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EP 32 Teacher to Trainer with Lisa Spinelli-White

On this episode of the Teacher Career Coach podcast, I sit down with Lisa Spinelli-White, a Senior Content Manager at the Association for Talent Development, or ATD. She’s the editor and a contributor for Teachers To Trainers, a book aimed at helping teachers in the midst of a career transition explore training as an option. We cover a lot in this episode, from why teachers make great corporate trainers to how to best prepare for a role in corporate teaching. We discuss resume tips, networking, and best practices for preparing for a teacher career transition. This is a great episode for anyone looking to enter the world of corporate training or simply looking to learn more about the different options available to you. 

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

Teachers To Trainer Recap and BIG Ideas:

✨Teachers have many skills and experiences that make corporate training an easy career pivot, including skills in breaking down complex concepts, delivering educational material, public speaking, presentation, and leadership development. 

✨Get ahead of the game by exploring and gaining experience with popular industry technologies. Many of them offer free trials!

You don’t have to be an expert in the industry you’re a corporate trainer in. You just have to be well-versed in your specific material, but you have ample time to learn it. 

✨Careers are always changing, so there is always a need for talent development roles. Plus, the talent development industry is growing at a rate nearly double that of the average growth rate! 

✨Having an online presence, whether it’s on LinkedIn or a digital portfolio, is essential to the modern-day corporate job search. 

✨Make sure your resume is skills-based. It’s the best way to showcase how your teacher experience translates to the new role and industry. 

Meet Lisa! 

Daphne: Hey, Lisa. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Lisa: Thank you so much, Daphne. 

Daphne: You are here because we’re going to dive into why teachers make such great corporate trainers. First, could you give us a little bit of history of who you are and your experience?

Lisa: Yeah, sure. I am a senior Content Manager at ATD, which is the Association for Talent Development. I’ve been involved in career development there for about three years. Talking about teaching and moving from teaching into training and talent development was a project I took on about two years ago. It’s since turned into a book and here we are!

Daphne: When you say talent and development, is it mostly regarding large corporations? Let’s kind of dive into that for a second.

Lisa: ATD started off being the Association for Trainers. So, we used to classify everything to do with talent development as trainers. And what we realized is there’s this broad audience that we are reaching that are not necessarily trainers. They might be coaches, E-learning professionals, or a whole host of other titles. Talent development really seems to encompass all of those people who are involved in educating others in a corporation or at an adult population– minus those teaching in the higher-level academia realm. 

Daphne: Do you have any experience of being a corporate trainer yourself? 

Lisa: I have not actually done a ton of training in its classic sense. I’ve done a bunch of volunteer work doing similar things, like teaching English as a second language and substitute teaching and that kind of stuff. And then, for training beyond working at ATD, I haven’t really stood up in front of an audience to train people on much of anything really.

Why do teachers make such great corporate trainers?

Daphne: Why does ATD think teachers make such great corporate trainers?

Lisa: We were looking at our membership base and how people come into training and talent development. We were thinking about the roles of trainers and instructional designers. They were basically like teachers, right? So, we started to notice in our membership base, that there are a lot of teachers who transition into becoming E-learning professionals, instructional designers, and trainers. 

So, we thought about the different options out there for teachers. From what we have seen as far as resources go for people who are looking to transition, there’s not a lot out there. That was one of the biggest pain points that we noticed when I started talking to people for the book and other trainers in general that had moved from K 12 teaching. It seems like there’s just really not a lot out there on how to make that transition or to understand more about the field of talent development. 

So that’s why we put together the book. We really wanted to help teachers learn more about the field before making the switch. As well as what to do if they wanted to make the switch. 

Why is there such a lack of resources and support for teachers looking to transition away from the classroom? 

Daphne: I feel like you just described me to a tee. About four years ago, when I left, there weren’t a lot of resources out there. While I actually did go into instructional design, I also started creating resources for other teachers because I noticed nobody was really speaking to this audience. There weren’t a lot of ways to help me rewrite my resume and I had to navigate the journey on my own. 

