Many of us found ourselves as trainers after a career that started in a different space. I started my career in technology, and gradually became a content expert. Eventually, I found my way to training, passionate about eLearning primarily based on my technology background. In fact, everyone at Endurance Learning came from a background that was not strictly training at one point in their career. It is endlessly fascinating to me to hear stories of how people become learning and development professionals. I have maybe met two people who started as and have always been in training.
On this week’s podcast, we talk to Shermaine Perry-Knights, author and Chief Learning Officer at Innovation Consultants of DeKalb, about her learning and development journey. Like many L&D professionals, Shermaine started as a K-12 teacher. She gives us some insight on why she made this move, and how she takes the lessons she learned teaching 7th grade Social Studies and applies it to her adult learners.
Transcript of the Conversation with Shermaine Perry-Knights
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast that happens weekly in bite-sized chunks about all things learning & development. I am Brian Washburn, the CEO and Co-founder of a company called Endurance Learning. Today I’m joined by Shermaine Perry-Knights who is the Chief Learning Officer at Innovation Consultants of DeKalb. Shermaine, thanks so much for joining us today.
Shermaine Perry: Thanks for having me, Brian.
Brian Washburn: Absolutely. As we get started, today’s topic…we’re going to be talking a little bit about this idea of people who transition from a K12 background and teaching in a school setting over into – transitioning over into corporate training. So as we think of this topic and what we like to do every week is to start out by having our guests introduce themselves using exactly six words in a biography. So, when I think of this topic of going from – because I was in the classroom for a while teaching GED and then I did some student teaching in a 5th grade classroom, I did some long term subbing in a kindergarten. For me, my six-word biography is “the classroom was tough for me”. How about you, Shermaine?
Shermaine Perry: There are so many but i’m just going to choose 6. “I liked teaching but I love training”.
Teaching in a K-12 Classroom
Brian Washburn: I loved how you framed that there. Now, you were a social studies teacher and you said that you liked teaching. What did you like most about teaching social studies?
Shermaine Perry: For me it was about creating those ah-ha moments for my students. Most of my students – english was their second language. There were many cultures in the room and I found it a challenge and a great opportunity to show them how each of these cultures and these countries connect. Finding those ways to connect the content to their personal lives, but most importantly for them to understand the lessons of history are repeated in every country. The story is a little bit different but it is the same occurrences across the board. So what we find as “oh my gosh that’s terrible that one country has done”, it’s probably happened in your own home country, but the story was told a little bit differently. So I called it “two sides of the same coin,” depending on how you view it, you can label anyone as hero, tyrant or terrorist, you know, depending on the story.
Brian Washburn: I love that. I love…growing up I loved social studies and history because I had a really good memory so I could remember and it was really easy for me to memorize facts, figures, dates, concepts, things like that. But it sounds like you took a different approach, and its a little bit more “squishy”, in terms of recognizing that history happens and repeats itself and can be transferable. Lessons can be transferable across lots of different places. And it sounds like really heavy stuff. What age group were you working with?
Shermaine Perry: 7th grade. So that is the age where they were all taller than me. And they’re in a weird space because they’re still children but they’ve developed much of their own mind. And so you want to give them that autonomy to create projects. So I found that if I can show strong connections, I can create a strong frame for them of understanding. And say “now you paint your own photo of what you’ve learned in this area” and, I mean, we’d sing, we’d dance, we’d let them rap it out. Whatever they wanted to do express themself in the same content, within guidelines, I allowed them to do. And I found so much – it was just really rewarding. I would say my methods are unconventional but I absolutely get results and the learning is transferring. So I just tried everything you wouldn’t typically do in a classroom and it worked.
Brian Washburn: Well that’s fascinating that you went from that setting, right, in 7th grade social studies to the world of corporate training.
Similarities between teaching K-12 students and training adults
Brian Washburn: It sounds like they’re kind of two worlds apart. But what have you found to be the biggest similarities between being a middle school social studies classroom teacher and being somebody who trains adults?
