Feature

So You Want To Be an Educational Consultant?

A former superintendent no longer waits for the phone to ring in his new role as speaker and workshop leader by JOEL RADIN


As a school superintendent, you probably have a big ego, an abundance of energy and boundless enthusiasm. You create, direct, motivate and cause things to happen. You face challenges from the news media and find the spotlight on you at all times. People mostly respect your position and authority. You thrive in the limelight.

 

Yet while the public thinks you have vast power over the lives and futures of students and staff members, only you fully appreciate that perception is not reality. No one--save your spouse and your dog--understands the constant stress and strains of the superintendency.

Maybe this idea has crossed your mind: I can do something else in my professional life.

The longer you stay in the superintendency, the more you think about that alternative career. Then one day it happens. You retire or resign. Or perhaps a school board forces you out.

If you have played your cards right and planned properly, you could find a new career that is exciting, taps into your special talents and allows you to remain involved with education and children. And what is that career? Educational consulting.

An Idealized View
Yes, you could have your cake and eat it too. After all, after years of running a school district, don’t you have the answers to most of the questions? Haven’t you done it all while working in the trenches? Couldn’t you share your successful experiences with others and make things happen positively for school-age children? What about all that money to be made for doing things that are second nature to you? And, best of all, if things go wrong, can’t a consultant just walk away from the chaos and avoid being held responsible?

Wrong! That may be someone’s fantasy view of educational consulting, but it isn’t the real worId. Nothing comes so easily.

In my case, I started planning to become a keynote speaker and consultant on educational issues several years prior to my retirement from the superintendency. I knew I would leave my chosen profession as soon as I turned 55. So why did I leave the profession I loved when I still had much to contribute to my district and its students, when I had four years left on an evergreen contract and was in the driver’s seat?

The reasons for leaving were as complex as the superintendency itself. I had seen two of my respected colleagues in western New York state, Gary Barr and Howard Welker, die on the job just after reaching their 60s from the unyielding pressures brought on largely but not exclusively by their boards of education. When my school board turned during an election from a pro-education, supportive group of citizens who held children as their primary concern to a majority of mean-spirited folks who knew better than anybody else how to run things, I became uneasy.

When I realized this new board intended to dismantle everything accomplished by the previous board, I knew it was just a matter of time before I had to leave. If I didn’t, I figured I might become the third active superintendent in the region to die in the position.

I considered leaving New York state to become a superintendent in another area. After all, that would make good financial sense for my family. I could collect my pension from New York and a full-time salary from another district. That was my plan until one day, in discussing my future with colleagues at a leadership training session run by AASA, another superintendent said pointedly: "If you think the superintendency will kill you in New York, what makes you think it won’t kill you in another state?" I knew he was right. So I needed to revise my plans.

A Thorough Self-Assessment
Of course one option would be to do nothing. Just retire and do things that I never had time to do previously. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to read all the classics? I always wanted to learn how to golf but never made the time. Wouldn’t it be great to start now while still reasonably fit? How about traveling? Didn’t I always want to visit all the great places in the United States and around the world that I’d read about in books and always dreamed of seeing?

I took stock of my strengths and weaknesses, my likes and dislikes. The conclusion was obvious: I could not just sit still at age 55. Even though my battery was low and needed recharging, I knew I couldn’t just retire. I was too young and vibrant. My ego still needed massaging. I wanted to be productive in the field of education. Plus I enjoyed the limelight. So what next?

I consulted friends and recent retirees from the field and did lots of library reading on career changing. I made lists and answered surveys. What did I like to do best and what did I dislike the most? What was I good at doing? What activities gave me the greatest satisfaction? What knowledge, skills and experiences did I have that would be of value to others?

All this homework helped me realize what I wanted to do. I loved to speak before groups. I enjoyed running training sessions. My ego was massaged when people told me how good I was, how much they learned in my sessions and how inspired they were to try new things after listening to me.

Waiting and Waiting
So how do you become a consultant? What steps must you take? I figured it would be easy to do some planning, advertise myself to colleagues and just go to it.

Sitting down to do some soul searching was a rather easy task. I listed the activities I had done in the past, had fun doing and that were hot topics in education at the moment. Ideas on developing standards, authentic assessment, team building, site-based management, strategic planning, focus groups and career development passed through my mind. I was getting excited. It sounded fun, rather easy to do and something that would satisfy those who attended my sessions.

