It's back-to-school season y'all, and my Instagram feed is full of classrooms getting prepped and teachers getting excited for the year ahead. It got me thinking: why aren't more Community Managers former teachers?
There are so many paths to community management out there, from hangin' out on Runescape to camp counseling, but there's another one that's near and dear to my heart: teaching! If you are or have ever been a classroom teacher, then you're already a Community Manager.
Once you start digging into the skill overlap between teaching and community the list goes on and on, so I've pulled out my top five. Let's go to school!
Say it with me y'all: classroom 👏 management 👏 . Moderating, modeling, and influencing behavior is one of the biggest parts of a CM's role, and teachers do it every day! Teachers set the vibe for their classroom spaces, both in-person and virtually, and students pick up and maintain that culture. This takes a lot of work, from setting up spaces just so, to setting expectations and guidelines about how people should interact in the space. Teachers are constantly on the lookout for shenanigans, distractions, and anything that might lead the class astray. When issues arise (and they arise constantly), it's the teacher's job to intervene, redirect, resolve conflicts, and get everybody back on track.
In community we call this moderation, but it's really the same thing: keeping an eye on the community and making sure everyone is abiding by the community guidelines, etiquette, or any other agreed-upon expectations for behavior, and intervening when necessary to hold folks accountable. When moderation is done well, it's also about helping the rule-breakers learn and grow, so that they can become successful members of the community.
Another pillar of community is engagement: we're constantly talking about strategies for how to do it well. Teachers live and breathe engagement plays. Have I said "eyes on me!" to a room full of small children one million times? Yes, I have. Have I thought strategically about how to get the attention of folks in an online community so they would hear my announcement, take my survey, or check out my event? You bet I have.
You know the "if you can hear my voice clap once" trick? If only there was a community equivalent. And don't even get me started on swag. Students will do anything for a sticker.
Community Managers keep an ear to the ground to watch for opportunities for programming all the time — maybe it's a workshop or an AMA with an expert, maybe it's an open discussion amongst community members, or maybe it's a whole conference! Program operations is a whole job*.* Teachers do it about 6-8 times a day, too: it's called class.
Gone (hopefully) are the days of stand-and-deliver teaching styles. Now, teachers are all about designing learning experiences: today we're pretending we founded a company that makes sneakers, everyone has a role, the goal is to sell the most fictional sneakers by the end of September, let's go!
Creating and curating experiences for students is another main pillar of teaching, and of Community Managers as well. Bringing in guest speakers, coordinating with other teachers, planning what the student experience will look and feel like every step of the way — this is lesson planning 101, and it's program ops 101, too.
Another huge piece of managing a live event is being ready when things don't go as planned: when we're live, stuff happens! No one understands this better than teachers. Ever been doing a live event and all the power goes out? I have. Ever had to run a full-day conference and then the wifi goes out, but not the power, so the conference stays on but none of the speakers can access any of their materials? I have. Ever been trying to teach a bunch of seven-year-olds how to tell time and then someone bursts into the room with cupcakes and yells "CUPCAKES!" as loud as they can? I have. Managing the crisis and keeping the show on the road is just part of the job for teachers. Nothing phases these people. Trust me: they've seen things.
Teachers are content creators by nature: graphs, charts, templates, long-form writing, short-form writing — they do it all in the course of a week. They're also experts in finding and curating existing resources for their students, just like a Community Manager does. Teachers have to be on the constant lookout for new resources to keep students engaged and learning, and if they can't find something that's just right, they make it. The sheer volume of content curation and creation a teacher does in a year is staggering.
Teachers also find creative solutions to crowdsource this amongst other teachers in their community, or to get students to do some of the work for them. Trying to get community members to share their expertise with the group? Hi, it's show-and-tell. Bringing in experts sourced from your community contacts? Oh, it's bring-your-parent-to-school day. Delegating community ambassadors to organize and run events? Join the PTA!
This is a thing for school, too. Ever heard of class agreements? It's the same thing, sometimes generated by the students (or community members), sometimes generated by the teacher, or sometimes a mix of both. Class agreements serve the exact same function as community guidelines, and creating them happens on the first day of class. When a need arises in the community, the guidelines can be revisited. They hold students accountable to a shared set of expectations and give the teachers a tool for enforcement when moderation and management are needed. Sound familiar?
Finally, teachers innately understand that special sauce that all Community Managers have: the power of community is multiplied when people feel heard, seen, valued, and understood. At school, we call this SEL (Social and Emotional Learning), in business we sometimes call it 'soft skills' or 'soft factors.' Cultivating this feeling amongst community members is pure magic, and it's what all Community Managers strive for. Those breakthrough connections and aha moments. That feeling of togetherness, of support. Making others feel capable and worthy. The best communities — and classrooms — get this right, and it's not by chance. There's a teacher, or a Community Manager, somewhere in the mix, guaranteed.
Teachers lead the group. They know when to step up and when to step back. They foster a sense of leadership within the class. When I was in the classroom and people would ask me what success looked like, I would sometimes say it looked like invisibility: If everyone was curious, exploring, and learning seemingly on their own, then I had won school. The same is true for Community Managers, and it's exactly why both professions are so under-appreciated — if you did a great job, then people can make the mistake of thinking your role isn't necessary.
Those folks are wrong, by the way, in both cases.
If you're a teacher and you're reading this thinking "Woah, I could totally be a Community Manager", you should join us over at C School! We're all about giving people the tools they need to find success in a community career, and we've got a special track just for people making a career change. We'll help you learn the basics of community, meet other community folks, and even land that first community job. Head here to apply.
This is a topic near and dear to my heart, so if you want to chat transitioning from teaching, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.