[Case Study] From Teaching to Consulting and Entrepreneurship
Cyndee Kawalek first reached out to me when she was teaching in Illinois almost two years ago. She was fast approaching burn-out. She was suffering from recent knee surgery, and she has Rheumatoid Arthritis. She was in pain a lot which wasn’t good given that she was a Physical Education Instructor. On top of her job burnout, she was also experiencing a nasty divorce. In other words, she was experiencing a lot of stress in her life.
Cyndee was proud of the fact that she had created from scratch the Adventure Education Program in her school. It was the most popular class in her building. During her last year, she had over 700 students apply for the 320 slots that were available. A former social worker, she is a caring and empathetic teacher—the kind any district should hate to lose. But, unfortunately, modern school systems no longer support teachers like Cyndee the way they should.
Stressed out and disillusioned because her school division had adopted an arbitrary evaluation system that knocked her down to a rating of “Adequate” after 19 years of being deemed an “Excellent” teacher, Cyndee wasn’t sure she could make it to “full” retirement.
She was also not sure that there was anything else “out there” for her, though. What other options do teachers have, anyway? That was the question that had her stumped.
In our initial work together, we talked a lot about that. In my opinion, there are many options for teachers. In fact, the options are only limited by your imagination. But first, you have to break free of the fear and be willing to explore the possibilities with an open mind.
Here we are, about two years later, and Cyndee has taken an early retirement option from her school district. She moved to California to be near her now husband. And she is also close to her two daughters who are going to school in California.
On top of all those positive changes in her life, she has undertaken a new “adventure.” She is going to be helping teachers learn how to engage their students more proactively. She has received training ed through the Center for Teacher Effectiveness., and she is setting up an independent consulting firm. She is excited again about her work, and she looks forward to making a positive difference in the lives of the teachers and educators that she trains. See for yourself what Cyndee has to say about her experience of working with me.
When I asked Cyndee specific questions about how she benefitted from working with me, here is what she said:
1. What particular challenge were you dealing with that led you to enroll with me to help with your job search?
I was feeling a great deal of stress in my position as a high school educator. Evaluations, assessments, PLC’s etc. On top of the everyday job of teaching, there were so many elements to attend to with very little time. I was also three years from retirement and thought I should start checking into what my options were.
2. What was an answer, instruction, or inspiration you discovered that started to turn things around for you?
Meeting you, who had so much in common with me, inspired me as well. You had retired from teaching due to burnout and turned your life around working for yourself. You found your true self in the process and you inspired me. You let me know that I could do it no matter what. You were honest and let me know that there would be struggles and at the same time much success. You understood what I was going through and gave me the reassurance that I could get out and start to live again. You heard me and understood that I was burning out and you gave me the confidence that I did not have to continue until I dropped. When everyone around me, family, friends, and colleagues thought I was crazy to leave a job with such security and a pension, you gave me permission to seek out other ways.
Being an Adventure Education Instructor is all about teaching students about possibilities and getting out of their comfort zone. Although, my job was stressful it was comfortable. I knew where I was going every day and what to expect. However, I did not have a life outside of school and I was not happy. I had recently made the biggest decision in my life to divorce my husband of 22 years and go it alone with one kid in college and one who would be in two years. I felt so much relief despite some financial stress. I was finding “ME” again and took a look at my professional life and knew I had to change how I was living. If I could face a divorce with lots of uncertainty than I could surely get out of my comfort zone professionally and take my life back.
I had faith that I could do this as I had changed my career at 32 years of age to become a high school physical education teacher. I spent over 3 years in school after having a Masters Degree in Social Work. I had to keep up with 18 years olds, especially, physically. I did it with honors and became the PE STUDENT OF THE YEAR IN ILLINOIS!
I was hired immediately with other job offers on the table.
If I could do that I could make that change again, even though I did have to work about age discrimination.
3. What have been your specific results so far? (i.e., How is your job search/career transition different now because of what you learned and implemented?)
