Educational Specialist: Career, Job Duties and Salary Information
Educating the next generation of children is a monumental responsibility. Designing engaging curriculum, training teachers to inspire, selecting the right textbooks and technological tools — these are major challenges no school can afford to take lightly. That’s why many schools employ educational specialists.
Educational specialists work with schools to optimize students’ progress. They may focus on serving students with learning disabilities or on implementing technology in the classroom. In any case, they play a crucial role in the success of schools in the 21st century.
This guide will bring you up to speed on what it takes to become an educational specialist, describing the required education, estimating the salary you’re likely to earn and sharing tips on maximizing your success in the field. Read all the way through or use these links to jump to a specific destination:
At-a-glance: educational specialists
|Education||MA, EdD or EdS|
|Median salary||$49,553 (PayScale.com)
Educational specialist job description
Educational specialists collaborate with teachers and administrators to adjust and design coursework, evaluation/testing and classroom organization strategies. They typically work for public school districts, individual public and charter schools, and private schools.
Educational specialists evaluate and provide recommendations to improve curriculum planning, individual lessons and teaching methods at one or more grade levels. They also help coordinate and communicate expectations and progress among students’ parents/guardians, guidance counselors and teachers.
Senior-level educational specialists get heavily involved in creating coursewide and schoolwide curricula. In some cases, they may work with the administrators responsible for acquiring textbooks and school supplies.
Educational specialists typically work in a school, including classrooms and administrative meetings. Some school districts share a group of specialists among all their schools. This means traveling between schools during the day and meeting with administrators and board members in the evening.
This career can be gratifying and rewarding but will almost always require working 40 hours or more each week.
Specific duties and responsibilities vary a lot by school district or school. Also, educational specialists may focus on a specific niche in education. For example, some educational specialists coordinate lesson plans and curricular development exclusively for students with special needs, while others focus on gifted and talented students. Educational specialists also focus on classroom technologies.
Educational specialist salary outlook
Annual salary estimates for an educational specialist range from $48,289 (Salary.com) to $58,000 (Glassdoor.com). Compensation rates depend heavily on the school district and the geographic area.
High-stakes testing and accountability measures have led many school systems to pay greater attention to curriculum efficiency and teaching methods. This shift is likely to cause more schools with available funds to hire educational specialists.
Keep in mind that school district budgets vary considerably by county, state and region. Well-funded districts can hire more educational specialists than their less-well-off peers and distribute their work among a smaller pool of schools. That can make a huge difference in the working conditions for educational specialists.
Who makes a good educational specialist?
Someone who is:
- Attentive to details
- Oriented toward service
- Good at planning and organizing
- Empathetic and sociable
- Skilled in identifying problems and brainstorming potential solutions
- Excellent at written and oral communications, including presentations
- Comfortable working independently and collaboratively
- Careful about documentation and note-taking
- Able to meet aggressive deadlines
- Interested in traveling and working in a diverse range of environments
- Qualified with a degree in curriculum and instruction or educational leadership
Varieties of educational specialists
As you think more about becoming an educational specialist, you’ll want to focus on an educational niche. Here are three of the most common choices for educational specialists.
Gifted-education specialists help schools craft programs that better serve their most skilled and talented students.
Continue reading to learn more about gifted-education specialists
- What gifted-education specialists do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Pros and cons of being a gifted-education specialist
What gifted-education specialists do
Gifted-education specialists focus on:
- Creating and improving methods to identify gifted and talented students
- Training faculty to help them refine their techniques to help gifted and talented students thrive while sharing their success with their classmates
- Developing peer-to-peer learning programs so gifted students can mentor their classmates
- Optimizing the learning environments for gifted students
- Designing and executing blended-learning programs
- Managing after-school enrichment programs
Though conventional schools often hire gifted-education specialists, many of these professionals work for schools or programs that exclusively serve students with remarkable intellectual gifts and/or artistic talents.
Education and certification requirements
Employers typically expect gifted-education specialists to have an advanced degree in a relevant field. That means they’ll expect you to have a master’s (MA) or doctorate (EdD) in education or an educational specialist degree (EdS).
Many public school districts have extra requirements if state mandates include specific certifications and credentials for the people they hire.
Pros and cons of being a gifted-education specialist
Let’s break down the positives and negatives of working as a gifted-education specialist.
- Broad potential impact because your work can help entire schools or school districts
- Opportunities to travel for work
- Unlock potential of children with extraordinary talents
- Provide help and opportunities for kids who often feel isolated and out of place in a conventional school setting
- Educational bureaucracies can be difficult to change and frustrating to work with
- Less one-on-one interaction with students
- Long hours sometimes necessary
- When budgets are tight, educational specialists may be considered non-essential personnel
- Your work may primarily help kids who already have intellectual advantages
Special education specialists
Some educational specialists coordinate lesson plans and curricular development exclusively for students with special needs, including those with intellectual and/or physical disabilities.Continue reading to learn more about special education specialists
- What special education specialists do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Pros and cons of being a special education specialist
What special education specialists do
Using their experience educating children with mental and physical disabilities, special education specialists create and implement strategies for children to overcome developmental delays. They generally have two areas of focus: hands-on observation/assessment and organizational/logistical planning. The first area of focus involves working directly with students with special needs and their teachers and parents.
