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Teachers to Trainers with Lisa Spinelli

preparing teachers to train with lisa spinelli

On the Train Like You Listen podcast last week, we heard from Shermaine Perry-Knights on her journey from teacher to trainer. On this week’s podcast we dig further into this topic by talking to the person who wrote the book on it.

teachers to trainers by lisa spinelli

Lisa Spinelli took some time with us this week to talk to us about what she learned while writing her book, Teachers To Trainers. We take some time to dig into why teachers tend to move into training, how to build your skillset if you are a teacher looking to move into training, and what challenges to expect for professionals thinking about this move.

You should also check out the Teaching to Training group Lisa moderates on LinkedIn.

Transcript of the Conversation with Lisa Spinelli

Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast about all things Learning & Development in bite-sized chunks. This week we’re joined by Lisa Spinelli, who is the Senior Content Manager at ATD and editor of the newly published book, “Teachers to Trainers”. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lisa Spinelli: Thank you so much for having me.

Brian Washburn: Lisa, I’m excited to talk about this book. This idea of people going from the world of teaching to training. It’s actually where I started. I went from the world of GED instruction, and then I did student teaching in an elementary school where I taught 5th grade for a little while.  I did a long-term sub job as a kindergarten teacher and then I went over to the world of training and instructional design and corporate training.

6-Word Introduction: Teacher to Trainer Edition

Brian Washburn: So what we like to do every time we introduce a guest is have our guest introduce themselves using exactly 6 words in a biography.  For me, I would say that my biography along the lines of this topic is “I started as a GED teacher.” How about you?  How would you introduce yourself in exactly 6 words to our audience?

Lisa Spinelli: Sure!  So mine is actually not going to be career-related but “I’ve been called the Energizer Bunny.”

Brian Washburn:  (LAUGHING) I could maybe do a whole podcast on that.

Lisa Spinelli: Oh, yeah. Maybe! (LAUGHING) And I just recently did this CliftonStrengths workshop at ATD and pretty much everything in there was like “energy”, “lots of energy”, “energy”. Like if I could just harness this energy and somehow monetize on this I would be so rich! (LAUGHING)

Brian Washburn: Well, my guess is that co-workers, colleagues appreciate that, especially now in this time when we’re all separated, right, through space and time and doing lots of things virtual.  That energy comes through, I think, in some of the things that you get to do, whether it’s a virtual meeting or the passion you approach a project.

“Teachers To Trainers” Book

Brian Washburn: Now this book that you have, “Teachers To Trainers”, what made you think to pull together a book about people’s journeys from being a classroom teacher in the K-12 space to being a trainer?

Lisa Spinelli: We do a number of books every year at ATD.  Part of my role is to help come up with ideas for career development type of books.  And, lately, my passion really has been not just how you advance your career when you’re in talent development, but also for people who are getting into the field. One of those fields in which people find after are definitely teachers.  My former boss, Tim Ito, and I were talking and one of our authors at ATD, Erik Palmer, who is a contributor for the book.  He used to be an award-winning teacher in Colorado and so we started looking — and investigated a little further and it came out in this lovely format.

Brian Washburn:  I’m excited to crack the spine on this book and start to get into it.  Again, it’s something that has been part of my own journey and I — one of our colleagues at Endurance Learning also came from the teaching space.  So I think it’s a not-so-uncommon journey that some people take.

Why are teachers leaving the xlassroom to become trainers?

Brian Washburn: Did you find that teachers are choosing to leave the classroom to work in the training field kind of on their own volition or are they being attracted to the field of training for some reason?

Lisa Spinelli: No I think it’s really more the former.  So I think a lot of the teachers – and a lot of the data has shown us this – that by year #5 a lot the teachers are looking elsewhere. That’s a myriad of reasons why they’re looking elsewhere, but one of the #1 reasons is they just don’t feel supported and another one is the pay, really. So a lot of teachers go literally online to the google machine, start typing in “education jobs” into job search site and ATD has its own job bank site so I’m not sure if that one’s pulling up for them as well, but I know that education jobs, learning & development jobs are pulling in, you know, the talent development, instructional design, corporate trainer, all of those jobs that we talk about in the book.  So I think that’s where they primarily find out about it and also through connections they might have, talking about how they want to just leave teaching and then they happen to find people in this field and ATD local chapters, like yours.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, and so for anybody who is listening who’s looking to fill a training position, it seems like looking at a pool of teachers might not be a bad place to start to look.

The Strengths of a Teacher Converting to Training

Brian Washburn: What did you find to be some of the greatest strengths for people that are converting from teaching to training?

Lisa Spinelli: You know it’s really funny because I feel a little bit like this as well, having come in from the journalism space into the realm of talent development.  Something that teachers are really good at is researching and developing their own content by chunking, delivering it in a fun and informative way…but really diving in and coming up with research to become like micro-experts in their field, right, especially elementary school teachers. You have to teach on a ton of different topics, which — you may not be a math professional…you might not have cared for science in your previous life. So I think that that happens a lot with teachers and talent development professionals having to really dive into the topic areas that they might not be adept in, but they find a way to deliver the information and also be able to answer questions that the learners have.

The Challenges a Teacher Faces When Transitioning to Training

Brian Washburn:  That was going to be one of my next questions is… on, kind of, the flip side…what are some of the challenges that you found that teachers face when trying to break into this field. One of the things may be the content and what they learned and got their Masters in, but what are some of the other challenges that you are finding as you were pulling together the different stories of people who have made this transition?