After working with you for approx. a year and a half, my search has changed several times from looking to work in the private world in the health and wellness career to taking the leap into starting and Educational Training and Consulting business. I knew deep down that I could no longer work for anyone else after the discrimination and bullying I had encountered in education. I found a training from the Center for Teacher Effectiveness in Student Engagement and Motivation in which I could become an independent trainer with extensive support from CTE. Before I made the decision I contacted you with the details and you encouraged me to go. It was such a wonderful training that I turned around and two weeks later went to the Classroom Management Training. I found the training on LinkedIn which was the site you worked with me on extensively.
4. What were other benefits you experienced from your work with me? (e.g. financial, emotional, physical, or spiritual?)
You were the only support that I had when I began this journey. Everyone I talked to thought I was insane for wanting to get out. You listened to me and could emphasize with my woes and struggles because you had been there. Just the fact that you got out and had built a successful business gave me hope. And you believed in me! You warmed my heart and touched my spirit. We shared many spiritual beliefs as well.
You taught me the basics, from writing a resume to how to build a LinkedIn profile. You gave me websites, leaders in the job search field, LinkedIn specialists and branding experts. You never hesitated to share any and all of the knowledge you could. You inspired me and I consider you my mentor.
5. Would you recommend me as a coach to business friends & colleagues? If so, why?
Consider it done. I have recommended your services to those who are struggling in education or need a career coach. Why? You start with where the person is and take them from there. You hear them with (as we say in social work) the third ear and third eye. You give of yourself and of your knowledge from the heart. You truly care about us and our futures.
6. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you for always being there for me. I consider you a friend and mentor. I am so grateful to have been guided to you. I don’t know how it happened as there are many job coaches on LinkedIn. I believe that it was through divine intervention that I was drawn to you.
[Case Study] From Teacher Burnout to Flourishing and Enjoying Teaching Again
Brooke was one of my first clients. I met her when I attended the 2014 Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL) where I was a presenter offering a workshop on work-life balance. When Brooke learned of the topic of my presentation, she was eager to hear what I had to offer. She had been feeling stressed and overloaded. In fact, she was fast approaching what I refer to as “teacher burnout.” Her life was definitely out of balance, and she was feeling unhappy and overwhelmed with her situation at work.
Brooke didn’t share all of the specifics of the stress she felt at the time until she contacted me later. A few months after that workshop, she reached out to inquire about the work I did in career coaching and counseling burnt-out teachers. She was ready to make a change. Without going into a lot of detail here, suffice it to say that she was experiencing a stressful situation in her assignment as a high school librarian. As a result, she was considering that she might need to make a change in her job situation.
Hear in her own words how the work we did together in the ensuing months made a difference and truly changed her life:
Brooke has synthesized the work we did together that goes beyond just her job search. She has also continued to work on the stress management and work-life balance strategies she learned through our work together, and now she is using those strategies to teach mindfulness to her students. (How awesome is that?) I just love that she has started Mindful Mondays with her students.
As you can tell, Brooke was lucky enough to be able to find a position doing what she already loved as a librarian. She was able to transfer into a healthier school climate where she is appreciated for her background and her efforts in a way that she wasn't in her previous assignment. Not every teacher is so lucky. I am hearing from more and more teachers who are either approaching teacher burnout, or they are already there. The fact is that not every teacher that I work with would be satisfied to stay in the profession because they are just done. By the time they reach me, they are ready to move on and try something different.
What I try to do is to learn what it is that makes my client special and unique. What special talents, skills, experiences or education do they have that would allow them to work in a different field. I want them to find where they can be happy and feel fulfilled and appreciated for their efforts.
There is No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
There is no one size fits all, cookie cutter solution for any teacher looking to leave the classroom. What works for one individual won't work at all for another. I realize that my clients are just like my students were. They are unique and individual, and they each have a special mission or purpose for being here. I feel like it is part of my job to help them decipher what that purpose or mission is and then help them find the best way for them to express it.
Brooke was able to find the solution that worked for her. Had she not taken the action she did three years ago, however, chances are she would still be stuck in the situation that was going to make her sick from the stress. She had to decide on her own that enough was enough. She was also smart enough to know that she needed help in directing her job search. She needed to learn the tools and techniques for a successful job search. She is much happier today than she was when I first met her. She is a perfect example of the kind of transformation that I want for all of my clients. Way to go, Brooke!
