Teachers are on the leading edge of virtual community building.
Written by Greg O’Loughlin, the founder of a collaborative community for teachers and 12th grade English teacher at Templeton Academy.
Every year, we welcome new teachers into the work of The Educators’ Cooperative in an intense week-long Summer Workshop. Inherent in the magic of the Summer Workshop is the notion that we do not gather with a goal in mind. We do not have expectations of how the experience will play out nor do we plan for specific outcomes. If you’ve seen the video describing the roots of the The Educators’ Cooperative, (https://vimeo.com/396963311) you’re familiar with the fact that a great deal of the guiding philosophy of the work is that the complex elements of teaching and learning is where the magic happens. That complexity is difficult to describe, let alone prescribe.
The newest members of The Educators’ Cooperative joined us this summer for our 5th annual Summer Workshop unsure of the settings in which they’d be teaching, unsure of the tools they’d be given, unsure of much. They were sure they wanted to connect with a network of teachers working all over the region, as much as they were sure of the transformative power of collaboration and cooperation.
These brave members of Cohort 5 teach in schools all over the region and wanted to connect to professional, teacher-led, community care. They submitted their applications, did their pre-reading, collected work samples, and did their pre-work. It’s an extraordinary commitment under predictable circumstances, and this summer was anything but predictable.
That left us with the task of meeting that courage with creativity. We knew that we had to reinvent the Summer Workshop, but we knew more about what it shouldn’t be than what it should be. We had experienced enough of the “just do everything that you’d do in person, on Zoom” school of thinking in our own recent trainings and meetings to know that that was not the way to develop community and nurture complexity.
We needed to create an experience for teachers that prioritized their safety and well-being first and foremost, while creating the conditions that would foster connections in an unpredictable, productive manner. We needed to make a plan to build community, to create conditions in which it is safe to expose vulnerabilities, to scaffold challenging protocols, to foster natural connections, all online.
So we dug in, asking questions about the essential experiences, desired outcomes, learning and emotional goals of the program, like only teachers know how to do!
We mapped out routes for hand-deliveries of welcome boxes and binders. We abandoned years of experience with workshops in favor of rewriting the means of connecting. We tried countless platforms for connection, took notes on pros and cons, shared with small focus groups of volunteer teachers eager to help out, and repeated the process over and over again for each of the fundamental goals of the workshop. The whole process of reinventing a key program was invigorating, scary, exhausting, and even fun.
Did it work?
The feedback we received from participating teachers was wonderful and more importantly, we continue to see engagement, collaboration, and inclusion from our newest members. We are keeping all of our programming and workshops online in order to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of participating teachers. The lessons we learned about platforms, feedback, connection, and timing have had a lasting impact not only on our work but in the work and planning in our classrooms and schools.
One participating teacher shared, “I am floored by the amount of empowerment, connection, and support that has flooded into both me and my teaching practice! EdCo has reminded me time and time again that this work is worth doing and that education, by nature, is ever-evolving.”
She’s right. This work is ever-evolving and we are better when we work together to create community on behalf of all students.
If you’re a teacher, we’d love to see you on an upcoming call — we host a call every day of the week — you can find a schedule and more information on our website.
The Educators’ Cooperative is a non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for K-12 teachers. Created for teachers by teachers in 2016, EdCo provides professional development and support for educators to collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and career stages. EdCo aims to revolutionize teacher development and leadership by focusing on the essential agency, autonomy, and common ground all teachers share. EdCo is based in Nashville, Tennessee with a reach far beyond that physical location and potential for replication in communities throughout the nation. When educators collaborate, the future of education is greater than the sum of its parts.
Please visit educatorscooperative.com for more information and to sign up for our newsletter.