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Nov. 29, 2021

All in a Decade: Seven Lessons Learned from a Former Teacher turned Instruction Designer

All in a Decade: Seven Lessons Learned from a Former Teacher turned Instruction Designer

Why I Decided to Write This Article 

In 2011, I decided to leave teaching. This was not something I had envisioned myself doing since I knew that I wanted to be a teacher since middle school. I left being a K - 12 educator before it became all the rage during these days of COVID. Over the past 18 months or so I have seen so many posts on LinkedIn, ID Facebook groups, and other social media platforms about educators wanting to leave teaching and jump into Instructional Design.

Since I will be celebrating 10 years of ID this January, I wanted to share the top seven lessons I’ve learned since making this transition.

👍Lesson 1: DO Advocate for Yourself 

I looked at my resume the other day and I’ve held five full-time positions in higher education since 2012. When I started teaching in 2007 my salary was around 43k. I was taking home roughly $900 bi-weekly. When I jumped into my first role in higher education I was making even less at 42k, what?! Why did I take that offer? As we know all too well, first-round draft picks in the education industry don’t get paid like first-round draft picks in the NFL, but they should. 

Over the past decade, I have taken salary offers without negotiating out of fear of not having a steady income. I should have advocated for myself and asked for what I needed. Typically higher education institutions are given a salary range they can offer to candidates that fit within their budgets. Ask for what you need, not what they first offer you. Be sure to ask questions in initial interviews like, “What type of professional development (PD) opportunities do you offer employees?” “Do you have tuition reimbursement or discount plans?” “What are growth opportunities like at your institution?” Advocate for yourself because no one else will. You have so much to offer to this industry! 

🤳Lesson 2: DO Build Your Network 

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that knowing other people in the industry at all levels IS be essential to your success. The ID community is full of genuine, helpful, and caring humans -they don't call us unicorns 🦄 for no reason If you need something, simply ask. During the days of the pandemic, I have connected with so many wonderful people who have become some of my closest friends and I’ve never met them in person! If you’re not on LinkedIn, this article is your sign to join. Check out Dr. Luke Hobson’s blog post on Why Instructional Designers Need to Use LinkedIn to Build Their Network. Not one time have I messaged someone in this industry and they didn’t respond. Corporate and educational ID overlap A LOT, so don’t restrict yourself to just connecting with those in one area. 

Once I started connecting, chatting, and sharing with others I went from 50 followers to almost 6K in under two years!!! 

A Few People to follow and/or connect with on Linked ASAP: 

🌟Lesson 3: DO Build Your Brand 

It’s time to set the imposter syndrome aside and ask yourself what do I do well? Make the list, I’m sure it’s long. Build your brand around your strengths. Is it ed tech? Then share things about ed-tech. Is it pedagogy? Then share your best and most cherished activities. Is it all of the above? Share, share, share. Think about the legacy and mark you want to leave, and do something little each day to make a difference. What you know is unique and there are people who want to learn from you. Remember lesson #1? Building your brand is part of this task. Be authentic, be open, and be willing to share. 

🏖Lesson 4: DO Say No & Do Take Vacations! 

Yes, this is me telling you that is ok to take that trip to Disney World, or go to that dream destination you’ve always wanted to visit! I have worked through holidays, and done 60+ hour work weeks more times than I can count, and said “now just isn’t the right time” too much! I have learned the hard way over the years (and very recently too!) that if you don’t fill your own cup you cannot thrive. There is no time like the present, and you can’t take vacation hours with you into new roles. 

With many of us having our offices and homes combined, it has become increasingly difficult to separate work and home life. Get up from the desk chair, turn the computer and notifications off, even if it is only for an hour a day- I’m typing this and saying this to myself over and over again. Burnout and Zoom fatigue are real so be sure take the break, say no to additional responsibilities - that aren’t in your job description or in scope of your responsibilities - and refer back to lesson #1 as needed. 

🎧Lesson 5: DO Professionally Develop

You cannot expect to be an expert without taking the time to attend conferences, webinars, and workshops. Everyone starts somewhere, make a list of the things you want to learn or conferences you want to attend, then put your plan into action. You can go regional, national, or international! Here is a list of conferences I recommend attending and/or presenting as an Instructional Designer (this is a 2021 list, but the majority have 2022 conferences too). Sometimes conferences offer discounts for presenters to submit that Call for Proposal! Also, be sure to ask your organization if they have a budget for professional development, most do! 

🙏Lesson 6: DO Give Yourself Grace 

Instructional Designers know A LOT about teaching, pedagogy, course design, assessments, ed-tech, etc. We’re expected to answer high-level questions and requests on the spot which adds pressure to an already extensively diverse profession. One thing to remember is that as much as we would like to, we do not know everything and don’t have all the solutions. It’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay that a suggested solution didn’t work out for the faculty member or SME you worked with. Give yourself the grace to be ok with “failing”. There is so much to be said about an ID that offers support, empathy, and goes above and beyond for our “customers.” It’s ok - no really is it!- to not have all the answers. 

🎊Lesson 7: Set New Goals all. the. time 

Being in the same role and doing the same things over and over and over and over again - see what I mean can be cumbersome. As an ID there are so many opportunities for us to tap into our creativity, build our portfolios, learn something new, and change education for the better. Be sure that you are setting new personal and professional goals for yourself. They can be as simple or complex as you want. Some of my recent goals include finishing my doctorate before I turn 40, having 6,000 followers on LinkedIn before the end of 2021, and adding 30 minutes of cardio to my exercise routine. What do you want for yourself? This is a good time of year to think about what is the thing you want to accomplish next and remember to celebrate every milestone no matter how big or small.  

By the way, I still teach in higher education and have done ever so since I left the K-12 world for higher ed in 2011. Teaching is and always will be my passion!

So...what’s your next step? 

Please connect with me here on LinkedIn and check out my weekly podcast EdUp EdTech for all things Ed Tech and Instructional Design.