Shermaine Perry: I think back to Kirkpatrick’s “Four Levels of Evaluation”, so we are witnessing reactions, right? So that’s a similarity. We are ensuring that the learning is transferring. We are impacting behavior change. And most importantly achieving results. So where I was looking at the benchmarks of pre- and post-test for a unit, if you will, based off of the state standards, now I’m looking at the evaluation, based off of a company’s bottom line. Where were we? Where are we trying to go? How are we reducing errors, increasing productivity? So the same thing. The metrics are slightly different but the concepts are very similar between training and teaching. And most importantly the behaviors in the classroom, believe it or not, are very similar.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLING)
Shermaine Perry: I know you get that, Brian.
Brian Washburn: I get it. You know, some of our participants can be similar to the 7th grade mindset. People shooting their hands up and wanting to talk and things like that.
Challenges of transitioning from K12 classroom instruction to talent development
Brian Washburn: One of our best co-workers at Endurance Learning came from the world of elementary school education so I know that there’s room for people to go from the classroom space to the corporate training space. What have you found to be, as you’ve made that adjustment, maybe the biggest or a few of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced going from K12 to the world of talent development?
Shermaine Perry: Some of the biggest challenges I think anyone would face are recognizing what those transferable skills are and learning new technol–not new technology– new terminology, right? So understanding that what teachers would traditionally call “lesson planning” we are calling “curriculum design”. What they’re referring to as “incorporating technology” we are calling “e-learning”. Where they’re using Kahoot!, we might be using SAP SuccessFactors or we may be using Qualtrics, like a SurveyMonkey. So just viewing the different options and understanding that you’re not just limited to your grade level or your school or your district for networking. Through ATD we have the whole world at our disposal. I mean, 13,000- some-odd individuals who do what we do a little bit differently but have the basic understanding that we are helping people grow. And so you just — understanding that the network is so large.
Brian Washburn: I still use the term “lesson plan” and I have colleagues that are like “can you not use…” When people think “lesson plans” they think “teachers,” right, and that’s not the world that we live in and I’ve still — I’ve held onto that terminology, I think, from the days when I was in the classroom. And different technologies — it’s really interesting to take a look at what some of the teachers are using now to do online instruction in this day and age. So Kahoot! was something that was developed for, and used primarily by, classroom instructors and I’ve seen it use a lot in the corporate training world. So it’s almost, in some respects, the classroom teachers and their use of technology can be a step or two ahead of some of the things that we are doing. I love how you said “it’s a matter of different terminology that’s accomplishing the same thing” or maybe even some different tools that are more focused on the K12 world and there are some other tools that do very similar things that are used in the world of corporate training. Sometimes they’re the same tools.
Advice for Teachers who want to work in Corporate Training
Brian Washburn: I have seen colleagues, talking with you, people are starting to make that leap from the world of classroom teaching to training. For anybody else who is kind of considering making that leap, what are some pieces of advice that you might offer them?
Shermaine Perry: I would tell them, first, don’t be afraid to take the leap. The same way you jumped into a classroom of between 20 and 32 children, and you learned foundation, right? We got a good understanding of the science and the art behind teaching, nothing prepares you for the experience itself. (CHUCKLING) It becomes trial by fire to some degree. So I would say “don’t be afraid to learn something new,” the same way we pushing our students to learn something different that they may not find valuable but they can refer to later on and have a connection with. Take that same approach to learning.
Read. Read some great content. I have – you know, I keep my Kirkpatrick book right here. I have my instructional design references from Elaine Biech nearby. So the same way we want them to study, weekly, find some resource that you can look at and be intentional about a one hour study to help you make a reference, right, to make that jump, if you will. But most importantly, just reach out to individuals. Go on LinkedIn. Research a name and say “hey, I love what you’re doing, do you have 15 or 30 minutes to tell me a little bit more about it?” I, myself, am an accidental trainer. I went from the middle school environment to the college environment, teaching. And then jumped into the corporate area. Kind of back and forth between corporate and government. Dive in there. You know, i’m proud to say that I’ve created some award-winning programs for project management and learning development for executives and managers and to be recognized nationally for some of my contributions in the field, so… Teachers are super heroes. You’re rockstars. Jump out there and just say “you know what, I can do this.” And just know that we, on the other side of training, we’re going to be here to help catch you and to grow you, just the same way you would students in the classroom.