That’s why I actually created the Teacher Career Coach course. I wanted to help bridge that gap. So, I was excited to see that there were other people who were starting to create resources as well, including your book. The people who struggle with this step and this transition are also feeling stigmatized when asking for help in this capacity. You don’t see that to this extent in many other career fields.

Lisa: Yes, I totally agree. And that’s something that I keep hearing. There’s this stigma and shame of looking and asking how to get out of teaching. Teachers are put on such a high pedestal, so it’s like you’ve given up your pursuit of high income and flexibility and all kinds of things to become a teacher. Then, if you’re looking to leave, oh, you just dropped lower in many people’s opinion, including administration, other teachers, parents, and the community around them. 

So there’s kind of this secretiveness about looking and exploring what’s out there. Then there’s this total lack of resources because nobody wants to lose good teachers. Nobody wants to encourage teachers to leave because you always need good teachers, right?  That’s a huge problem for teachers looking for those resources to help them. There’s no centralized spot where they can go. 

There are lots of Facebook groups, and then your podcast, resources, and course are other great resources for them. I think all of the teachers helping other teachers is a huge part of letting those teachers who are looking to get out of the field know what there is out there for them. 

Learn more about what a corporate trainer is and the responsibilities that come with the role. 

Daphne: You touched upon corporate training being an easy pivot for teachers because they basically already have the foundational skills. Can you go into it a little bit more? What does a corporate trainer do?

Lisa: You know, so many people reach out because they don’t fully understand what the role is. Truthfully, while this is not the answer people want to hear, it really does depend on so many factors. It depends on the size of the corporation or organization that you’re working at if you go out on your own. If you’re at an ed-tech company, it depends if you’re in a position where you’re mostly training online, or mostly doing in-person training. So, COVID aside, what you’re going to be doing day-to-day depends on many factors.

Regardless, teachers have a lot of the skills in developing the material and the science of learning in general. They know what sort of tips and tricks are out there to really drive in the learning, like repetition and chunking and things like that. Where they’re going to probably fall a little bit short is in some of the technologies that are out there. 

There’s a lot of those online instructional design tools, like Adobe, that they might want to go in and do free trials or things like that, to gain that experience with them. Then there’s also the component of being a little bit adult-centered versus child-centered theory or methodologies. You know, knowing ADDIE, LAMA, and SAM– those sorts of models out there are a little bit different than those that are found with pedagogic models. 

So, they might have to learn a little bit more in that aspect, but they really do have a lot of their foundational skills. They know the science of learning and can be in front of a classroom. They likely have a skillset in public speaking, presentation, coaching, and leadership development. I mean, they have all of these things that they’re doing in the classrooms every day to develop young minds. It’s the same thing that you’re doing as a corporate trainer, you’re just doing it with adult brains and hopefully less unruly of learners. There is that translation factor in there. But teachers obviously know what they’re doing in the classroom. They have all these great creative, innovative skills that they can translate into their adult classrooms.

Daphne: I actually also work as an educational consultant. And it’s one of those types of roles that has a really vague title, but ultimately comes down to just being a corporate trainer. I work with a specific company, and I go in and train teachers on a specific product. I have to differentiate my training to whatever that specific school district’s needs are. 

I noticed when I was making the transition to presenting in front of adults, a lot of times I was overthinking it. I kept thinking, “Oh, I’m not qualified for this,” and kept really overthinking and feeling that imposter syndrome. But I realized, I know how to chunk complex subjects into bite-sized pieces. I know how to make things fun. I know how to keep an audience engaged. I know how to naturally stop and just assess whether or not they know what I’m talking about, or whether or not I need to backtrack. Those are all skills that teachers will take into this role. I think a big part of what happens is we hear the role in general, we just have such a hard time understanding how valuable and how skilled we actually are in that specific capacity. 

Tips for transitioning into corporate training or industries where you don’t already feel like a subject matter expert.

I love that you kind of laid out that every corporation and every company is going to be different. To dive into that a little bit more, what about those companies that do have foundational knowledge that we don’t feel comfortable with? Maybe it’s a healthcare professional company, and it feels outside of our realm of expertise. Or maybe it’s a construction company, and we have no previous knowledge of construction. How do you train teachers to become corporate trainers in places where we don’t feel like we’re already subject matter experts?

