Teaching, Persuading, Healing: The Triple Art of Educational Consulting

 “Straddling the line between a physician’s care and a salesman’s zeal, educational consultants wield the dual tools of empathy and persuasion to navigate the complex world of education.”

I’m climbing towards 30 years of service in education.  I’ve worked directly with Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment and educational consulting for the last 12 or 13 years. I’ve learned that those of us serving educators as an internal or external consultant are placed in a unique position. We bring with us lots of knowledge and experience; which causes me to feel like a physician. We observe, diagnose, and provide a prescription.  On the flip side, we are faced with the idea that we have very little “mandate power.”   We can encourage and support educator development, but we can’t force it. In this respect, I feel more like a salesman, peddling curriculum and strategies like they are the cure for all the ills in education. 

An Educational Consultant as a Physician

My first thought is always centered on the Hippocratic Oath’s commission to “First do no harm.” I don’t know of an educational consultant who would knowingly do harm; we, however, have to always be critical of our professional actions, responsive to feedback, and humble enough to recognize that we don’t always have the answers. We are like physicians, who observe and test, diagnose, prescribe and then follow up. We have to be willing to have honest (and sometimes tough) conversations with educators, supporting them with a healthy dose of compassion, respectful bedside manner, and a connection to available resources to help them improve. Other ways I feel like a physician while doing educational consulting:
1.        Diagnostic Mentality: I alluded to this above, but consultants need to gain a firm grasp of a school’s/district’s current reality by examining available quantitative and qualitative data. To really help “treat” a school, a consultant must have a clear feel of the organization’s pulse long before providing recommendations or support. 
2.        Trust: If I’ve learned anything in the consulting world, trust is a precursor to supporting educational shifts. In educational consultancy, trust is the foundation. Without it, our work cannot begin. With trust, we can create meaningful change and achieve real results. It’s that simple. That essential.
3.        Growth Mindset: Like physicians, educators should be involved in continuous, continuing education. The fields of both education and medicine evolve rapidly, requiring continuous professional development to stay abreast of the latest research, technologies, and best practices.

An Educational Consultant as a Salesman

Change is about people, not programs or materials. In education, we are all living in the people development world, so sales skills can be valuable traits in educational consultants. How do I feel like a salesmen?

  • I advocate for a Client-Centered Approach. I’m shocked to find out that so many consultants’ identities are built around a canned program that is forced into a school system; sometimes this looks like squeezing a square peg into a round hole. Like salesmen, consultants must prioritize understanding the needs and objectives of their clients. Their effectiveness, and the hope for any lasting systemic change, hinges on the ability to tailor services or products to meet these specific demands.
  • I often find myself using my skills of Persuasion and Intentional Communication. Good persuasion for an educational consultant means showing schools the way forward, not pushing them. It's how we turn good ideas into real classroom improvements. Consultants must articulate the benefits of their services or products compellingly and convincingly. Educators may not see the benefits of consultant recommendations, unless we can paint a clear picture of the “why?” Why are the recommendations the best path forward for the school system?
  • It’s all about Relationship Building! Effective educational consulting hinges on strong relationships with educators. These partnerships not only allow us to deeply understand their challenges and successes but also increase our credibility. It's through this close collaboration that we can offer targeted, impactful advice, making a real difference in the classroom.

Like a salesman, a consultant must possess the art of persuasion, tailoring their 'product' (in this case, knowledge and strategies) to meet the unique needs of each educational system. Yet, like a physician, they must also diagnose and address educational challenges with precision, empathy, and commitment. This dual perspective establishes the importance of trust, relationships, and informed guidance in driving meaningful change. As educational consultants, we navigate these roles with a clear understanding that our ultimate goals are to enrich the educational experience for all stakeholders, directly impacting student proficiency, while blending the skills of selling a vision with the care of nurturing growth.

Learn, Do & Report

I would challenge you to step into the role of both a physician and a salesman in your educational context. First, conduct a ‘diagnostic check’ on a specific area of your responsibility, be it curriculum development, instructional strategies, or assessment methods. Gather both quantitative and qualitative data to understand your current reality. Then, put on your ‘salesman hat’ and pitch a tailored, innovative strategy to address this area to your colleagues or leadership team. Focus on the “why?” behind your recommendation. This exercise will not only broaden your perspective but also enhance your skills in support meaningful educational changes.





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