A New Vanguard for Educator Professional Development in Atlanta


by Stephanee Stephens

As anyone on-the-ground can tell you, great changes are happening in educator professional development. From the influence of social media and e-learning to the power of educator-driven communities of practice, PD itself is becoming increasingly personalized.  Districts large and small have the opportunity to effect progress in education by offering ongoing and embedded support of teaching and learning within schools and classrooms. If we are to expect a customized experience for students, we must first effectively model that experience for the teachers who serve them.

Such is the case in Fulton County, Georgia where a collaboration among district leaders, board members, the Fulton Education Foundation, the Instructional Technology Department, and the new Fulton County Vanguard Team are supporting educators. Sharing a passion for transforming what ‘school’ means for our students, this unique collaboration is striving to redefine what education looks like.

The Vanguard Team is a group of elite teachers, media and educational technology instructors, and both district and school leaders who have attained a measure of mastery in the integration of technology use with classroom instruction. As technology innovators, the Vanguard Team builds the foundation for Fulton's strategic technology initiative to ensure student access to technologies that support innovative instruction.

As a means of providing evidence of the competencies, skill sets, and interests of members, the Vanguard Team is working with Baltimore-based learning technology firm An Estuary to distribute Open Badges. The badges are provisioned through professional development courses and workshops on An Estuary’s social learning platform and are exportable to Mozilla Open Badges backpacks. In addition to the digital badges, Vanguard Team members will earn physical embroidered badges linked through NFC tags to the digital evidence of their accomplishments as recorded in their backpacks. There is much excitement about the fact that anyone entering a Vanguard classroom will not only see transformational learning and teaching, but now with the scan of a badge will be able to discover what goes on behind the scenes to develop that type of experience.  

Vanguard teachers are banding together to gain perspective, fellowship, and training to make this vision of personalization a reality in all schools and for all students. The most meaningful way to leverage the technology tools in the classroom is to develop deep pedagogical knowledge, forming connections between learning outcomes and the tools which support them. This is the Vanguard Team’s shared mission. Locally, the team is viewed as the capability-building arm that supports the national, state, and district initiatives to improve standards-based instruction and outcomes for all learners. And understanding that technology is a tool that can be leveraged to support world-class instructional practices, the Vanguard Team has developed coaching plans and goals that move beyond mere tech training. The team’s objectives require personalized professional development and keeping learning front and center.

The current Vanguard Team is 75 members strong, and many of the members have been recognized for their innovations and successes locally and nationally.  The goal is to grow the group to 400 members, with each school in the district having four ‘VanTeam’ members on staff. The task of ‘on-ramping’ new members is quickly becoming one that the team simply does not have the manpower to do face-to-face, so creating courses within An Estuary’s platform will help by allowing for an asynchronous vetting process to exist alongside face-to-face trainings.  This ensures that all members are provided with consistent and specific professional development during the school year focusing on developing transformational, personalized learning experiences for our students while learning about and using effective coaching strategies.

Working at the cutting edge of technology-integration and outcomes-based pedagogy, the Vanguard Team is laying the groundwork for an effective journey to personalized learning for Fulton students.  


Stephanee Stephens is an Instructional Technology Program Specialist in Fulton County Schools, GA.


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