Lisa Spinelli: You know one of the biggest things I think was just moving away from that kind of lifestyle and not having worked in a for-profit industry before.  So thinking about things in terms of revenue numbers, the ROI on that. Methodologies? Sure but those are not — some of them kind of crossover like Bloom’s Taxonomy and that kind of stuff, and they might not have heard of ADDIE or LLAMA but… And of course there’s a lot of “learn tech”. But right now, I mean, I think a lot of the teachers are getting a fast course in eLearning and, kind of,  had to flip their classrooms into virtual classrooms.  So maybe previously I would have said tech would have been a big one but I think a lot of the teachers now are getting a real good crash course in ed tech.

Transitioning to Training from Other Fields

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, especially over the past 6, 7 months…absolutely.  Now, most people don’t grow up saying “I want to be a trainer when I grow up”. 

Lisa Spinelli: Right.

Brian Washburn:  What kinds of lessons do you think are transferable after seeing what teachers go through to become trainers.  Or, if I can put this differently, what lessons do people from other fields – not teaching, but other fields – draw if they want to come over to the world of training, based upon what you learned by studying the teacher-to-trainer journey?

Lisa Spinelli: Well I think for any kind of career transition, if you’re moving into talent development, a great place to, kind of, start is that networking aspect.  I think the more people that you reach out to, even if they’re not in the exact role that you think you want to be in… Just connecting with as many people as you can who are in the industry at different levels, in different roles, it’s going to give you a good idea.  And maybe you’re going to find a role that you never even knew existed before, right?

Brian Washburn:  Yeah.

Lisa Spinelli: So I think having those mentors and networking and really going to local events is definitely the way to go to, kind of, get that backing and that mentorship that you’re going to need to make such a transition.  And starting slowly too.  I think a lot of people look at the big picture, like, “this is where I want to be…oh my gosh it’s so far away from where I am.  How am I going to make this big leap?” And I think once you break it down into little steps and it becomes just something that you do every week or every day or every month or every year, you get there.  You don’t have to just quit and start something completely different.

Brian Washburn:  I think that’s really great advice.  I never took a Train-the-Trainer course.  I never took an Instructional Design course.  Honestly, I would sneak into my boss’ office and find issues of TD Magazine and I’d read them cover to cover.  And that really showed me (A) there are some things that are in here being mentioned that I’m doing right now and (B) it kind of showed me what some of the trends were and some of the things that people are doing that maybe I wanted to learn a little more about.  So I love that advice, just in terms of networking and also just, kind of, taking a look around the landscape because there might be things you haven’t even thought of that could be a good fit for you. 

Get to Know Lisa Spinelli

Brian Washburn: Lisa, this has been really, really helpful just to, kind of, hear in terms of that teacher to trainer pipeline, but also just transitioning from any other role to trainer.  Before we go I have a few speed-round questions so that our audience can get to know you just a little bit more.  Are you ready for the speed-round?

Lisa Spinelli: Sure, go for it!

training power food
A donut from Pixabay!

Brian Washburn: You don’t necessarily consider yourself a trainer but you do some presentations.  What’s your go-to food before you present?

Lisa Spinelli: Well, I want to lie and say it’s something healthy like yogurt or something but it’s probably more like a donut or Oreos. (LAUGHING)

Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING) Confession, that’s kind of mine too.

Lisa Spinelli: Ok, great!

Brian Washburn: So I normally ask what’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without, but you’re more on the journalism side and the writing side. Is there a piece of writing tech that you’ve found particularly helpful?

Lisa Spinelli: You know, I would say that not necessarily writing tech, but a lot of the times I’ll have to manipulate graphics or things like that and photos that don’t look too generic-y so I would say Pixabay is a great site.  Unsplash is also an amazing site – all free – and you can donate to just support those that are giving those images out.  Those are two.  And then Pixlr Editor, which is a, kind of, free Adobe Photoshop-type of website that you can go to, not associated with Adobe.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, and Pixabay is something that we use a lot for our imagery on the blog and for some of the other things that we do.  Pixlr, I haven’t thought of that in a while but it’s a really – it’s free – and it’s really easy to use.  It’s intuitive. So thank you for mentioning those. Now I know that you have your own podcast through ATD.  Is there anything that you’ve either read recently or listened to that others in the field should be paying attention to?

Lisa Spinelli: This is kind of a shameless plug for one of my former co-students at Columbia University, David Epstein.  He wrote a book called “Range” and its a fantastic book and I think that it really applies to almost anybody in any kind of role so… It talks a lot about not just being a specialist in your one area, but to broaden your horizons and I think as we talk about stretch assignments and right now how everybody in the world is stretching themselves, I think it’s an important book to read.

Brian Washburn:   Excellent. How about any shameless plugs for yourself before go?

Lisa Spinelli: How much time do we have? (LAUGHING)

Brian Washburn:  (LAUGHING)

Lisa Spinelli: Just kidding.  No, yeah The Accidental Trainer is the podcast and I love it and something that helped to get started at ATD a while back.  And so I would like to have everybody subscribe, review, love it.  And the book, of course, “Teachers to Trainers” It published on October 27th, so head on out to the newsstands.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah, and they can get that on Amazon.  They can get that on  Any place else that they should be looking for it?

Lisa Spinelli: I believe it should be also available at Barnes & Nobles.  Of course, most people aren’t actually going storefront right now.

Brian Washburn:  Right.  Very nice.  Thank you so much, Lisa, for joining us today.  And thank you to everybody else who decided to tune in and listen to this episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Spotify, on iHeartRadio, iTunes, or anywhere where you get your podcasts.  If you like what you’re hearing we’d love it if you could also give us a rating because that’s how other people get to find out about us.  So, until next time, happy training everyone!

If you’re new to the field of L&D or are ready to make the transition from teacher into an L&D career, the L&D Pro Academy has a Fundamentals of L&D course that is designed to help you build the skills you need to be successful and feel confident in your new role.

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