Lisa: A couple of things there. I think everybody feels imposter syndrome at some point, right? It doesn’t matter who you are or what level you’re at in your career. I just want to acknowledge the fact that everybody experiences that for one reason or another. And maybe you get over it in one area, and it moves to another. I mean, look, I’m not really a teacher. I’m not really a trainer. Yet, I wrote a book called Teachers to Trainers. I don’t know how much more imposter syndrome you can get. Everybody’s got it for one reason or another. 

The second thing is that trainers move industries quite substantially. I also run the ATD job bank, which is a job search site for ATD for instructional designers and trainers. One of the things we don’t really do is categorize jobs by industry. We realized that all of the trainers and talent development professionals that we find– unless you’re in government or you’re in a hospital– switch around between finance, manufacturing, for-profit ed-tech, and just all over the place. So a lot of the time they’re not subject matter experts at all. And that’s where actually interviewing subject matter experts within your company or within your industry comes into play.

In the book, Eric Palmer, a former middle school teacher transitioned into training teachers and adults on public speaking. He talks a lot about how in consulting, and talent development in general, you’re either considered a specialist with subject matter expertise in one area, or you’re a generalist. In my experience, I have found that most trainers are generalists. If you talk to them beyond that one aspect they’re not going to have that in-depth knowledge that someone entering the field assumes they need to have.  They’re going to know a heck of a lot about training and educating, which teachers already do, but they’re not going to be software experts or an expert in any specific topic at a company. They’re going to be somebody who just knows how to train and train well and follow up.

Daphne: I think that that’s such a preconceived notion that teachers have that blocks them from taking this step. I’m so happy that you addressed it. Teachers struggle with that when looking at these job descriptions. They say, “Well, it’s a blank type of company. And I don’t know anything about blank.” 

One of the things that I struggled with when teaching was decision fatigue. I wanted to be an expert on seven different lessons for 180 different days. That is a lot of content to absorb. But when you remove yourself from that situation, if you’re struggling and you find a role as a corporate trainer or an educational consultant, you can find roles where you have to become a subject matter expert on a one-hour chunk of something complex. Then you repeat that 30 or 40 different times. It’s second-hand nature. 

For me, that was so much easier and involved less decision fatigue. I think teachers go into this not realizing they’re not going to have to know everything and have every answer on all of the different complexities of the topic. They’re just in charge of doing a training on one set objective that they have ample time to be able to prepare and learn about.

Lisa: Yeah, I totally agree. You get to know the material that you’re delivering on and you have to know that pretty well. But beyond that, I don’t think that anybody’s ever come out and criticized a trainer for not knowing the back-end system of a software application that they’re training on or anything. It’s more of a, “Okay, I’ll check on that and get back to you later.” And then being sure to follow up. 

Advice for applying to jobs in new industries, including the mindset shift you need to make. 

But I totally agree that teachers, and honestly anybody moving into this industry or any new industry in general, feels that hesitation. If they see a job description, and it’s in an industry that they don’t have prior knowledge in, or if the job description itself has things that they don’t feel like they know 100%, they don’t even apply. 

What I always am telling people is to just go for it. The worst possible thing that could happen is you don’t hear back. Well, if you don’t apply, you’re not going to hear back, either. So what’s your loss there?  There’s no risk in applying for a job that you think you would be great at, even if you’re not 100% feeling secure that you’re going to get it. If you do get it good for you. Then you can always try to learn as you go because that’s what half of us do anyway. 

Daphne: I think just a lot of it is just the mindset of already feeling so scared and so disappointed that you chose a career and it didn’t work out for you. And now you have finally come to the realization of having to leave that and to try something new. Any more failure just feels like it could be too much for you to take emotionally. That’s kind of where I was at when I was making the transition. It was a very hard emotional process for me. 

