On the Job with… Scott McDonald, Teacher Consultant, Special Education

Scott McDonald, Teacher Consultant in Special Education in Grand Erie, is starting his day at Princess Elizabeth Public School. It’s one of 12 schools he visits regularly for resource team meetings which bring together diverse groups of specialists to support the equally diverse needs of students.

“Any time a student struggles, there are processes in place to remove barriers to learning,” says McDonald. “It’s a wrap-around, team approach because success looks different for every student.”

At the meeting with McDonald is the school’s Principal, Learning Resource Teacher, a Grand Erie Child and Youth Worker, and Social Worker. Other times, depending on the needs they’re working to meet, the resource team might expand to include Social Workers, Speech Language Pathologists, Educational Assistants, Behavioural Counsellors, or other professionals with expertise in specific areas. It’s a bit like putting together the pieces of a giant puzzle. There’s a corner piece here, a center piece over there, and finding the right connective pieces to bring the full picture into view requires a team effort.

Three staff members sit at a table in a classroom

Caption: Principal Gail Ash, McDonald, and Learning Resource Teacher Joanne Scott prepare for a resource team meeting

“Because we’re working with finite resources, part of this role involves identifying what we can solve at the school level, what we can solve at the Board level, and what types of community supports we can draw on,” explains McDonald. “It’s figuring out which tools are available and which ones we should access.”

McDonald has worked with Grand Erie for 20 years, as an elementary teacher, a Learning Resource Teacher, and on a special project working to support at-risk Grade 8 students making the transition to secondary school. He’s also a former student of Seneca Central School, J.L. Mitchener Public School, and Cayuga Secondary School.

“I was never a straight-A student, and I think from a very early point, I had an awareness that I organize my thoughts differently, that I learn differently,” says McDonald. “I think that’s always drawn me to Spec Ed.”

While all students learn differently, Special Education addresses the fact that some students have exceptional learning needs. Accommodating those needs could involve straightforward strategies such as providing more time for lessons or a different environment in which to write a test, using equipment or assistive devices so students can participate meaningfully in activities, or the teacher providing a prompt to return attention to a particular task. For some students, modifications might be made to the curriculum expectations to fit their unique learning needs. For other students, a self-contained classroom might be the best environment to provide specialized interventions and support. Determining how best to meet these needs is a collaboration between the school, the Special Education team, the student’s parents or guardians, and other specialists.

Two staff members work in a classroom with students with autism

Caption: McDonald visits the Autism class at Tollgate Technological Skills Centre, and meets with Teacher Alisa Dyment and student Matthew

“It’s all about determining what success means for a particular student,” says McDonald. “For some, the end goal might be an Ontario Secondary School diploma; for others, it might mean developing employment skills, or helping to ensure they are on the path to being happy, productive members of society. So we work to find the appropriate baselines.”

McDonald's work, and the goals of the Special Education department, aligns with Grand Erie's Multi-Year Plan, and its pillars of Equity and Achievement. These pillars work to provide educational experiences based on acceptance, inclusion, and the removal of barriers so students can find individual success.

McDonald works out of Grand Erie’s Teacher Resource Centre, and on his way back to the office, he stops in at Tollgate Technological Skills Centre to visit the school’s self-contained classroom for students with autism spectrum disorder. There, he’s able to catch up with Cassi, a student he’s known since she was in Grade 3 at Major Ballachey Public School, where McDonald was the Learning Resource Teacher at the time. Cassi’s teacher, Alisa Dyment, shows him a folder containing her most recent work, including a diagram of a penguin on which Cassi has correctly labelled its different parts – without any assistance.

“That’s incredible,” McDonald replies, with a warm smile.

The Special Education team includes five other Teacher Consultants, and time in the office fosters important collaboration. McDonald also uses the time to answer emails and phone calls, and this afternoon he's conversing with a school administrator to respond to challenges around strategies in place for a particular student.

While he’s travelling to various school sites many days, the office provides a chance to check in with the wider Spec Ed team, including Lesley Boudreault, who is the department’s Program Coordinator. Previous to taking on this role, Boudreault was in the same position McDonald is now – with a similar career trajectory – and he considers her a mentor. The job can take an emotional toll dealing with complex situations and working with limited resources, and having strong working relationships with team members helps immensely when it comes to balancing wellness.

Two staff members collaborate at a computer screen

Caption: McDonald collaborates with Lesley Boudreault at the office

“I really get a lot out of the conversations I have with fellow staff, and knowing that I can pop into Lesley’s office and say, ‘I just need to talk through a certain situation,’ is incredibly valuable,” he says. “Lesley will listen carefully and absorb what I’m saying, then offer feedback based on her knowledge and experience, and I always leave feeling like I can get through whatever it is.”

Before the day is over, Scott is on the road again, concluding the day at Branlyn Community School to review the needs of a student enrolled in the Strategies class.

When not at work, McDonald can usually be found at a hockey rink – he’s a coach for the Brantford 99ers Minor Peewee team. His son is on the team, and there’s lots of travel involved, but also plenty of time for family. McDonald’s partner in these adventures is Melanie Logan, Vice-Principal at Cobblestone Elementary, and their family includes Logan’s two daughters and McDonald’s two sons.

“We’re loving life as a blended family,” he says. “I fill my bucket with family for sure.”

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