• The EdSkipper
  • Posts
  • The Ins and Outs of Professional Learning Specialists

The Ins and Outs of Professional Learning Specialists

Thank you for reading the EdSkipper, Skip’s newsletter about skipping from education to education-aligned careers. Every Saturday, I send out a list of curated remote jobs. Premium subscribers receive two additional emails a month with industry insights and advice to help you apply more competitively to the jobs you’re passionate about.

Many of the educators I work with start their first edtech job as a part-time contract Professional Learning Specialist (or its close equivalent, Instructional Coaching), working either for a single company or multiple ones simultaneously. 

What makes PLS a great bridge role between education and industry is that it is quite similar to what many educators are already doing in their schools. It requires no upskilling but simply expands that professional development work to a larger scale – many PLSs support multiple schools and are responsible not just for training and coaching but also manage the logistics for those relationships. 

It’s also a role where 98% of the employees are current or former teachers. (At least for the sampling I took.) The other 2% typically comes from administration — technology specialists for a district or principals. PLS typically pay less than a principal can make moving into Customer Success, though, so you’re more likely to see them move into CSM roles. (Why? Because CS usually involves a lot more contract, renewal, and upsell tasks that administrators often have experience with.)

PLS is a part-time or a full-time role at most edtech companies. It provides a company with an on-going revenue stream after they’ve sold a curriculum product or program. It’s one of those upsells that the sales and customer success teams will encourage districts to purchase.  

While the role sounds like a perfect transition, it poses some specific challenges that keep many educators from applying.

First, it typically requires a significant amount of travel. 50-75% is not at all uncommon for this role with trips often consisting of multi-day visits to schools across a state, region, or even nationally (esp with full-time roles). Some coaching does occur over Zoom but there’s a definite preference for in-person, multi-day sessions instead where the coach is offering a mix of workshops and coaching follow-ups with their staff a few times a year.

Second, it’s a heavily seasonal role, aligning with school’s professional development calendars. This means that the schedule is feast or famine instead of year-round (except for their highest performers). As you would expect, it’s quite busy in the late summer, early fall and much lighter at other points in the year. Educators who are looking for more hours (especially in the summer) contract with multiple companies at once. 

Because of this scheduling bottleneck, companies hire and train a ton of PLS, many of whom will only be contracted for 20-30 days a year. Typically, the highest-performing summer/fall trainers are invited to work year-round and the majority of the contract work is clustered around the back-to-school season. 

Anecdotally, I can tell you that some folks are contacted quite regularly – and can always ask for more work! – while others find they’re getting sporadic assignments. (I conducted a recent poll on LinkedIn to ask about this – but many of the people who responded don’t list their PLS work on their profiles so it’s hard to evaluate the results. They did track with the feast or famine model, though.) This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t high-performers — sometimes the scheduling just doesn’t work out for educators who are still in the classroom.

What’s in this issue:

  • What tasks does a PLS do?

  • How do I differentiate myself from other educators? (premium subscribers only)

    • Tailoring Your Resume for these Roles (premium subscribers only)

    • Preparing for the Take-Home Task (premium subscribers only)

  • What is the typical salary for this position? What about logistics (travel, taxes, etc)? (premium subscribers only)

What does a PLS do?

I once read a PLS job description that included only a single sentence to describe the job responsibilities! The rest of the listing shared specific information about that company’s hourly rate, logistics (like travel reimbursements), and the availability of hours. That’s because most of these jobs have a very similar and very specific list of tasks. 

These job tasks, most broadly are:

  • Creating personalized plans for each school/district you work with (usually in collaboration with admin)

  • Facilitating engaging, interactive workshops and trainings (in-person and online)

  • Coaching educators in small groups (focusing on training and goal setting and problem solving) as well as modeling or co-teaching/planning

  • Creating resource libraries

  • Tracking data to indicate your impact and the impact of the programming/edtech product

  • Managing the logistics related to multiple schools and trainings

This is what most educators who do Instructional Coaching in their own schools do as well so this is probably a fairly familiar list of responsibilities. And, as you’re writing your resume, these are probably the tasks you would include.

So how do I differentiate myself from other educators?

The role requires both strong classroom practices and strong adult learning practices – PLS take their high-quality instructional practices and use that expertise to inform how they train and coach educators. 

The standardization of the role makes it exceptionally challenging for educators to differentiate themselves and for companies to determine who should move into the interview rounds.

It’s more challenging for companies because they each have their own certification process to train their contractors in their specific curriculum and training practices. So some of your own training SME or certifications is less relevant because they’ll provide additional support there.

Companies then are looking for people who have the right soft skills, such as the ability to provide effective and empathetic coaching, high-quality instructional practices, and so forth. Exactly the kinds of things that resumes show quite poorly.

This means that most of these companies have established a multi-stage application process: they only interview folks after the initial application and a take-home task that may take 2-3 hours to complete.

Your resume is an important part of this process because it shows your qualifications for the role but the take-home tasks are where the company determines how well qualified you are for the role. 

The next two sections will share advice on how to shape your resume to best highlight your teacher-centered tasks as well as give you a sense for what the take-home tasks typically involve. 

Subscribe to The EdSkipper Plus to read the rest.

Become a paying subscriber of The EdSkipper Plus to get access to this post and other subscriber-only content.

Already a paying subscriber? Sign In

A subscription gets you:
In-depth deep dives about the best roles for educators
Skills analysis to translate your skills
Additional Jobs (I search 250+ companies every week)
Access to all previous newsletters (NB: I've launched Sept 23 so long-term benefit!)

Join the conversation

or to participate.