But instead of thinking of putting something out there and not getting a response as a failure, you have to redirect that energy to realizing you took that first step. You have to realize this is a new chapter and you’re starting this new process. Whether or not they respond to your application, you are finally acknowledging you can do this. You’re going to be brave and do something scary because you know it’s what’s right for you. 

Lisa: Yeah, totally. Not to say that teachers have it easy when they’re applying for jobs as a teacher, but I think there’s a little bit more assurance that there’s a market for what you’re good at and there’s a need for teachers. Especially right now.

You see a job. You apply for the job. You have the credentials and the experience and you get the job. Whereas applying for a corporate position or something out in the general population, you could put out 200 job applications and only hear back from five. Maybe teachers don’t know that to be normal, especially if you’re starting off in the industry or role. I can tell you anytime I’ve ever applied for a job, I probably applied for a good 60 or so and only heard back from a handful of them. So it’s not that unheard of.

Dealing with low career self-esteem with a switch from teaching to corporate training. 

Daphne: Teaching is definitely less competitive. When teachers stay even after making the decision they want to leave, they reinforce that everything else is too competitive and this is the only job that is stable. We put it in our heads that teaching is the only job out there that we feel like we have stability, and if we throw ourselves to the sharks, we’re going to end up getting crushed and we’re never going to make it. 

That’s very generalized, and definitely feels overdramatic, but I do feel like a lot of us go into new industries with very low career self-esteem. The first few times that we feel rejection, it’s so easy to back down from wanting to pursue anything else, because it reinforces that the reason why we didn’t want to do this is that we thought we would not be successful. The rejection reinforces that it’s not possible. 

In reality, it absolutely is possible. There are many people who have done it successfully. Teachers have been leaving the profession this year in a mass exodus, which is unfortunate for education in general.  Generally speaking, people have made the decision to leave teaching for the past 50 years, 100 years, however long it’s been an industry. It is an industry that people have decided wasn’t a great fit for them and they’ve pivoted into new roles. The only thing that’s different with teaching than other positions is it seems like a complete breakup, where it’s more of a transition in other industries. In those industries, it’s an easier transition where people don’t make a deal about it or actually have to acknowledge that you left. People make these transitions all the time, right?

Learn why there’s no better time for teachers to transition into the corporate training industry. 

So, what can you say about the stability of working in talent development?

Lisa: Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out the job growth rate every two years for every industry. One of the titles that they put out there are training managers, and its job growth rate is almost twice what the general average is out there for all jobs. So, it’s about 7%. The average is about 4%. So it is growing, especially right now. We have this mass amount of people that either need to be reskilled or upskilled because jobs and their environments are changing. 

So much change is happening, that there is a huge need for trainers and especially those that can do it virtually. As we know, teachers have all been kind of pushed to do Hybrid types of environments. They’re able to pivot from in-person to online, in a matter of a few weeks or days. So we know that teachers can absolutely train online and in-person. They can do hybrids and do all these things that they’re asking trainers to do now. So I would say there’s probably no better time to get into the industry than right now. 

Skills you can learn on your own to better prepare for a role in corporate training or instruction.

Daphne: When we were talking earlier about instructional design, we talked a little bit about the types of skills that teachers may need to learn on their own. I always say, focus on learning some sort of E-learning platform, whatever that industry standards are like Articulate and Storyline. Even Camtasia is great if you want to get some small video editing skills. So, learning those, especially using free trial periods, and building your portfolio using those free trial periods is always something that I advise. 

For those who are a little bit technology resistant, instructional design would not be something that I would recommend. Instead, I would recommend more of a classic corporate training position. 

With that said, what types of skill sets would you specifically recommend that they start looking into growing on their own right now?

Lisa: When you’re looking at different jobs, you have to really dive into the job description. A lot of things that are called corporate trainers will have some instructional design requirements to them. There are definitely some straight-up corporate trainer and facilitator roles that are out there. For those, I would say that you’re going to want to have very strong presentation skills. You’re going to want to have measurement and evaluation skills. It also doesn’t hurt to have that needs analysis portion of it down as well. 

