on staying, just kudos to you. I’m so proud to know you and I’m so happy for you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Ashley LaGrow:
Thank you so much for inviting me. It has truly been a full circle feeling. I went a year ago from listening to you all the time on my walks and my drives and dreaming about where I could be in a year, and now I’m living it. So thank you.

Daphne:
Thank you. I want to give a huge thank you to Ashley for sharing her story with this audience.

Mentioned in the episode:

Step out of the classroom and into a new career, The Teacher Career Coach Course