How Teachers can become expert Product Managers
Getting inspiration from the position of Product Manager, I will show you how to have a different mindset and gain value as a Teacher.
In 2020, many companies offered courses to become English Teachers. With increased competition, the chance to have cuts on our prices and less money for us seems unavoidable.
The problem is that Teaching English is a service, so it is not tangible and measurable. Its outcome (speaking English) is always the same, therefore, the only way to get new students (our customers) seems to be lowering our prices.
But what if, instead of thinking about us as service providers, we considered ourselves as a product with strengths and potential to improve? Getting inspiration from the position of Product Manager, in this article I will show you how to have a different mindset and gain value as a Teacher.
The most important thing is to understand our product (that is us teachers). Let’s use our imagination to abstract us from the real ourselves and consider us our product, in the same way we would treat a physical product to sell.
Selling ourselves is usually very difficult. Some people tend to underestimate themselves and some others overdo it, and the result is bad in both cases. This is because saying good things about ourselves is difficult. If we start to consider us a product that has strengths compared to other similar products, and can be improved, it’s easier to market ourselves.
Making a good product is hard, but it is also a very interesting work, and we have the opportunity to tailor our product in the way we want.
While, as teachers, we are usually intimidated by the competition, or are scared for a crisis, expert Product Managers put their full strength to launch their unique ideas in the market, seeing the potential in every situation.
Let’s analyze more in detail what a Product Manager does exactly, and how we can transfer this way of working to become better teachers.
How to Become an Expert Product Manager
Product Managers do not simply manage the product, they also understand the need of the market and the value of product (good, average and bad). They know that there is a market for bad products as well, and if marketed properly, sometimes there is more money in bad products than high quality ones (for example, think about fast food chains).
Assessing our value and targeting the right potential customers will give us an advantage over our competition. Our prices and way of working are not something standard, they depend on our skills, the area where we live in and our competition. For example, the same teacher could charge a price if he lives in London and another price if he lives in a small village, and this is not related to his skills, but the number of students he can access to, how much they can afford to pay and even his rent and living expenses.
Therefore, sometimes it’s better to increase our prices and work less, sometimes we should do exactly the opposite, charging less and working more. Sometimes it’s good to build a solid relationship with just a few students and not to accept any more, and sometimes the best choice is to work with as many students as possible, for a lesser amount of hours.
Product Managers take care of everything, they know how to manage their products from factory to market.
In the same way, we build our public image and set the way students will have to consider us (Friendly? Posh? Severe? Outgoing? Cheap? Expensive?).
The qualities Teachers should take from Product Managers
1. Planning Abilities
To become an expert Product Manager of yourself, you need experience, good role models, and advice.
With all of the above, a good product manager has always a plan. That plan starts with the goal he wants to achieve and works backwards to understand how to get to that result.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Product Managers know what to do and what not to do while meeting the customers.
When we are newly qualified teachers, we most of the time act from our enthusiasm, but years later, when we have more experience, we understand that we did mistakes.
Mistakes never end, but with experience and intelligence, we can limit them. We need to learn as soon as possible to listen to our customers. They are the ones who understand better than anyone else what they want, what they need and what they don’t like. They are not always right, and as professionals, we can advise them.
But going against what a customer wants, because we think he is making a mistake, is an art that is very difficult to master. Our emotional intelligence can help us connecting with our customers. Let’s always be open to listen to them, not just following what they say, but also picking up from their body language, relying on our experience of previous situations that have something in common with this new one, to solve any problems, or finding a solution, as quickly as possible.
A good Product Manager with emotional intelligence has always a good relationship with the organizations he works with. In the same way, our priority should be to get along well with our students, and also their parents (who most of the times are the ones paying). Having problems with one party or another is a very common situation for teachers, and a difficult one to manage when the desires of our students and their parents go in opposite directions. That is even more difficult because the product we are selling is ourselves, and clearly, we are always emotionally involved.
There is not a quick answer on how to deal with it, aside from having the best relation possible with both parties.
As Product Managers, foreseeing all of the problems and knowing well our product, we can find a solution quickly.
The 5 aspects that Product Managers master and so should Teachers
An important aspect of being a Product Manager is using emotional intelligence. Let’s understand a bit more about their way of working.
1. Relationship management
Relationship management is one of the most important skills for a Product Manager. A good Product Manager helps to maintain an authentic and trustworthy relationship with both internal and external stakeholders, that are very important in an organization, because sometimes Product Managers need extra money, or when they launch a new product, they rely on their personal relations with the press.