So, before you’re even going to start doing any training, you’re probably going to be tasked with finding out if training the answer to a certain problem that these people either within your company, or a company that you’re being hired out to deliver the training to, need training for. Or is it something else in the work environment that they are going to need to change? So having that needs analysis ability in your tool belt is also a great starting point. 

Then, presentation skills are going to be huge. You’re also going to want to have at least PowerPoint skills, because no matter if you’re developing the materials or not, you’re going to be delivering that presentation. So those are going to be probably the biggest things that I can think of that you’re going to want to have. Obviously, great communication skills is another one. And if you have any measurement, evaluation, or ROI type of skills, that’s going to be very helpful as well.

How to best showcase your transferable knowledge with a transition from teacher to corporate training.

Daphne:  I think a lot of teachers listen to that and they hear a lot of the academic vocabulary that you said, and they probably don’t realize how it translates from their past experience into this one. A lot of that is just creating assessments and evaluations, and being able to put it into writing. Specifically, you need to be able to evaluate whether or not the training was impactful based on assessments that they give post-training. You also give pre-training evaluations to even see if the training was needed at the end in the first place. Is that correct?

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. I think knowing the Kirkpatrick levels of evaluation are going to really help you. There are going to be some things that you want to touch on, like having great communication skills and being able to write up reports and things like that. And a lot of these things are very translatable to terms that teachers know.  

Now, there’s going to be a host of things on people’s resumes that they’re going to want to translate. Like, instead of saying “students” you’re going to want to say “learners.” You’re going to want to say things like “instruction” rather than “teaching,” and things like that. There’s a host of resources in terms of blogs, things in the book, and I’m sure on your podcast as well, that can help with those translations. 

In general, teachers have so many tools and skills and they just really need that translation aspect. That’s where I think people like yourself and other people who have kind of gone through the process themselves are really invaluable because you can help people translate that material. You can help them have a little bit more of an understanding of those first steps. A lot of the time when I’m talking to teachers, a lot of what I hear is about networking. I think it’s like 86%, or something ridiculous, of people getting their next role or their first roles in the organizations that they’re at, has been through networking. 

The importance of networking as you transition into a new role or industry. 

So, especially if you’re trying to get into a new field, having a big network around you is a good thing. It j never hurts you to know and have good relationships with people. I mean, they say having good relationships with people will even extend your life expectancy. So there’s no harm in getting out there and trying to reach out, be a part of communities, and getting to know teachers who have already gone through this transition. 

Also, seek out mentors that are within the corporations that you maybe want to be at or in positions that you’re interested in. You can get a real deep dive into the company culture or that kind of role that they’re in. That kind of information is just invaluable to have.

Daphne: I 100% agree. You know, networking is really important. And people think it’s going into strange rooms filled with businessmen, introducing yourself and mentioning that you’re looking for a new job. It’s really as simple as listing off all of your friends and your friends’ husbands and trying to find them on LinkedIn to see if their husband knows someone at a company that you’re looking to get an in at. It’s the people who you already have in your life that you’ll have a close connection with who are more likely to confidently refer you, your skill sets, and your personality to somebody that they know. So, those are the networks that I would leverage first. 

And I feel like people always assume networking means strangers. You can network with strangers, but just starting with just the people you know, and seeing what connections you have there can be really powerful. 

Expert advice for preparing for your career transition from teacher to corporate training, including resume tips. 

On top of networking, the one thing that really needs to happen for teachers to even get their resumes open is translating their resumes to showcase that they are knowledgeable in these areas outside of the classroom. I’d love to hear your expert advice on what you tell teachers to do when it comes to resume writing.

Lisa: First of all, I always say, if you have your picture on your resume, just get it right off.  Second of all, you want to take whatever experience you have, and you want to turn it into a skills-based resume. There are unfortunate biases out there about teachers. Now, most people are not going to be that way, but some will be. Don’t hide the fact that you were a teacher, but you want to highlight that you know what you’re talking about. 

The first thing you want to do is to translate it to a skills-based resume and show that you have the skills that they’re looking for. Of course, you’re going to have multiple versions of your resume. That’s something that I think a lot of people in and out of teaching don’t realize. You are going to have to change your resume for every job that you’re applying for. It doesn’t mean you have to drastically change it, but you’re going to have to highlight some aspects, diminish others, and maybe take out some things entirely that you would keep for one company and one role versus another. 