Brian Washburn: I love that advice. I love this conversation. It has a special place in my heart because I did come from the world of a little bit more formal classroom education, talking GED instruction, or student teaching, which is where I cut my teeth when it came to instructional design and lesson plan development, which is now “curriculum design” and “curriculum development”.
Get to know Shermaine Perry-Knights
Brian Washburn: Before we leave, I’d love for people to get to know you just a little bit better, so I have a few speed-round questions. Are you ready for them?
Shermaine Perry: I’m ready. Let’s do it!
Brian Washburn: Before a presentation, what is your go-to food?
Shermaine Perry: Ooh, before a presentation I love to have my coffee or my tea. And I like those — its almost like a Nutrigrain bar — but its a s’more…It’s by Quaker. So its got the sweet and the spice and the marshmallow in it. So I keep those and, like, random chocolates.
Brian Washburn: The chewy granola bars?
Shermaine Perry: Yes! But they’re called the s’mores version. I keep one in my purse.
Brian Washburn: I gotcha. I gotcha. What is a piece of training tech that you cannot live without?
Shermaine Perry: I have to go back to my teaching days and say Kahoot! It blows everyone’s mind. Students…adults…
Brian Washburn: Kahoot! Is…anytime I show that – and then I have this great presentation on some amazing topic and then at the end of the day i’m like “what is it that you’ve taken away from today?” Every time half the class is like “i’m going to use Kahoot! next time.” I’m like “ok that’s cool…what about the other stuff that I covered?” Kahoot! is…if people haven’t used it, it is something to check out. How about anything that you have recently read or listened to that others in our field of talent development should be paying attention to?
Shermaine Perry: So I read our TD magazine monthly and there was an article in there about diversity, equity and inclusion, but what i liked most about it was it was talking about feedback. And seeing that as a gift, receiving it and saying to yourself “you know I don’t know it all and there’s more to learn and I understand that you can give me feedback and we can continue to grow.” Just that concept of always evolving and growing. But I just dive into the magazine and I have my little to-do list of what I am reading, that that’s absolutely on the top of. And “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott… I recommend everybody get that book. It works wonders in terms of how to have a difficult conversation because sometimes we have a difficult person, other times we’re interacting with them. And it just gives you some really good tools on how to have that conversation.
Brian Washburn: Yeah, that’s good advice. And so the last thing is any shameless plugs? I know that you have a passion project that you’ve been working on so what is it you’d like to share with us?
Shermaine Perry: I have a few shameless plugs. So during quarantine I have devoted my time — you know that time that you’d be driving back and forth to the office? I have devoted my time to creating some adult coloring books. They’re available on Amazon. But what I’m most proud about is my children’s book. It’s called “I Move A lot and That’s Ok” It’s for the child who struggles with relocation. They struggle with coping. You know, I’m a military kid so its for that group, but its also for any child who is struggling to understand the rapid change that comes with that pandemic. It’s a fun story about hope and sadness and you’ll find a lot of laughter within there, but ultimately we have to teach children how to cope with rapid change. It’s a leadership skill that all of us need, as children and as adults.
Brian Washburn: And its called “I Move A lot and That’s Ok”?
Shermaine Perry: Yes. “I Move A lot and That’s Ok”
Brian Washburn: And that’s available on Amazon. Is that available right now?
Shermaine Perry: Yes, available right now in e-book, hardback and paperback.
Brian Washburn: I love it. Well, Shermaine Perry-Knights thank you so much for giving us some time. I don’t think this will be our last conversation but it’s been a lot of fun talking with you. And for everybody else, thank you so much for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which can be found on Spotify, on iTunes, iHeartRadio or wherever you get your podcasts. If you happen to like what you heard, go ahead and give us a rating because that’s how other people will find out about us. Until next week, happy training!
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free trial at soapboxify.com or get a 15-minute demo by signing up below.