Skills upgrade for career changers

Tips from Professor Philip Adey, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science and Education, Kings College London

Use skills learned in school, not the classroom
Classroom skills are very peculiar and particular because of their minute-by-minute management and they are not always appropriate to the wide world. I know of some very caring and wonderful primary school teachers who are hopeless outside it because they treat the whole world as if it were their infant class. However, skills that were learned in the wider school are going to be very relevant. A lot of things that happen in school happen in business, albeit on a larger or smaller scale. Working in any organisation will entail dealing with colleagues and competitors, handling politics and reconciling professionalism with your career path.

Use your sales skills
Teachers make very good sales people. The good ones have a turn for the dramatic and this is a transferable skill, especially invaluable when giving presentations. Used to addressing a class of 25 or 30, teachers don’t have a qualm about speaking in public or explaining things to groups of people. And if people are chatting during your talk or a mobile phone goes off, you know exactly what to do. Fix them with a look and be quiet until they stop. The ‘hundred lines after school’ may be a lighter touch and will still get the message across.

Tactics from Tina Lamb, senior partner with the training company, Impact Factory

Take your space
If you’re giving a presentation or attending an external meeting, give yourself plenty and time. This has the dual effect of letting you take your physical space and making you more familiar with your surroundings. If you arrive in a room where you have to speak and three quarters of the audience are already seated, then the space that is left to you to occupy is tiny, and the first time you open your mouth might be to deliver your opening statement.  At any meeting, if you’re offered tea or water, accept, even if you don’t want it. It gives you more physical space to play with.

Create conversations
A teacher in the classroom is set up in a role of authority and knowledge, there to steer the children. Stepping out of this zone and into a meeting of governors or stakeholders can put you on the back foot. ‘Telling’ is no longer appropriate, but nor is the opposite, asking lots of questions. Instead you want to create conversations, led by ‘what do we think about?’  This worked very well for a teacher who came on our training course because she wanted to handle an internal restructure better. By saying ‘let’s talk about this restructure’, people were allowed to state their views without being told or asked directly.

Advice from Elizabeth Moffat, NCSL coach

Recognise your audience
On the one level, dealing with governors is about giving them necessary information but on the other you need to communicate with them as peers. It’s about recognising there’s a different style of communicating if you’re dealing with adults; you have to appreciate how they learn. There’s a continuum between being an expert to being a coach consultant and it’s a matter of selecting the right point on that for the particular conversation.

Learn to facilitate
There are many teachers who do develop a more public profile, whether they are meeting people outside school or delivering training to other teachers. Their success will depend on being good facilitators. Some teachers, who see themselves as an imparter of knowledge, an expert with all the answers, would struggle.  As a facilitator, however, you will ask questions that enable others to learn and use the best method of communication to achieve the desired outcome.


Want to know about other non-classroom roles? Visit New career directions