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The Vanguard Teacher Program: Teach, Lead, Coach

Future Ready Leadership Series: Innovative Educational Excellence, where we embark on an inspiring journey across the educational landscape. In this ongoing series, we spotlight visionary school districts from around the country that are pioneering the way forward in shaping the future of education. These districts are embracing change and leading it, harnessing the power of the Future Ready Framework to provide innovative leadership and ensure student success.

In our blog, Frederick County Public School (MD) Leaders share how they designed and developed the Vanguard Teacher Program. This is a three year, competency-based, teacher leadership program that teach, lead, and coach others to create a personalized learning environment in the classroom, while building capacity within schools and across the district to accelerate curriculum implementation and execution. 

Get ready to be inspired, informed, and energized as we uncover the strategies, insights, and transformative practices shaping the education landscape. The Future Ready Leadership Series is your window into the world of educational innovation, where the future is not a distant horizon but a tangible reality, guided by visionary leadership.

School systems across the nation strive to offer professional learning opportunities to continue teacher growth in instructional practices.  When Frederick County Public Schools (MD) realized that teachers wanted (and needed) a systematic and sustained professional learning opportunity centered around instructional practice, the seed for the future Vanguard Teacher Program began.  

The journey began with collaboration, uniting teachers and curriculum teams to start small field tests sparking innovation.  Drawing inspiration from Michael Horn and Heather Staker’s book, Blended, the initiative took flight.

With the success of students and teachers evidenced in our first blended learning pilot, we moved forward with building the Vanguard Teacher Program– a three-year, competency-based teacher leadership haven. Picture 368 teachers across 63 schools, evolving through eight cohorts, driving personalized learning, and becoming leaders in curriculum implementation. 

Four key factors that have contributed to the success of the Vanguard Teacher Program

1. Teacher-Created and Teacher-Driven

A program crafted by teachers, for teachers. The initial planning committee consisted of a wide range of teachers, from multiple content areas and with varying years of experience.  We feel that the voice of teachers has been critical to developing the program.

2. Field-Informed and Discovery-Driven

Beyond surveys, the central team immerses themselves in classrooms, actively seeking insights from teachers and students alike. The discovery-driven planning process ensures regular check-ins and agile adjustments. Over the eight cohorts of teachers involved in the Vanguard program, the focus on being field-informed has shifted the program experience to be responsive to the ever-changing needs in classrooms.

3. Micro-Credentials for Personalized Growth

Educators in the Vanguard Program complete four micro-credentials each year.  They may choose the order, pacing, and in many cases, the path in which they earn the micro-credentials.  To demonstrate competencies and earn each micro-credential, teachers must provide a description, evidence of implementation, and a reflection of the instructional impact.  Professional learning is focused on the four Vanguard competencies: Mindset, Instructional Technology, Teaching Practices, and Professional Learning and Networking.  Each of these competencies is tailored to the yearly progression of Teach, Lead, Coach.  The micro-credentials provide agency and the competency-based approach honors the experience of our teacher leaders.

4. Making Learning Fun

Inspired by The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath and Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara, we try to create moments to build a professional network, create excitement for learning, and establish a sense of belonging within the program.  This starts from the first moment they are selected for the program.  Our team goes out to visit each of the teachers to surprise them in their classroom.  We give them an “I’m in!” poster and get to celebrate their selection with their administrators, colleagues, and most importantly, their students.  The fun continues with our Vanguard Launch event.  This is the first time we bring the new cohort together.  They are our honored guests for the evening, which includes dinner, welcome messages from our Superintendent and other senior leaders, and ends with a collaborative, interactive game using an app called Goosechase that lasts a few months ending at the Vanguard Summer Academy.  The Summer Academy is our two-day orientation to the program where we continue to mix learning and fun. The professional learning includes an escape room and a Personalized Learning Marathon, which is a type of scavenger hunt that asks teams to navigate around the city of Frederick to complete.  These are just a few of the examples of how our team tries to create memorable “moments” that build a culture for learning in the Vanguard Teacher Program. based approach honors the experience of our teacher leaders.

The results: transformative impact. On the annual evaluation form, teachers shared what they learned from the Vanguard Program experience:

Teachers also shared how they will operate differently as a result of the Vanguard Program experience:

“I have worked with thousands of teachers in the last ten years and I rarely get to work with a group that is so passionate, so driven, and so excited to learn as the teachers in Vanguard.”
– Dr. Catlin Tucker

“I love the work in Frederick County Public Schools and the focus on expanding innovation through people.  Not through programs, not through tech, but actually helping develop great leaders throughout their entire school system. It is really powerful.”
– George Couros

Additional resources:

About the Authors

Tom Murray

Eric Haines

Eric Haines is the Supervisor of Innovative Learning from Frederick County Public Schools.  Connect with him on X @EHainesFCPS or email at Eric.Haines@fcps.org

Anne Navazio

Anne Navazio is a Teacher Specialist for Innovative Learning for Frederick County Public Schools.  Connect with her on X @anne_navazio or email at Anne.Navazio@fcps.org