Networking is a great way to get your foot in the door, but you’re still going to have to have a resume. You’re still going to have to have your LinkedIn updated. Because guess what, they’re going to pass over your resume in five seconds. So, make sure it’s one page. Make sure the parts that need to be highlighted are bold and highlighted, because if they don’t see it in the first like 30 seconds– and that’s even generous– it’s tossed. 

If you make it past that round, they’re going to go and look at you online and see what they can find out about you. So you better have a LinkedIn page, period. It is worse now to have nothing than to have something bad online. If you have nothing there, it’s like you don’t even exist or aren’t very serious about moving into the corporate space. So, you need to have a presence on LinkedIn. 

If you can, highlight anything online with a WordPress site or even a tiny portfolio. If you’re going to be a trainer, then have a couple of video clips of you presenting. They don’t even have to be in an actual room of people. Just have the camera on you so people can see how you present yourself. Again, just have a presence online and have a presence on LinkedIn. That’s going to help immensely. 

With the resume, you’re going to want to have a two-column resume that is skill-based. You don’t want to put your education at the top unless you’re going for academia. Instead, you want to put that at the bottom. You want to put any awards or accomplishments on there as well. Put your LinkedIn at the top so people can find you on there right away.

Again, you’re going to want to have to switch it up every single time that you’re applying for a job. 

Daphne: That’s all really great advice. I know a lot of people struggle with figuring out what they’re actually going to put on the resume. Teaching is something that is very personal in many ways. We’ve been really proud of all of our accomplishments. However, sometimes you have to strip off 30 bullet points that you would have used in the past and focus on only the skills that really translate into the role that you’re applying for. It has to be focused on that role. You have to show them that you’re not just a jack-of-all-trades ready to do whatever role. No, you’re really serious and you want this role. 

So for training positions, you’d want to focus on all the times you train other teachers or what’s called the Train-the-Trainer model, right?

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Anything that showcases that you have worked with adults should be one of the first things that you highlight on your resume. 

Daphne: And creating the curriculum and creating the assessments and pre-assessment and post-assessments, right? But put all that in using the verbiage they use in the actual job description itself instead of the verbiage used at your school district. Make sure that those translate in a way that you would be comfortable talking about in the interview. Just stealing keywords from somewhere but not doing your homework and understanding it is also not ideal. 

Learn more about all you can learn from the Teacher to Trainer book. 

So I think you nailed all the best tips. Now, what types of things can teachers learn from your book? 

Lisa: We compiled the stories of teachers that moved into training, instructional design, coaching, and management. So in the book, you actually hear from their perspective within each chapter. They talk about what it is that drove them to leave teaching, how they did it, and what things they kind of wish they had known before they had made the transition. You learn about transferable skills, how to translate those in a resume, and the lexicon that goes with it. 

You’ll also learn a little bit more about each of those types of roles. So we talked about a corporate trainer, instructional designer, e-learning professional, coach, consultant, and even careers in academia. The academic perspective is from a professor who was a band teacher. Now teaches people how to be trainers. So he’s like a train-the-trainer model for academia. So it covers many different aspects of teaching. You’ll also learn a bit about the management role too. So yeah, you learn all about the different roles and the different skills they require. You learn all about resumes as well as the things that people wish that they had known before they left the classroom. 

Looking to connect with Lisa?

Daphne: So I want to thank you so much, Lisa, for coming and sharing all of your wisdom on this subject. I know a lot of teachers who are excited about becoming corporate trainers have really valued hearing all the advice that you have. 

Where can these teachers find you and some more resources to learn from you?

Lisa:  I’m on LinkedIn, of course. My username is Lisa M. Spinelli. They can also find more about the book, which is on Amazon. It’s also at Bitly/ATDTeachers, and that goes to the td.org site. There’s a ton of resources on the ATD website as well.

Daphne: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciated having this conversation with you.

Lisa: Thank you, Daphne. 

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