For Sarah Pazur, building on her school’s commitment to project-based and personalized learning meant committing to shared leadership with her staff.
“I wanted to create a cohort of teacher leaders that we coached and developed who could go on to coach and develop the rest of the team,” says Pazur, who serves as executive director of FlexTech High School in Michigan, a public charter school whose three campuses serve more than 200 students. “When your principal tries to coach you, they’re in an evaluative role. But a fellow teacher is a peer ally, someone who is in the trenches with you, doing this work in their own classroom.”
Pazur worked to develop what she and her staff call their Vanguard team. Teachers applied to be a part of the team last year, volunteering their time for additional professional development and to serve as a resource for their peers in supporting personalized learning practices.
“The Vanguard team has opened up a whole new set of resources for our teachers,” says Pazur. “They realize they have advocates, champions who can help them. And the teachers who are part of the Vanguard team also feel validated – they can see that we’re investing in their talent and that they have a significant voice at the table.”
“A fellow teacher is a peer ally, someone who is in the trenches with you, doing this work in their own classroom.”
Teachers Supporting Teachers
This past summer, the team participated in nine days of professional development where they focused on scaling student-centered practices and built an instructional framework. Elizabeth Steckelberg, a member of the Vanguard team who has been with FlexTech for three years, was excited at the prospect of growing as a teacher leader, and in supporting her peers.
“We have presented ourselves as the go-to people. We put ourselves out there,” says Steckelberg. “One of our teachers came to me recently with a question about our independent work contract, and we were able to make real-time changes to make her life easier.”
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Joe Lieberman has been with FlexTech for five years and sees his role on the Vanguard team through a similar lens.
“I’m trying to model student-centered practices for others, but I’m also here to help them make it their own,” says Lieberman. “It doesn’t feel like something that’s imposed upon staff. We’re here to help them adapt to their way of teaching and their own approach.”
For Michelle Yager, an English and Math teacher on the Vanguard team, she recognizes the value in facilitating those peer-teacher relationships that will ensure everyone feels supported.
“I want our teachers to know they’re integral to the vision for our instructional framework. I want to give them ownership,” Yager says. “We want to be in a place where they recognize that they’re not being told what to do; they want to do it.”
“We have presented ourselves as the go-to people. We put ourselves out there.”
How Supporting Teachers Supports Students, Too
Kristen Moore has been with FlexTech since 2011. As a member of the Vanguard team, she’s most excited at the prospect that their work supporting teachers will impact student learning. She’s partnering with Lieberman to coach on student-centered practices.
“We’re developing instructional coaching cycles to look at data about where students are, how we can target instruction to make sure we’re meeting the needs of all learners and that they’re all held to the same rigorous standards,” says Moore. “It’s great that we have a solidified vision and a plan for moving forward with personalized learning – these are well-vetted research-based practices that we firmly believe are going to enhance education for all of our students.”
“These are well-vetted research-based practices that we firmly believe are going to enhance education for all of our students.”
The Vanguard team is about building relationships between educators that support student learning, and for Lieberman, that’s what FlexTech is all about.
“The Vanguard team is really clarifying the work we were already doing,” Lieberman says. “When we designed the instructional framework, everyone had a voice, had a say, had evidence to bring in from what we’ve experienced. It all centers around building relationships with our students to support their learning.”