From Classrooms to Boardrooms- Part III

This post is a continuation of the series started with Part I, here and Part II, here)

In this series, I’m hoping to spread the word that we in the corporate world can learn from teachers and what they do every day, which I was forced to learn a few years ago when I switched from a Fortune 50 management role to a middle school Engineering teacher.  I learned that adolescents are the ultimate litmus test for communication – if you can communicate with a pre-teen, you can communicate with anyone!  

In this final installment of the series, I’ll share another lesson I learned when jumping into the teaching profession that I wish I’d known as a corporate leader: 

Concept 3: This, Not That (Prioritization)

When I was first promoted to Director-level in my Dow-Jones-Index company, I had a manager schedule a meeting to speak with me. I expected the boilerplate congratulatory talk, building me up that I can do this, and yay, go team!  Instead, she gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since – she assured me that she and the other managers would give me more work to do than I could possibly get done.  

I gave a quizzical look and asked, “How am I supposed to succeed if I have more work than I’m able to do?”

She simply answered, “Anyone can just do the tasks they’re given.  We’re paying you to filter through all the work, identify the 80-90% or so of that most important, and drop the bottom 10-20%.” 

Your managers (or shareholders) didn’t hire a robot to just do whatever they say, they hired you to choose what’s most important and focus there.  

Little did I know that this would prepare me well for the teaching world.  

During the summer leading up to my first teaching job, I was being a good little new teacher and trying to keep track of all of the items that I’d need my students to learn throughout the year.  First, I learned about the STEAM curriculum, from an organization called PLTW (Project Lead The Way).  They did a great job of providing activities and helping me choose what to teach.  

Next, I learned about the Advisory class I’d be teaching, and how I’d need to teach Social-Emotional Learning.

Then I learned about what changes I’d need to customize for my students that were English language learners.  

Also, I learned about students that have a 504 or IEP, meaning they have some differences in their learning that require special teaching.  

Then I learned about how I’ll have regular meetings with my department, my grade-level team, my PLC (other Engineering teachers from across the district), the Community Connections committee I had been volun-told to join, and my school staff as a whole.

Then I learned about the observations that would happen quarterly and all that had to be planned and recorded for those.

Then I learned about…and the list continued.  All this was before I even had one day of class – before even one parent had to be called about their child’s behavior, or one project had to be graded.  

This isn’t to say that teachers necessarily have more to do than those in the corporate world, but in my experience, this concept of prioritization is fully known and embraced in the teaching world.  I guess we could just tell our teachers, “teach the kids all the knowledge in the world,” but of course this is ludicrous.  Teachers have lists of Standards that are typically state-directed and constitute the focus of the school year for that class and grade.  However, even all of those are often a stretch to get to in only 180 school days!  Therefore, each subject has Priority Standards which are the “really really” of what the focus needs to be for the year.  These are the headlines, with other Standards below them that will be the focus once the Priority Standards are met.  

In fact, teachers meet frequently with their PLC (Professional Learning Community), which is the school- or district-wide collection of teachers of a subject, to discuss their progress on the Priority Standards.  In this way, not only does each teacher prioritize what to teach and how to teach it, but you also get key input from others since your collective knowledge is greater than any one person’s.  It would seem quite strange to most of us to have every teacher in every classroom in every district across the country teaching something completely different to their students, with different goals and outcomes set for the school year.  However, if you haven’t done this exercise for your workgroup, you’re effectively doing the same thing. 

Let’s talk about how this can relate to your job since you likely don’t have a district or PLC to talk priorities with.  The exercise involves recording what outcomes must happen for you and your business/company to be successful, and asking yourself (or ideally a group of peers as well), “What would happen if this didn’t occur?”  If the answer is, “not much,” then it’s not a priority.  When you start with the no-miss targets, ladder those down into actions for the teams, it’s easier to get these on each employee’s work plan as discussed in Part I.  

These will change over time; businesses these days cannot afford to be static.  This is why quarterly or ideally monthly work plan reviews are so important!  People finish tasks, make great progress creating new ones, or the landscape changes; these have to be reviewed and then new goals are incorporated into work plans, otherwise, you’ll go back to leaving results to chance.  

Key Concepts: 

  • What are the key priorities for your organization? You know – the no-miss ones?

Actions to Take:

  • Work with a peer group to drill down your business goals to 3-5 key goals that must happen for the year to be successful
  • Ask “What would happen if this didn’t occur.” to make sure they matter
  • Drill these down to group actions for each quarter, then to individual work plans for the month

To accomplish all of this takes great communication skills and that is where Braintrust can help you become the master of your own destiny.  For more on how we can assist you with this and much more, visit us at

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