On April 1st, I’ll celebrate my tenth year as an education consultant and my seventh as the founder of the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. That’s right: I started not one but two businesses on April Fool’s Day. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t question this move every once in a while, particularly during the Ides of March, which has come to be known as tax season in my house.
I’m not the only one who questions my decision to throw all job and financial security to the wind, either. At least a few times a year, and more often during this one, a friend or a colleague will ask to pick my brain about becoming an independent consultant themselves. It might surprise you to know that I’ve never scared them off. I have shared my concerns about the issues that seem to compel them most, though.
Questions that prospective education consultants often ask tend to focus on simple practicalities:
Do I need an attorney to draw up my contracts?
Will school districts require liability insurance?
How much should I put aside for retirement? Social security? Taxes?
Should I assess a penalty if I’m not paid on time?
How should I advertise my services?
How should I engage on social media?
And my personal favorites:
Do I need to get professional head shots done?
Where can I get nice business cards?
A few standard responses I typically offer:
Yes (to contracts, insurance, and late fees)
A lot (of money)
With integrity (regarding advertising and use of social media)
And…I’ve been asked for my business card less than twenty times in the last ten years.
If I can tell that the person is truly serious (those who are pale and slightly terrified typically are), I’ll ask if I can pose a few questions of my own. They’re tough, so I never expect immediate answers. Each time I’ve shared them, I’ve received abundant thanks — days or weeks or even years later, though. I never realized how rewarding it would be to help others who want to do the work I do.
I remember when I first started out, there were very few people to turn to for real support. My friends and family and trusted colleagues were more than just excited for me at the time; they were absolutely untiring in their enthusiasm.
No one was willing to ask me any tough questions, though. Instead, I found myself grappling with them in the middle of the night every time I began a new initiative or found myself confounded by a new challenge. Some of those questions rose from the ashes of my failures as well.
As my own work anniversary nears, I’ve found myself reflecting on them again, and I thought that perhaps, I’d share them here. I know that quite a few consultants read Brilliant or Insane, and I’d love to know what you might add to this collection. When prospective consultants approach you for advice, what questions do you ask them to consider?
Tough Questions for New Education Consultants
1. How might your deepest beliefs enrich and compromise your ability to serve others well? How will you curb your confirmation bias?
2. Are you willing to ask teachers and administrators really hard questions, even when they cause significant discomfort? How does likability influence the way you lead?
3. How will you amplify the voices of those who aren’t being heard often our loudly enough within a system? What are you willing to risk in order to validate these people?
4. Have you considered how building a huge online network might influence the location and size of the territory you are invited to serve? Are you eager to travel often, or do you want to be at home to watch your children grow up? Your answers to those questions should influence the way you leverage social media as a business person.
5. Are you prepared to be the scapegoat for more significant issues within a system at times? How will you respond when this happens?
6. How will you invite dissenting voices into the conversations that you facilitate? When will this be most important? Hint: see question 1.
7. When will you know that your ego is ruining your work? How will you cope with the ego of others and its influence on your work?
8. Who will define your role and your place within a system? How?
9. What will you do to align your professional values and vision with those inside the schools you serve? What will you do when this seems impossible?
10. Discomfort isn’t always an indication of failure. How will you know when it is, though?
Are you contemplating the leap into the world of the education consultant? I hope these questions push your thinking and challenge you in ways that your friends and family may not.
Are you an experienced independent consultant? I hope you’ll share a bit of your own wisdom with us in the comments below.
A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.
A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer’s Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.