May 14, 2023
Shift to Leadership
By Jemi Lassiter
Erinn Cottman shifted her career during the Pandemic from focusing on students to focusing on school leaders.
Before teacher burnout was a topic on the national agenda. Before the long wearing role of educators was made aware to a great number of Americans, parents or not, Erinn Cottman began to fill the gaps for professional support and development for educators, school administrators, and the leaders that guide our schools.
Cottman is the founder of Erinn Cottman Teacher Development, an Atlanta-based leadership development and coaching firm for educators around the country. She launched her company in 2020 as a side business with the goal of growing it to a full-time business within five years. But, a global health crisis provided an eye-opening experience for her that changed the trajectory of her career for good.
Taking the Leap
Cottman unexpectedly experienced what life could be like when the COVID-19 Pandemic closed schools and required the world to try virtual work on a massive scale.
For Cottman, that meant she would be leading virtual learning for her students as a teacher and for her son as a working mom. Able to work from anywhere in the world with a stable internet connection, she and her family moved to Aruba for a month. She had time to be present with her son and focus on her business without experiencing the familiar exhaustion of her normal workdays in school.
“In the midst of the Pandemic, I was home doing virtual [learning] so I actually had the time to commit [to running my business]”, explained Cottman.
The part-time business was quickly showing potential for becoming a full-time opportunity with Cottman’s attention to it.
When schools reopened the following year, Cottman returned to her role as an assistant principal at a charter school but the 12 hour days and high productivity career no longer felt right for her. She still loved education but… not like this. She thought that feeling was just a sign that she needed to change roles. Go up the ladder and become a principal. However, with no principal roles open in her district, Cottman interviewed for an assistant director role at an area charter school to keep momentum behind her career and stay connected to the work she loved.
“I interviewed for an assistant director job in my district”, explained Cottman. “I got the job and then, I was sick to my stomach. I genuinely was like, ‘I don’t think I want this job’. But, after getting the job, talking with them for months, going through five or six interviews, I had a visceral reaction to taking this job”, said Cottman.
Now, of course as Erinn is saying this to me all I’m thinking about is the sand and sun of Aruba. Who would want to return to beige walls when a month at the beach was your office?! That’s where we differ, Cottman never ruled out the beach or education. Instead, she felt she could have them both but she was forcing a familiar style of working in education into how she was truly supposed to work and what she was really supposed to be doing.
Back to this Lady of Leadership Development because you must catch all of this…
Surprised by her own reaction to making her next big career move, Cottman began venting to friends until one of them made her career circumstances abundantly clear.
“I knew I did not want to go back to that traditional environment. I knew I did not want to get back on that hamster wheel and I remember someone said to me, ‘It kind of sounds like same shit, different toilet’”, said Cottman. “You just have to leap like the net is there."
As simple as the words were, they were exactly what Cottman would not say to herself. She needed to hear it from someone else to validate the career shifting experience she was avoiding.
Cottman had done the high performance roles. She succeeded meeting every benchmark, producing great work, developing a teaching style that resonated with her students and a leadership style that made her trusted by colleagues. But, Cottman needed a change that really did not make sense on paper. It only made sense in action and, ever the Type-A personality, she would not be deterred.
As she recounted the tale of leaving her carefully built career for her new firm, Cottman remembered how she talked herself into the move. “I’ve had some success. I can still have an impact. I can just try”, she recounted. “Worse case scenario, I can always find a job.”
Adjusting to What's New
Cottman would not have to resort to that worst case scenario. Her network of friends and colleagues have been helping to push her business forward.
Her mentor gave Erinn Cottman Teacher Development its first contract.
Her friends pray for her and her business.
This is what true friends do!
Former colleagues email her with messages about the impact she had on their career while she was a teacher or a member of school leadership.
And, previous clients reach back to her with words of appreciation.
“My friendships have deepened [since I began running my business full-time]. I’ve seen friends stand in the gap for me. I’ve been touched in the way people have shown up for me”, said Cottman.
At this point in the story, I usually cover how someone feels on the other side of their conscious decision to change the course of their life but Cottman is happily in the midst of that change. The normally planned and strategic career woman, is admittedly more calm in general and more flexible when changes have to be made. There is an ease to her approach. It is almost like she has learned when to swim in the current and when to let it take her.
“I think I’m definitely more different. I am more calm. I am at peace. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still a pretty Type-A kind of person but now I’m more flexible. I’m going to ease into things”, said Cottman.
As her own boss, she makes time to be more present for herself and her son. She places value on the things that really bring her joy, like traveling, because they allow her to pour back into herself the way she pours into her clients.
“Being able to do the things I enjoy makes me a more peaceful person”, said Cottman.