[Case Study] How This Teacher Experiencing Burnout Transitioned from K-12 to Higher Education
When Nicky first approached me, she was ready to make a change in her career. She wasn't sure what that change should be, however. She had gone back to school after a few years of teaching in high school, and she had earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. Upon graduation, she went back to teaching high school because it felt familiar, and it was “safe.”
After just a few months, she knew she wasn't going to be happy in the K-12 world long term. She had no clue how to where to start a job search, however. Luckily, her friend, Brooke, was able to tell her about me. I had already been working with Brooke (see her case study above). She referred Nicky to me to get help.
Listen to Nicky's own words as she describes what she believes she gained from working with me as her career coach.
Sometimes You Need Encouragement
As Nicky points out in the video, having a career coach helped her become more positive in her outlook. When we began our work together, she was feeling pretty down on herself. She lacked the personal and professional confidence that she needed to stretch herself and examine all of the various possibilities that were available to her.
In the end, Nicky left the K-12 world and entered the world of higher education. She is now doing the exact type of work that she said she wanted to be doing when we began our work together.
Changing Your Job or Career Path Takes Patience and Persistence
Nicky also learned about the roller coaster aspect of the job search process. There were a number of peaks and valleys along the way in her individual job search journey. Job search is fraught with complications, and most of them are outside your control. You can go from the elation of feeling you have found the job of dreams to the deflation of learning you came in “second,” and someone else got the job. A competent and experienced career coach can help you manage your expectations during the process.
Nicky's was not an overnight success story. We started working together in October of 2014, and she didn't land her new job until the summer of 2016. In the meantime, she turned down at least one concrete offer and took herself out of the running for another opportunity that just didn't feel like the right “fit.” That takes courage. It also takes confidence and the belief that something better will come along.
The “3 Ps” of Successful Job Search
Nicky is an example of someone who learned to practice what I refer to as the “3 Ps” of successful job search. She practiced patience and persistence, and she didn't allow herself to panic…even when she might have wanted to. She decided to take action and change the trajectory of her career. She is now working on a college campus and teaching students who are training to become teachers on how to teach chemistry the right way. This has been a passion of hers for as long as I have known her. To get where she is now, she had to step out of her comfort zone, and she had to take action. She has definitely grown in her confidence in herself, and she continues to work on stretching herself. Congratulations to Nicky on having the patience and persistence to make the change in her life that she wanted. Way to go!
[Case Study] Learn How Richard Benefitted from Having Kitty Serve as a Sounding Board
Not everyone feels comfortable being in front of a camera, so for this case study, Richard has offered written answers to questions that I asked him about the work we did together as we considered the possibility of a new career path. He was experiencing symptoms of teacher burnout when he reached out to me a few months ago. Find answers to questions I asked him as we approached the end of our work together about the benefit of the work we did. He hasn't yet made his transition out of teaching, but he is definitely moving in the right direction.
(Question) What particular challenge were you dealing with that led you to enroll with me to help with your job search?
(Richard) I have been a teacher for decades, and I was discovering that it was getting harder and harder to get my work done. I actually never believed in burnout, but in talking with Kitty and some others, I started to believe that burnout might, in fact have been the problem. A very long commute and having two small children drained all the enthusiasm and efficiency that I long had for my work. I simply started noticed that I was constantly fatigued and irritable. Furthermore, the school I worked at decided to grow class sizes and increase workload, despite many teachers there already putting in a good 60 hours a week. This kind of life for me started to become unsustainable. I found it hard to be an energetic teacher going at a full sprint for ten months a year. I’ve heard that many people switch careers several times in their lifetimes, but I never thought I would be one of them. So, I contacted Kitty, who specialized in working with teachers, to see what my options were.
Furthermore, the school I worked at decided to grow class sizes and increase workload, despite many teachers there already putting in a good 60 hours a week. This kind of life for me started to become unsustainable. I found it hard to be an energetic teacher going at a full sprint for ten months a year. I’ve heard that many people switch careers several times in their lifetimes, but I never thought I would be one of them. So, I contacted Kitty, who specialized in working with teachers, to see what my options were.
(Question) What was an answer, instruction, or inspiration you discovered that started to turn things around?