To assess a child’s specific developmental deficiencies, specialists work directly with children. Key tasks:
- Conducting observations
- Playing gross-motor games
- Giving mental development tests
- Monitoring social interactions
- Checking on access to instructional materials
The results of these observations and tests help special education specialists use optimal strategy and program development for their organizational/logistical planning work, which includes the following:
- Developing assessments of the special-needs student’s progress toward meeting academic goals
- Training faculty to use teaching techniques customized to help students with special needs
- Improving methods to identify student learning differences and disabilities
- Creating peer-to-peer social and educational programs to integrate disabled students into the student body
- Optimizing learning environments for disabled students
Educational and certification requirements
Employers typically expect educational specialists to have an advanced degree in a relevant field. That means they’ll expect you to have a master’s (MA) or doctorate (EdD) in education or an educational specialist degree (EdS). Usually, you’ll need to demonstrate that your advanced degree includes a focus on special education or specific coursework on educating special-needs children. Work experience serving children with special needs is also important.
Many public school districts have more requirements if state mandates include specific certifications and credentials for people the district hires.
Pros and cons of being a special education specialist
As you think about becoming a special education specialist, be sure to weigh the pluses and minuses.
- Help improve the lives of children facing serious challenges
- Work one-on-one with special-needs students who need special attention
- Less time spent in offices and meetings
- Dedicated funding for special education in some states means a more secure position
- Progress and improvements in educational outcomes can be very slow in the world of special education
- Working with special-needs students can be frustrating
- Educational bureaucracies can be difficult to change and aggravating to work with
- Long hours are sometimes necessary
Educational technology specialists
Educational technology specialists (or instructional technology specialists) collaborate with teachers and school administrators to integrate technology in the classroom.
Continue reading to learn more about educational technology specialists
- What educational technology specialists do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Pros and cons of being an educational technology specialist
What educational technology specialists do
If you work as an educational technology specialist, you will probably focus on one or more of the following:
- Identifying appropriate educational technology for classroom applications
- Sourcing and/or assisting in the development of new instructional technologies
- Fixing problems in current education technology programs using past program data and outcomes
- Maintaining and monitoring computer networks, applications and other educational technology
- Training teachers to properly use educational technology
- Evaluating an instructor’s effectiveness in using technology in the classroom and providing suggestions on improvement
- Advising educators and administrators on curriculum design
- Examining the use of technology in instructing different types of learners, including advanced students, those with learning disabilities, and English as a second language students
Educational and certification requirements
Schools and other employers want educational technology specialists to have a strong background in education and technology. This will usually mean a bachelor’s degree at minimum, and frequently a master’s (MA) or doctorate (PhD) in education, or an educational specialist degree (EdS).
You will need to demonstrate that your advanced degree includes coursework about using technology in the classroom. Work experience in educational technology is also vital.
Many public school districts may have additional requirements if state mandates include specific certifications and credentials for people the district hires.
Pros and cons of being an educational technology specialist
If you want to become an educational technology specialist, consider the following costs and benefits:
- Opportunity to work with technology for a good cause
- Potential to help develop or improve world-changing products
- Support and assist the important work of teachers
- Funding for technology in schools is on the rise
- Little direct interaction with students
- Have to work within the constraints of existing education bureaucracies
Professional development for educational specialists
Consider getting involved with an organization related to your focus as an education technology specialist.
- National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE)
- Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT)
- National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)
Benefits of continuing education
To work in a school district as an educational specialist, you will probably need an advanced degree such as a master’s (MA) or doctorate (EdD) in education, or an educational specialist degree (EdS).
What kinds of programs can help educational specialists?
Concordia University-Portland offers online graduate degree programs that help educational specialists sharpen their expertise and prepare for job opportunities with more selective schools, universities and private clients:
The Curriculum & Instruction program has 16 concentrations, including Educational Technology Leadership and The Inclusive Classroom (SPED). Choose a concentration that reflects the variety of educational specialist you want to become.
Other jobs for educational specialists
Educational specialists may also work as teachers, librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals, or as an educational administrator at a college or university.
Teacher: Educational specialists can easily become teachers if they obtain a teaching credential and have a strong educational background in the subject they plan to teach. A bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential are the minimum requirements.
Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.
Instructional coordinator: Educational specialists are well-positioned to become instructional coordinators. Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to curriculum and instruction and may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.
Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.
Education consultant: Educational specialists can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.
School principal: You will need a master’s degree in an education-related field to become a school principal. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed school administrators.
Education administrator: To become an education administrator, you will need years of experience and a master’s degree in an education-related field.
Best of the web: our favorite educational specialist blogs, websites and Twitter handles
The web makes it easy to connect with prominent educational specialists. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.
Favorite educational specialist websites and blogs
- The Tech Savvy Educator
- Ryan Wilson Blog
- Learning Specialist Materials Blog
- Special and Me
- Successful Teaching
- Unwrapping the Gifted
- Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher
Favorite educational specialist Twitter handles
- Bevin Reinen: @TeachTrainLove
- Molly Bennett: @followmolly
- Colleen Kessler: @ColleenKessler
- Kerry Gallagher: @KerryHawk02
- Kristina Peters: @Mrskmpeters
- David Kapuler: @dkapuler
- Pie Corbett: @PieCorbett