What is a Curriculum Specialist and What do They Do?
Curriculum is your roadmap to instruction, but it can certainly take some experience to use it with ease as a classroom teacher. Many buildings and districts have curriculum specialists, whose primary role is to help teachers implement the curriculum in a way that meets the needs of all learners, but this role encompasses so much more! Curriculum specialists are teacher-leaders who, due to their experience and success in the classroom, serve as collaborators and guides for classroom teachers to plan lessons, analyze student performance, model instruction, support differentiation, and so much more.
The role can vary slightly from school to school and district to district, but there are some components of the role that are tried and true wherever you are. The curriculum specialist serves as a building leader and thus will require skills beyond those of a classroom teacher to effectively meet the responsibilities of the job.
Education and Training Needed to Become a Curriculum Specialist
While there is not a program that provides you with a specialized certification for this role, a curriculum specialist needs to have teaching experience in the grade levels they are overseeing, as well as a teaching certificate for those grades. Those wishing to become a curriculum specialist often also find it extremely valuable to have completed a master’s in curriculum and instruction or other related graduate program. Coursework should include differentiation, assessment, and curriculum design at a minimum.
The most valuable requirement is truly the impact you have had as a classroom teacher preceding your pursuit of this leadership role. Curriculum specialists have typically served in some capacity on curriculum development as classroom teachers and have had some experience in delivering professional development in an area of expertise to other teachers. Curriculum specialists have typically stood out for their commitment to education by leading efforts beyond typical classroom instruction, like serving as Student Council Advisor, committee chair, or parent liaison.
Skills Needed to be an Effective Curriculum Specialist
As new curriculum (like the Next Generation Science Standards, for example) are rolled out, curriculum specialists serve as leaders since they have typically contributed to the unit development in some way or at least have had a preview of the content before teachers. With curriculum shifts, the curriculum specialist is available to provide rationale for changes, explanation of what’s “new”, and also to be a listener to the teachers as they implement and collect feedback on what is or is not going as planned. Thus, it is imperative that a curriculum specialist be informed of new curriculum shifts and mandates as they arise at the state and district level to support teachers with implementation.
Most curriculum specialists have some responsibilities related to state assessment as well, so being familiar with the policies and procedures related to the state assessments, including student accommodation procedures, is critical to the role. A deep understanding of both the administration of in-district assessments, like standardized benchmarks, as well as how to use them to inform instruction are critical skills and knowledge needed to effectively serve as a curriculum specialist.
Instructional Best Practices
As experts about the units and activities teachers are being held responsible for delivering to their learners, it is a curriculum specialist’s job to know the depth of the curriculum. This includes what an activity may look like, which key terms or concepts are the most important to focus on, and what questions or roadblocks may come up for students that teachers should watch out for.
A curriculum specialist may co-teach or model a lesson to provide the classroom teacher with the opportunity to watch their learners in action and observe instructional strategies needed to meet the learning targets of the lesson. They can also observe and give feedback to a teacher as they develop new skills and strategies in a way that is collaborative and non-evaluative. While they may work on a leadership team with the principal, the curriculum specialist is not there to evaluate, but rather to make sure the curriculum comes to life through the work of teachers.
Differentiation strategies are the key to any effective instruction and can manifest in a multitude of ways. What works for one child may not work for another, and a curriculum specialist may have a deeper toolbox when it comes to differentiation to assist a teacher with creatively meeting a child’s needs. Curriculum specialists get to see differentiation across the building and can be “pollinators” for good ideas by sharing strategies they have witnessed in different classrooms.
In my district and in many others, curriculum specialists also serve as the Assessment Coordinator. Even if they don’t have this official title as the manager of state testing, they are savvy at analyzing student work and utilizing assessments to inform instruction. Designing assessments and using the information gleaned from them to guide next steps for learning are critical skills that a curriculum specialist will need to lead their team of teachers.
Communication & Parent Engagement
A major part of being a teacher is partnering with a child’s parent/guardian to help the child reach their goals. Sometimes broaching topics around behavior or lack of academic progress can feel tricky, and a curriculum specialist is often one of the first people a teacher reaches out to for guidance and support. The curriculum specialist will likely get to know the children (and families) at a school over multiple years and thus may provide valuable insight on what has worked when making an effort to collaborate with a family.
That said, a strong curriculum specialist will have impressive skills with crafting emails, planning parent meetings, and using good judgment for which form of communication would best establish a partnership with a parent in a given situation.
A curriculum specialist has also likely been involved in myriad situations with students over their career and will have valuable insight regarding those more uncomfortable or unusual conversations with families. Being able to anticipate how nuances in our language can either help or hinder the parent-teacher partnership is a skill that makes the person in this role effective at supporting teachers with family engagement.
More than anything, the curriculum specialist is someone teachers can count on to collaborate with in a non-evaluative way. Don’t forget that curriculum specialists were teachers and likely miss being in the classroom all day! As a former curriculum specialist, I can say with certainty that any opportunity to get into the classroom and spend time with the children was invaluable, so if you are a classroom teacher right now, don’t hesitate to ask for help and invite them in!
Ready to take the next step in your career and become a curriculum specialist? Explore our options today to find the right curriculum and instruction program for you!