(Richard) I spent most of my time working with Kitty on what might be realistic options for a new career. I started out taking an inventory of myself including my interests, skills, passions, wishes. Kitty’s course has several lengthy questionnaires, which took some time answering but were well worth the effort. Some of what Kitty noticed I already knew about myself.
My fascination with “big picture questions,” for example. Learning that she saw the same things in myself was encouraging for me. It gave me the confidence I needed to look into certain types of fields and not others. Indeed, Kitty provided a wealth of books and internet resources to help my self-exploration. It helped me really start to look hard at what I loved about teaching (and would want to keep in a future career) as well as what I disliked about the profession (and would want to avoid in a new career).
The most exciting thing that I discovered was my interest in questions of meaning and purpose. This led us to discuss the possibility of entering a ministry or chaplaincy. I had long considered this possibility, but what I think I needed to hear was someone else tell me that this really could be something that I did with my life. It wasn’t a “pipe-dream” or a pure fantasy. This led me to look into theology programs, including secular and Buddhist mindfulness training programs. The idea that there were other things I could do actually made my current job a little easier for me too. I felt far less trapped. I think Kitty’s encouragement was invaluable for me to consider that I was freer and more in control of what I did with my life than I was feeling after teaching for so long.
(Question) What were your specific results? (i.e., How is your life, job, career different now because of what you learned and implemented?)
(Richard) I am presently still teaching, but what has been exciting for me is that, once I started to consider a more religious profession, more doors for such a career started to open up for me. I am currently apprenticing with a mindfulness teacher, and I will begin a year-long training and certification program in June to become a mindfulness teacher for adolescents and children. I feel particularly called to this task since I have found that the stresses I experience in my job are equally shared by my students and their parents. I would like to help them all cope better with the pressures that are imposed on us. I don’t know yet what this means for earning a living, but I am excited by the prospect.
(Question) What were other benefits you experienced from your work with me? (e.g. financial, emotional, physical, or spiritual)
(Richard) I think what I most valued from our conversation was Kitty’s encouragement and positive attitude about making changes in my life. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it helps to hear someone give you “permission” to move on, to try something new, to follow your passion or your dream. I think I was waiting for an invitation to make a change and that doing so was what was needed in my life. Such a change, though, is scary, as one is making a leap or taking a risk.
There is no guarantee my plans will ultimately work out, but I was encouraged by all the examples that Kitty shared with me of people who did take the leap and did land safely on the other side. Kitty often said to me that if we can be clear in what we want, the universe will open up opportunities for us. I think this is true insofar as, by making a commitment to investigate a new path for myself, I became aware of a lot of opportunities that were right there in front of me but that I wouldn’t I have noticed had Kitty not encouraged me to look for them. I am grateful for her guidance and encouragement throughout our time working together.
(Question) Would you recommend me as a coach to friends & colleagues? If so, why?
(Richard) Yes, I would recommend Kitty as a coach, especially to those who feel burnt out and stuck in teaching. Teaching is a harder job than I think many realize, especially if one is a committed teacher. Kitty worked for years in education, and she understands what burnout looks like and how to move past it. I found her to possess a wealth of resources – from books to internet sites and businesses to innovators and entrepreneurs in a variety of fields. I would often take note of all these resources to track them down once our conversations were over, and I always found them helpful for giving me new ideas on how to look at my own situation and how to build a new career for myself. I also found Kitty to be extremely encouraging and positive about making good changes in our lives. I found our time working together invaluable, and I would recommend her with great enthusiasm.
[CASE STUDY] Story of Deanna’s Career Transition
This case study highlights the success of Deanna Forsythe, a teacher from Wisconsin.
Deanna enrolled in my “Jumpstart Your Job Search Program” in late April 2017. She landed her new job as the Director of a Mathnasium Center in mid-June
This was, without a doubt, the quickest success I have seen as a Career Transition Coach!
I would like to take credit for it, but Deanna did the hard work. My program and our one-on-one consultations contributed to her success. She was responsible for her fast transition, though.
The average job search today, from start to finish, is generally four to nine months. Given that Deanna’s process from start to finish took place over seven weeks is definitely not the norm.
