By teaching in the classroom, district curriculum specialists and instructional coaches can earn trust from fellow educators and potentially gain buy-in on new resources and approaches.
Teaching regularly can also help specialists understand the challenges educators have to address in the classroom and stay fluent in the kinds of technology teachers use daily, said Miriam Plotinsky, an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and author of “Lead Like a Teacher.”
“For curriculum specialists in particular, the best possible experience is teaching the curriculum we support, which helps us understand the teacher and student experience more profoundly,” Plotinsky said.
Spending time teaching in classrooms can enhance curriculum specialists' impact, said Plotinsky. While that option may not always be possible for those who have transitioned into these specialist roles, understanding the work classroom teachers do is still key.
Plotinsky, who addresses this point in “Lead Like a Teacher,” encourages specialists to stay aware of what she refers to as the “empathy gap” and remain cognizant of the role and responsibilities of classroom teachers.
“For example, I taught for about 20 years before transitioning to my specialist role, but I no longer have the relevant expertise of a classroom teacher who has far less time in the profession because I'm not in that space every day,” Plotinsky said. “However, having the awareness and the humility to understand that my job is to help people put pieces together from a different perspective rather than have all the answers is key to doing this job effectively.”
Plotinsky added that while classroom teaching experience can help specialists in their work, they don’t need to “broadcast” this detail to the teachers they support. Instead, specialists should focus on partnering with classroom instructors to help them apply new practices and supporting the students they teach.
“My No. 1 goal is to make it easier for others to design and implement clear instructional pathways that help kids right away,” said Plotinsky. “Then, the impact on student achievement is far more transparent and significant.”