How to create an exit strategy to leave the classroom behind.

You may not realise it yet, but if you have taken a long, hard look at your career in education and thought enough is enough, you have already achieved one of the hardest steps. You have made the decision that you want out. It is no small feat. You will have spent months, years even, trying to “make it work”, battling with the guilt (and the shame) over the idea of walking away from the classroom, the children, your colleagues, your career. It is certainly not something you reached a decision on lightly.

But let’s face it, when you are institutionalized into an education system and it is the only career you know, leaving it behind can feel like an impossible dream

Only someone who has experienced life in the classroom will ever truly understand the huge impact a decision to leave it all behind has on the individual walking away. Each decision is so personal – but the themes leading to it are a story shared by many. It is a story shared by me. With this, I want to give you a personal message… take care of YOU. The hard decision has already been made – it’s time to let go.

Leaving the classroom behind

Whether this is physically or metaphorically, leaving the classroom behind can be a bit like experiencing grief. You need to be prepared for that feeling (just in case) and accept that it may knock you off kilter initially. You may have a feeling of loss for the career you no longer have, for the things you dreamed at the start of your career that will never be fulfilled, for the loss of your status and identity. You may have a feeling of anger that this is how it ended, and many other emotions besides. All will pass – but acknowledge the feelings as a normal part of the process of letting go. There are rain clouds and white fluffy clouds – all come and go – they are not a permanent state, and neither are your current emotions.

There are four broad stages of transition from leaving a career in education to changing to a new career path. These consist of:

The Mapleleaf Vision blog will cover each of these stages to provide helpful advice, practical tips, and plenty of supportive guidance from a former headteacher who has successfully transitioned to a new career path and discovered it is possible to #LiveDaringDreams

How to create an exit strategy

As someone who has a background in education, you of all people will know the value of planning. In this instance it serves two primary functions. One as a clearly defined structure that maps the path in a tangible way; the other has a psychological benefit because you can take the steps of action towards your exit – it stops being an impossible dream and starts to turn into a reality.

Here is some great news to kick-start your career transition journey. It doesn’t matter if you have no clue at all what you want to do yet. Contrary to popular believe, trawling job sites is not the first stage of the journey. There are four strands to creating a successful exit plan that you can do without even considering your next job title. So let’s get you started.


Most teachers and school leaders are not in a position to just walk out. For a start, there is a lengthy notice period – but that aside, it is common to need to secure alternative employment before resigning from a current role.

Finding alternative employment is not nearly as challenging as deciding which new career to go into. This is the point where many people wanting to leave the education system get stuck. If you have absolutely no idea – you are not alone! This is normal, so don’t panic!

The first step is not to start trawling the job adverts. You don’t know what to look for yet and it will only cause alarm and make you feel overwhelmed. Let’s start with something much tangible to get your head around: money.

Sit down and work out exactly what income you need to generate per month to pay the essential bills. Note the word ESSENTIAL. This means you are going to have to be ruthless. Entertainment subscriptions are NOT essential. You can (and may have to initially) live without them. We are talking basic living costs to keep a roof over your head, eat and stay warm. This is known as your bottom line. This is what income you must generate each month to survive. Anything above that is a bonus – but you need to know your bottom line before you even consider looking at job adverts.

Once you know your bottom line, it is very probably that you will find that you can take a job that earns less than what you are currently being paid. It does not mean that you have to take it – or that you will remain on a lower salary. It is a point of empowerment to know that you are able to live on less earnings – it gives you options and choices, which is what you need right now if you want to leave education.

Incidentally, if you have some debts you could clear in a reasonably short period of time, do consider cutting back spending to something closer to your essential living costs whilst you plan your exit as this will make life easier on the other side.


This may need to be discreet or at least sensitively conducted if you are preparing your exit without having submitted a resignation. But there is nothing to stop you connecting with people in your trusted networks to find out if they know of opportunities. When the time comes to start your job search, it is always helpful to have the enlisted support of a good network connection.

Technicalities of career changing

Before you start really looking for a new career, you are going to need some things in order first. One of the big differences in applying for roles outside of education is that you will need to have a CV. This is a good time to start looking at templates and drafting up the information you will need in your CV. Having the research prepared now will make it much easier to write your CV when the time comes. See my blog for helpful CV advice.

The other thing to consider as part of the technicalities of career changing is who you will approach to ask for references. You do not need to provide details on your CV but it is common that you will be asked to provide 2 or 3 references if you are shortlisted for a role.


If you do have an idea of what new career path you would like, finding out about any training opportunities you can undertake to brush up on existing skills or provide brand new ones is always going to be beneficial. There is plenty of choice to suit your circumstance, be it an introductory online course to give you a taster into a new skill-set or a full programme leading to a qualification in another field. What you choose will depend on what you hope to do, the skills you already have and the time scale you are looking to exit the classroom.


By starting to shape your own clear exit strategy and putting your plans into action, you will not only have a structured approach to the change of career but also it provides a degree of emotional stability in a time of change, too. No one likes the unknown. You have just added some clear steps that you know you will take in an otherwise unknown journey. There is something very reassuring in taking action – it gives us a sense of purpose and control in our lives. And my guess is that you are long overdue getting ownership over your life back.

So cut yourself some slack. Stop scrolling the job ads if you don’t know what you want to do and channel your energy into productively creating your exit strategy. You will need this before you can choose your course of action. Sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of the page to be notified about the next blog and never miss a thing.

Want more help? Reach out and contact me for a free consultation about your career change options.


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I first worked with Will whilst I was a junior member of a teaching team. I worked closely with him for around three years and he became a true mentor to me. During this time Will helped encourage me to discover my own leadership style and he mapped out what it takes to be successful. I highly recommend Will for life and career coaching.

Will is a professional, natural leader who manages to make you feel at ease. He manages to be both emphatic and encouraging, whilst also managing to challenge you to find your own answers. Will’s approach is totally non-judgmental and the sessions are really focused on you and on what you want to achieve. Working with Will has allowed me to address challenges I was facing and he brought a wealth of resources and practical tools to help me set goals, clarify my values, and explore avenues right away. Even though I left teaching 5 years ago, I still seek out Will for his help and guidance and I appreciate his versatility as a thought partner, ally, and coach. Our sessions are always productive and efficiently run, which is perfect for someone who is juggling many priorities! Will brings great communication, professionalism and quality to his work and I highly recommend him as a life/business coach.
- Jamie T (Leadership Coaching)

Highly recommended

I am so glad I found Mapleleaf Vision! Will has been super supportive and understood exactly what I needed to help me to redirect my focus. I now have fresh enthusiasm for what lies ahead.
- Greg M (Life Coaching)


Will at Mapleleaf vision fitted me in for a last minute decision-making session that I needed to make ASAP re. a job offer / career change. He was friendly, professional, and really knew his stuff! He unpicked things that I could never have done on my own. I’m so grateful to him & will be highly recommending him to everyone! Where there is a ‘Will’, there’s a way! Thank you, Will. You truly have a gift.
- Cat K (Career Coaching)