What I observed about Deanna was her positive, “go-getter” attitude. I am sure she was a phenomenal teacher. She has all the right characteristics for an outstanding educator. She is extremely organized; she was highly motivated and hyper- focused; and she was eager to be successful.
When she first approached me, Deanna expressed a combination of frustrations.
She felt that the system didn’t respect her expertise as an educator anymore. She had even changed from one position to another in hopes of a better situation. She was disappointed to find that that change didn’t fix the problem, however.
She also felt that she had more to offer than was being used in her current situation. Hear in her own words what she wrote to me about what led her to seek out my services:
“I have been an educator for over 20 years, working in the private, public, and choice sectors. I have supported children of varying ages, academic abilities, and behavioral needs. Over that time, I noticed a profound shift in the field of education. Demands placed on teachers continue to increase, Autonomy continues to decrease. I recognized at that point that it was time to utilize my skill set from both my BS and MA in a way that was far more productive, meaningful, and fulfilling to me.”
She took to the program with enthusiasm. The program includes online tutorials, recommended reading, exercises, and activities. She tackled the program as though she were undertaking a new advanced degree. She set up a system for herself, and when we held our first consultation, she was wide open to suggestions. She didn’t come into the program with a preconceived idea of where it might lead.
I discovered that Deanna has a deep intuitive nature. Part of what she was heeding was her gut instinct.
She knew there had to be something “out there” where she could contribute in a more meaningful way.
She also expressed her love for animals and how her dream is to one day be an animal healer. I encouraged her to continue to explore that. We don’t listen to our inner wisdom often enough. We shut down because we have convinced ourselves that certain things “aren’t possible.” I try to get my clients to embrace the idea that “anything is possible.” It is, in fact, “possible” once you believe it is.
Listen to Deanna’s testimony in her own words as they relate to her experience of the work we did together:
This video conversation holds several key pieces of information. Deanna made use of the entire program starting with getting in touch with herself and remembering what brought her job and peace.
Here is what she said about the nature of the instruction and inspiration she got from following the modules and the results she saw:
“I developed my professional portfolio through LinkedIn (lesson 7). Others in the field I am in accepted my invitations, and I continue to meet and expand my network today.
Also, I closely followed Kitty’s modules regarding bringing life to one’s cover letter/resume (lessons 3-4). I applied for the position I currently accepted, and within 24 hours, I received a response of interest.
A breakthrough I experienced was I recognized that I held the cards. I simply needed the support of someone like Kitty who has ‘been there, done that’ to guide me through the process of reinventing myself.”
There are usually side benefits to taking part in programs like this. Sometimes they can be unexpected. Here is what Deanna said about one of the benefits she received from working with me one-on-one:
“Kitty’s ability to relate to and validate my frustrations as an educator in today’s world was valuable to me. I no longer felt alone. She is an excellent empathic listener!
I also felt supported in taking baby steps, as reinventing one’s self can be an overwhelming process. She understands the challenge in breaking new ground, as she was once in my shoes.”
I always ask people if they would be willing to offer a recommendation on LinkedIn or a testimonial for my website as I draw my work with a client to a close. I did the same with Deanna. Here is what she offered that she would tell her friends and colleagues about working with me:
“I would (and already have) recommend you to others who are looking for more fulfillment in their professional lives. You are authentic. You have experienced this journey firsthand, and that lends credibility to your interest in supporting me to do the same.
You also have experience leading others outside of this realm/position, as former president of VEA, and that also lends credibility to coaching others, in my opinion.”
So, there you have it. Another satisfied client. Another teacher who has decided that the system has failed her and it’s time to move on. I am confident that Deanna will be successful in her new role. She only need bring half of her enthusiasm to her new role as she brought to her job transition program, to that, but I know she will bring 100% to that new endeavor.
I am also confident that while she will bring tremendous value to her new position, she will learn as well as contribute and she may have even greater things waiting for her in her future.
It is a pleasure working with people like Deanna. She saw a need to make a change in her life, and she made it with confidence and determination.
What about you? Are you ready to take charge of your career and your life?
If so, I urge you to contact me for a 20-minute complimentary Discovery Session. Just go to my calendar here to sign up. It won’t cost a thing but 20-minutes of your time: https://kittyatcareermakeover.coachesconsole.com/calendar/.