Then I created a brochure on my personal computer at home using "My Brochures and More" software, which was simple to use. I printed my brochure and sent it to colleagues all over New York state who knew of my abilities, my accomplishments and, most importantly, my work as an educational leader and ardent change agent for children.

I waited for the telephone to ring.

Meanwhile, I listed topics that would be appropriate for keynote speeches at luncheon meetings, faculty meetings, superintendent conferences, opening day of school events, conventions and any other educational group meeting. I knew I could speak well, motivate an audience and enthrall them with my powers of persuasion. I developed five different speeches of varying lengths on various timely educational topics.

I waited for the telephone to ring.

In the meantime, I developed a demonstration video to send to prospective clients, which showed excerpts of me speaking before an audience. These would surely wow clients and make them hire me immediately.

I continued to wait for the telephone to ring.

A friend of mine told me about the National Speakers Association, based in Tempe, Ariz. This was an association of professional speakers, trainers and consultants in all areas and from all parts of the world. I contacted them for information on how to develop a consulting business.

I sent mailings to superintendents in neighboring states outlining my skills and abilities and suggesting what I could do to help them restructure their district toward excellence in education.

I was still waiting for the telephone to ring.

The National Speakers Association was holding a convention in Atlanta. I decided to go to see what I could learn. It was the most mind-blowing experience I’ve ever had! Now I’ve been to great educational conferences run by AASA, the National School Boards Association and dozens of others, but nothing prepared me for the excitement of the National Speakers convention. Here were top speakers and trainers from all walks of life presenting to their peers. These were performers who typically commanded five and six figures per presentation. These were artists, singers, actors, performers, jugglers and magicians. I was overwhelmed. I felt insignificant compared to the people around me.

I used the opportunity to make lots of contacts with other fledgling consultants like me. I discovered I wasn’t alone in waiting for the telephone to ring. I went to sessions on how to market yourself, how to close the sale, how to develop the entrepreneurial spirit, how to develop proper presentation materials and how to develop and maintain a client base. What an eye-opening experience.

I realized now I could not sit back and wait for the calls to come in. I had to run my new career as a business. I had to think and act like a businessperson. This was a whole new world for me. I was used to working for an organization that provided a regular paycheck. Now I was on my own.

I changed tactics following the convention and began to sell myself over the telephone and through networking. I joined the Florida Speakers Association and made many contacts. I began to present at as many Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Club meetings as I could. I was hopeful someone in the audience might need me as a speaker for his or her company or educational agency’s next meeting.

The Business Begins
My first paid job offer came six months into my new career from someone I was sitting next to at a luncheon meeting of the Florida Speakers Association. She referred me to her brother who needed speakers on educational issues for his organization. One thing led to another and I got the job. Then other referrals came in.

I still market myself by sending letters and presentation packets to select groups and by following through with telephone calls. I know what and how to do now, but it has taken a while to figure it out successfully.

Since I am now fully enjoying my retirement from the superintendency, I have decided I don’t want this new career to be a full-time occupation. This new career as an educational consultant and keynote speaker is just a secondary job to keep me occupied, stimulated, mentally alert and excited. If it was a full-time pursuit, I would have starved by now!

I’ve been told by seasoned veterans in the speaking, training, and consultant business that it takes approximately five years to make it. Most of the time you wonder where the next dollar is coming from to pay your bills. In fact, the leadership of the National Speakers Association insists that a full third of all new members leave at the end of the year and no longer aspire to enter the speaking, training or consulting ranks.

An Early Preparation
Would I suggest you enter the world of consulting and speaking--even though it would mean more competition for me? Absolutely, as long as you remember to keep your full-time job while you start your new career. Prepare long before you leave the superintendency.

Collect your pension first or inherit a lot of money! It is much easier to work in this profession if you have food on the table, a roof over your head and do not need to worry about paying your bills. Had I known years ago what I know today, I would have prepared sooner and would have become a paid educational consultant much earlier than I did.

So stop procrastinating and begin preparing for your new career as a consultant and speaker. Share your positive thoughts about education and stop the negativity out there. Show everyone how it can be done. Work to improve the quality of education for students. And may the force be with you!

Joel Radin, who left a superintendency in upstate New York in 1995 after 11 years, is a motivational speaker and educational consultant who bills himself as "Dr. J.R." He can be reached at 3344 N.W. 47th Ave., Coconut Creek, Fla. 33063. E-mail: jradin@msn.com