In the same way, a good Teacher shouldn’t just focus on his teaching skills. Maintaining a good relationship with agencies and schools will ensure a constant workflow without worrying too much about sending CVs.
Product Managers are self-aware. Their ultimate goal is to benefit the company. They all have favourite products, but they don’t impose them. Sometimes they disagree with the choices of the company, or they don’t understand the vision completely. What is expected from them is to help the company to accomplish its vision, even when there is not a product yet. In that situation, Product Managers act as if the product was already there, juggling between producing it and promoting it.
Again, this is a common situation for us teachers. Sometimes we are involved in a new project and a lot of pieces are missing. For example, the company needs students to start an English camp, and we are asked to present it.
The English camp doesn’t exist. It will exist in the future, if we are able to persuade enough students to join, but at the moment we don’t have all the answers, and neither the company. So we have to join forces, and sometimes pretend we know what we are doing. If we communicate doubts, there will be no camp and no further work for us.
Sometimes we have to exit our comfort zone and do a job that is not exactly what we signed up for, yet it’s essential to get to our real job.
Being a Product Manager is stressful, especially because everyone has an opinion and is eager to tell you that you are wrong. Does this ring a bell?
The CEO wants something, the engineering team want something different, and customers have their own opinions, too. On the top of it, you have deadlines, revenue targets, market demand, and scarcity of resources.
Controlling the emotions is key for Product Managers, or they won’t be able to complete their tasks, and the same goes with the teachers.
4. Social Awareness
As well as understanding the customers, Product Managers take in consideration also the needs of the people working under them in the organization. Although it’s not their business, they are aware of where the money comes from, how the organization operates and the amount that will be spent on additional, but essential services, like promotion.
Knowing the changes in the market and what the competitors do is another very important aspect of their job.
Translated for us, that means we have to keep updated with the trends in teaching.
It’s a good idea to follow dedicated groups on social media, join associations, attend seminars, webinars, live and online events and make at least one course a year to learn new skills that we can reuse in our activities, or have a refresh.
A Product Manager is rarely the boss, but he works in close contact with the boss, and has skills that most CEOs lack, or don’t have the time to use. Therefore, Product Managers are natural-born leaders (at least the good ones).
They are perceived by others as the person in charge, and sometimes, they have to make unpopular decisions for the good of the company.
Good managers know that they can’t always please everyone, therefore, they won’t win popularity contests.
As teachers, we are often in a very similar position. When we work in a school, we deal directly with students and parents. That is our team to manage, but we have another team, made of colleagues and upper management.
In an ideal world, these two teams work together, but in real life, they are in conflict most of the time. Just to make the most obvious example, students want the best service possible, while the school has budget limitations, and as Teachers, we have to help both parties and do our best to keep them happy.
Great leaders think differently. Great Product Managers find creative ways to optimise the budget they have at disposal, even if it is tiny. We should do the same: instead of focusing on the lack of money for our activities, we have to think about what we can do with what we have at our disposal.
Most teachers wait to receive orders and act blindly. They think that their job is to follow what the upper management say, and if the directions are unpopular among students, they just blame someone inside the company (a colleague, or the Director of Studies, for example).
This negative attitude creates conflicts that escalate and affect the business (the school). This might influence the number of students that will return, and we might have to find another job, because the school doesn’t have anymore the minimum number of students to start a course. You see? Everything is connected.
Teachers are managers, if not in the title, in the job they are required to do. Being a manager means to manage difficult situations, because everyone can manage the easy ones. Teachers have information that their students don’t, and there is no need to share it with them just to get them worried about things they can’t change (like financial difficulties for the school, or a colleague they don’t like).
A common problem in winter, for example, is that it’s cold, and sometimes the heating system breaks. When that happens, it’s always during cold times, never in summer, for obvious reasons. This means an uncomfortable situation for everyone, and until the problem is sorted out, everyone stays in the cold. In this special situation, even if it shouldn’t be the teacher’s job to deal with a freezing class, this is what we are expected to do.
We have to calm down the students and reassure them that somebody is working to solve the problem. Even if we don’t actually know what is happening, we have to trust our team to take the right decision.
What we shouldn’t do is organizing a students’ riot against the Principal (I’m talking from experience).
In my opinion, we usually spend most of our energy in improving our teaching skills, but mastering the art of Product Management is essential to make a leap forward in our teaching profession.
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to read another one I wrote: The Top 10 Highest Paying Jobs in India in 2021.