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Learning Delivery

From High School to the Corporate University

Two teachers-turned-L&D professionals share what they learned as public teachers that helped them as CLOs.   

There’s a well-worn path from public education to corporate education. From trainers and instructional designers to chief learning officers, former teachers’ understanding of public education gives them a leg up in L&D.

Steve Dobberowsky, principal consultant at Cornerstone OnDemand, a cloud-based learning and talent management solutions provider, taught high school English and Spanish for five years. He eventually transitioned to corporate education, working as associate director for leadership and cross-functional training at the IRS.

During that career transition, he found that his ability to be comfortable in front of people and lead a conversation were as helpful in corporate education as they were in public.

“I’m not shy,” Dobberowsky said. “I’m not afraid to be the center of attention, and that had a lot to do with the public school teaching.”

Part of finding that comfort was being able to open up to his students. Dobberowsky found that his inability to talk about his personal life with his high school students caused a disconnect. So during his first year of teaching, he became more involved with students through extracurricular activities, such as football, drama and serving as a quiz bowl coach.

“I had to define the line between work and personal in a way that allowed me to be compassionate and authentic in my interactions with my student and athletes,” Dobberowsky said. “It was tough. However, it was that that allowed me to identify how to connect with people, engage in a conversation and be able to facilitate learning in whatever fashion.“

As he moved to corporate education, he noticed teaching high school allowed for more personal relationships with students. Dobberowsky was able to know what was going on in their lives which made forging connections and understanding learning differences easier. He said a more personal approach to corporate L&D could result in a higher opportunity for success.

“If we can get to know our participants a bit, whether it’s learning styles, preferences or even something about them personally, we’re going to be able to target our efforts more appropriately for the learner,” Dobberowsky said.

Identifying these particulars necessitates getting to know your employees on a deeper level to determine what they may be struggling with. “In order to be an effective teacher or instructor, I had to treat others not how I wanted to be treated, but instead like you believe they would want to be treated,” Dobberowsky said. “That sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to discern — but I can guarantee you that you’re likelier to be rewarded for your attempts to find out.”

Amanda Beers, vice president of learning and development at the daycare franchise The Learning Experience, found her experience as a high school teacher gave her the tools to understand different learning styles and personality types.

During her time as an English teacher, Beers allowed her students to create art projects and act things out. This gave students the ability to engage with the material in different ways based on how they learned. Beers said this showed her one size doesn’t fit all.

“In the corporate sector, I can’t really break out watercolors for the executive team,” she said. “But I do carry that over. I realized that with some people you have to get straight to the point, and some people you have to coax through it.”

Beers said this means reading your audience and realizing you have to individualize learning. In the corporate world, that might mean using language that’s more direct or a step-by-step process for certain employees.

Dobberowsky also sees faults in the current public education system, which he believes CLOs can learn from as well.

Teachers’ success is based heavily on whether their students improve their test scores. Dobberowsky said some companies are following a similar path by relying too heavily on evaluations used to determine whether instructors are successful.

“I think there’s some value there, but I don’t think it’s the only thing we should be looking at,” Dobberowsky said. “I think there should be other quality measures that we look at.”

Specifically, Dobberowsky said conversations need to be more “frequent, informal and forward-looking” rather than infrequent performance management meetings that involve setting up a plan for the year, a quick check-in and a self-assessment.

“In today’s world, things change, and they change fast,” Dobberowsky said. “How do we believe that: (A) Whatever we agreed to accomplish in the beginning of the year still is true at the end of the year; (B) we should be talking to our employees only three times a year as to how they’re performing; and (C) managers and employees look forward to these formal discussions?”

For Beers, what’s most important is that corporate education value teaching and learning. The best companies will put learning at the forefront just like a dedicated teacher.

“[Education] is one of the wheels that helps everything continue to run,” she said.

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