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May 27, 2016

From Teacher to TOGETHER Teacher

The how-not-to-start-a-business post turned out to be very popular, and I am now fielding lots of questions like, “How did you go from being a teacher to leading PD for teachers and leaders?” The headline answer: by accident and also very carefully.

Let me first be clear that at NO point in my entire life did I ever sit around and fantasize about starting my own business. I mean, have you MET me? I’m naturally cautious and a bit of a planner. I was also fortunate to completely and totally love my jobs along the way.

But in case you are interested, here’s my path from Point A to Point B:

Maia&Keisha - Cropped

Here’s me circa the year 2000 with one of my fifth grade students

Sometime in the late 1990s: I taught 4th and 5th grades in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I led a few workshops for fellow new teachers on keeping our classrooms organized. Nothing to write home about.

2002 – 2007: I served in leadership roles here. I did some fundraising and operations work, but my main gig was overseeing the summer training for new teachers in Houston. I saw firsthand how many smart and dedicated new teachers were drowning in the crushing workload.

2007 – 2013: I made a change to be closer to the direct service world of schools and worked here as the Chief Talent (and occasionally Operating) Officer. In this role, I managed leaders of both schools and network teams. I saw that more experienced leaders were not getting the results they wanted – and burning out in the process. My amazing boss knew of my interest and talents in Togetherness and asked me to lead a few trainings that I made up the night before.

2013 – present: The Together Group became my full-time vocation. I am on the road over 40 weeks per year delivering trainings, and I do a bit of coaching for very senior leaders in the mission-driven sector.

That’s the formal bio, but here are a few other facts:

*Sometime around 2007, I let a few people know that I was interested in coaching and got some hits. So, I did a few coaching gigs at night and on the weekends.

*Sometime around 2008, I delivered some professional development on Togetherness and it caught on enough that this place, this place, and this place asked me to deliver more workshops. Thankfully, the crowds were forgiving and the sessions were a hit. I wrote up a two-pager describing what I did, and word-of-mouth sent people my way.

*Sometime around 2009, my former boss told me I should write a book. I snorted at her. Then, she told me she really thought I should write a book. And I was all, “Ummmm. . . I have more than a full-time job working for YOU!” But then she generously allowed me to go to 80% time for a year. And so I wrote The Together Teacher on Mondays and weekends. Again through word of mouth, I was connected to an editor at Jossey-Bass, and then there was a book! I was very lucky, as I do not have an agent and I didn’t shop around for publishers.

So, some lessons:

  1.  Do what you love.
  2.  Get really good at it.
  3.  Make sure people need what you have to offer.
  4.  And then practice some more. Make sure you know your content, have great instructional design, and use a  supportive and encouraging tone.
  5.  Don’t quit your day job. You may not end up liking your side-gig.

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