Jen Lewi is an executive and career development coach, working at the intersection of coaching and learning. As vice president of career development and conferences at the School Nutrition Association (SNA), Jen helps SNA’s diverse members get the training they need to succeed.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Celisa Steele talks with Jen about the opportunities and benefits of coaching for learning businesses. They also discuss pandemic-driven portfolio changes, the power of peer sharing, cohort-based learning, and the importance of truly understanding your learners and how you can best serve them.
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[00:00] – Intro
School Nutrition Association’s Learning Portfolio
[01:25] – What does the School Nutrition Association (SNA) do, and what’s your role there?
The School Nutrition Association has over 50,000 members who work in school nutrition programs across the country. They are a robust group of people with different education levels, which makes it challenging to create a learning portfolio with the appropriate mix of different training options.
Jen is responsible for giving SNA’s members the training they need to succeed on the job and grow professionally.
[02:41] – What does SNA’s portfolio of learning offerings look like?
SNA’s learning portfolio is built around the professional standards and core competencies required to operate a successful school nutrition program. SNA mixes formal instruction with opportunities for learners to share practical ideas with one another. The portfolio contains in-person and self-paced learning and virtual conferences, as well as in-person conferences that continue to do well and grow post-pandemic.
SNA also has been successful with Webinars and a flagship program called Lead to Succeed, a training program on leadership and communication built in partnership with Georgetown University business school professors.
Pandemic-Driven Changes to the Learning Portfolio
[04:44] – What pandemic-driven changes SNA is rolling back and which ones is SNA making a part of its portfolio going forward? Have you seen new from learners as we’re emerging from the pandemic?
Pre-pandemic, SNA had a definite education strategy. But COVID-19 rocked SNA’s world.
When schools closed during the pandemic, kids still had to eat, so SNA’s members had to adapt to serving kids food outside schools. They had to find new ways to package and deliver food that allowed for social distancing and minimal touching. The pandemic changed their entire operations.
SNA put a pause on some of big-picture, strategic initiatives when COVID hit, and, from an advocacy and professional development perspective, focused on supporting their members.
SNA learned during the pandemic that there wasn’t a roadmap or a single solution. They couldn’t offer a training course on how to get through a pandemic. So they brought people together to learn from one other.
SNA is preserving the importance of learners and members sharing with one another. Now they’re dealing with supply chain and staffing challenges, and there’s no roadmap for that either.
I think what the pandemic did is a couple of things that were incredible for us. Pre-pandemic, we had a hard time getting a lot of members to virtual training. If you think about it, the people who are serving kids in the cafeteria are not necessarily at a computer all day, but the pandemic forced everyone to embrace virtual learning and virtual meeting. So we were able to do so much more in the virtual space and reach so many more people within our membership.Jen Lewi
A Coaching Credential
[08:32] – What prompted you to pursue the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential?
During the pandemic, a lot of people reevaluated their mission and purpose. Jen always wanted to be a coach and finally had the time to take some classes.
In addition to helping her become a coach, the coaching classes she took also helped her become a better manager, learning expert, and parent.
She’s been a manager and leader for a very long time. She finds it very rewarding to watch people identify and maximize their strengths and to give them feedback so they can progress.
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[11:06] – How do you define coaching? How do you distinguish coaching from teaching and facilitation?
Jen says there’s overlap between teaching, facilitation, and coaching.
Coaching is about helping people articulate their values, uncover new awareness, address limiting beliefs, or get a better understanding of themselves. It’s also about helping them create a path toward to their goals and be accountable to themselves for achieving those goals. Coaching is a long-term process built around asking powerful questions to drive awareness.
With teaching, you often have an expert who helps transfer knowledge, based on their expertise. Coaches don’t necessarily have the domain expertise the coachee has. The coach’s expertise is in helping that person become more self-aware.
Facilitation often happens in groups and has a very targeted goal. There’s usually a clear beginning and end to facilitation.
Coaching helps learning. It helps fill the gap between the training and the action that’s needed to take on that training.Jen Lewi
Opportunities for Coaching in a Learning Business’s Portfolio
[13:45] – What possibilities do you see for coaching to be part of a learning business’s portfolio?
There are many opportunities for coaching and learning businesses. The most obvious place to start is to offer coaching classes. Another simple approach is offering your customers access to coaches or even certifying your own coaches.
Two areas that Jen finds particularly interesting for learning businesses are mixing coaching and instruction (coach-struction) and mixing coaching and consulting (coach-sulting).
In the coach-sulting model, you use an expert’s deep knowledge to help drive new awareness and as powerful questions of the people who are learning, is a very effective strategy.
In the coach-struction model you might combine self-paced courses and independent coursework with access to a coach who asks learners questions about where they’re having issues, and they problem-solve together.
Benefits of Adding Coaching for Learning Businesses
[17:05] – What do you see as the net positive effect for learners and learning businesses that might come from adding coaching?
The net positive is accountability. Instead of a learner taking a class and the training fizzling right after, coaching can help the training last.
Coaching can have a more powerful impact, especially in soft-skill areas. Coaching can also add depth and personalization to learning, even when it’s not one-on-one but group-based. SNA has found cohort-based learning to be very effective in helping learners share ideas and come up with solutions.
Lifelong Learning Habits
[20:52] – What specific habits, sources, or practices do you use to continue to grow and develop professionally? What role does coaching play in your own lifelong learning?
Jen is a huge fan of the Leading Learning Podcast, and this is her favorite question.
She reads a lot, listens to podcasts, and also learns through writing. For example, she recently wrote a post about the intersection of coaching and learning on the Leading Learning blog. She jumped on the opportunity to write this piece because writing helps her think through a topic and research it.
Through her coaching endeavors, she’s found some great books that she returns to regularly for her own personal development and that she recommends to clients:
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Long Game by Dorie Clark
Check out our related interview, “Standing Out with Dorie Clark.”
- Chatter by Ethan Kross
What Learners Want, Post-Pandemic
[23:15] – Is there anything we haven’t yet had a chance to talk about that comes to mind?
Something that comes to mind for Jen is what their learners are looking for now, post-pandemic. SNA rebranded its Professional Development department to Career Development because that emphasizes the fact that members come to them for growth in their careers and for training that will help them on the job.
SNA next plans to dig into better understanding its target audiences and to look at career pathways. SNA has seen many more new people coming into the profession, so they are offering more introductory and basic training.
For their members, a focus on mental health has become a priority both for themselves and when they’re leading teams. With staffing challenges now and all the uncertainty in the world, SNA is seeing that mental health needs to be a focus at most conferences they offer.
[24:46] – How did the need to rebrand from professional development to career development surface?
The need surfaced during SNA’s strategic planning process. Career paths these days are not linear. People come into careers at different points on their journeys, so helping people understand what they need is really important.
[26:35] – Wrap-up
Also, check out the article Jen wrote for the Leading Learning blog, “Six Ways to Add Coaching to Your Learning Mix,” and take time to reflect on whether adding coaching to your portfolio might provide value for your learners and your learning business.
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