Alexis Dean – Consultant in Organisational Culture

Once I began to understand that I wasn't "just a primary school teacher", that I have amazing transferrable skills, I put those skills to work and proved myself wrong!

Everyone has a story and in every story there is a lesson. Alexis Dean’s story is no exception. It is fascinating how the twists and turns have brought her to where she is today… in her own business consulting on organisational culture in small business and educational settings. She shares great insights and tips in this interview, as part of a series of posts profiling careers after teaching.

What are your qualifications and experience in classroom teaching?

  • Bachelor of Arts, University of British Columbia
  • Bachelor of Education, Primary Experiential Education, Queen’s University
  • Certificate in Adult Training and Development, OISE  (Ontario Institute For Studies In Education), University of Toronto

I started my teaching career as an outdoor experiential educator with schools in Ontario, Canada, and Washington State, U.S.A.  before moving to Europe to begin my career as a teacher in international IB primary schools.

I only taught in traditional classrooms for two years, however I spent several years working in schools as a facilitator and curriculum developer for faculty leadership and community building programs, as well as an international exchange program coordinator and school summer camp director. Before I became an entrepreneur I loved the entrepreneurial aspects of creating and launching new programs, and facilitating workshops for teachers and students.

How do you explain what you currently do to make a living?

I help schools and small businesses, develop and scale authentic organizational culture to increase employee engagement and productivity.

At Dovetail we conduct culture assessments (interviews, surveys, and observations), work with clients to create strategic plans for organizational culture development, and facilitate workshops focused on the key aspects of authentic and high-performance culture.

We’re only in our second year of business, but it’s been an incredible experience so far! In our first year of business, we focused on team building and training programs mainly for corporate groups, and a few schools. However, we’ve recently pivoted to focus on culture development as it’s much more meaningful and impactful than team building events and outings.

Can you give some background about how you decided to leave the classroom?

To be perfectly honest, I fell in love! I was working in a school in Tivat, Montenegro (formerly Serbia), and I fell in love with an American yacht engineer. I moved to Florida to be with him, and I left my teaching and school summer camp director life behind.

I always knew that I didn’t want a traditional teaching job. I loved working with kids, and I enjoyed the many independent aspects of teaching. I’m a passionate lifelong learner, and I absolutely loved learning from, and with, my students, but I never felt completely fulfilled as a teacher.

How long did it take you to make the transition?

My transition to entrepreneurship was long and slow. I had no idea what to do with myself when I moved to Florida. I wasn’t eligible to work in the United States, but I could work out at sea! While my boyfriend was off at work, I found a job as a private yacht chef and stewardess, and I worked on massive yachts with celebrity guests and exceptionally wealthy business owners. It was an eye-opening and very lucrative experience, but definitely not a long term career option for me!

When my relationship ended I moved home to Toronto and found work as a travel consultant for EF tours, an educational travel company. I loved talking about school trips, but I missed my adventures overseas, and I wasn’t happy in a telephone sales position. I was completely lost; the job market for teachers in Toronto is not good (it’s virtually impossible to find a full-time teaching position without being a supply teacher first), and I didn’t think I wanted to be back in a teaching role anyways.

I sought support and advice from a career coach, and although it was reassuring to hear that I would eventually find a satisfying job… he couldn’t tell me exactly what the job was, because in his words “the job you want doesn’t exist”!  Little did I know, he was completely right; I’ve created the job I always wanted.

After firing my career coach, and leaving my job at EF, I eventually returned to university to study Adult Training and Development and became a corporate team building event manager and facilitator. I worked for the team building company for almost two years, with the intention of eventually starting my own team building business. When I decided to go out on my own, I was restricted by a non-compete agreement, and I was forced to take a seven month “pause” before opening shop! In the meantime,  I took 7-month overseas contract as a facilitator for leadership development and community building programs in international schools in South Asia and Europe.

When I returned to Canada in December 2014 I was finally ready, and able, to launch my own business.

What are the top three things someone should know or do in order to successfully change careers?

In my experience, it’s definitely not an overnight process! It takes work and a lot of reflection to determine what you want to do, and what your true purpose in the world is.

If you’re not completely satisfied with your job, I highly recommend career counselling. Although my career counsellor couldn’t provide me with all of the answers, he helped me do the work to recognize what I really wanted,  and pushed me towards creating the life I’d only dreamed of.

If you want to start your own business, or begin an entirely new career it’s important to be an enthusiastic learner, and to be ok with jumping into the adventure of entrepreneurship, even though you might not always know what’s going to happen next!

What is the best way to get started?

Ask questions. If you think you might like to change jobs, or start your own business, find someone who’s done something similar and ask them out for coffee! People love to help and give advice, it makes them feel special!  Don’t try to sell them on anything, just ask them about their life, their job, what they’ve learned, and what their goals are. You never know what kind of awesome inspiration or opportunity you’ll find.

Mentors are amazing too… so if you can find someone to mentor you, I highly recommend that as a first step towards changing careers or starting a business. In Canada we have something called Ten Thousand Coffees, and it’s a great way to connect with potential mentors and people who are in the industry/role you’re keen to learn about.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to do what you have done?

DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU IT CAN’T BE DONE!!! It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. Your family and friends might not understand why you want to make a major change in your life, and your career path. They might be afraid that you’ll change (and you will, but in the best way, I promise!).

Find your “tribe”. Connect with other people who’ve moved on from teaching, online or in person. Entrepreneurs are a fun bunch, and there are loads of forums and groups for entrepreneurs all over the world. I highly recommend joining a co-working space if you’re starting a business on your own, it’s a quick and easy way to surround yourself with a motivating and energizing community of “colleagues”.

Face and embrace the fear! It’s completely normal to be afraid of taking big risks, of launching your own business, and of failing. One of my favourite quotes is “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear” – George Addair.

What were some of the problems you faced?

My biggest problem was my limiting belief in myself and my skills. Once I began to really understand that I wasn’t “just a primary school teacher”, that I have so many amazing transferrable skills, experiences, and value to share with the world, I was able to put those skills to work and proved myself wrong!

Initially it was hard to pin down just one type of business and core customer segment, because I have so many interests! My mentor helped me to learn that I’m “better off as a laser, than as a lightbulb”, and if I focus my brightness towards one specific area I’ll be much more powerful than if I dilute my energy all over the place.

Launching and running my own business has been a constant learning experience! It took me a year of running team building programs before I recognized that I really wanted, and needed, to focus on more impactful, meaningful and intentional programs and services.

Which teaching skills have proved to be most valuable?

The ability to learn and develop skills throughout your career is hugely beneficial for teachers and entrepreneurs. I learn something new every day! In my current role I frequently use the following skills: public speaking, lesson planning and curriculum development (for planning workshops, meetings, employee training etc), creative thinking, empathy, and facilitating learning opportunities.

If you had one secret to give about changing careers what would it be?

There will never be a perfect day when you have it all figured out and you suddenly feel “ready” for the challenge of making a major change in your life. As Tina Fey says “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterwards”. If I can do it, so can you!


Connect with Alexis via her business site: http://www.dovetailteambuilding.com

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