Meeting the Need to Connect

*originally published September 29, 2020

As a 4th grade teacher, I spend most of my time pondering how to improve lessons for my students, how to connect with each and every one of them individually, and how to incorporate life lessons into everything we do. As Program Director for the Educators’ Cooperative, much of my pondering follows similar thought-lines – how can we make sure we’re offering the types of things that teachers want and need and connect with teachers on a human level before everything else? Questions such as: How are Related Arts teachers shifting to the virtual space? How can the spaces EdCo creates be welcoming for teachers from all subject types? Why haven’t we seen Mrs. Johnson at a coffee in a while? Who is doing a really neat unit that the rest of the CoOp needs to hear about? What aren’t we offering that would support more teachers? How can we support teachers who aren’t yet members of the Cooperative?

Answers to this last question led us to create EdCo Cultivates in the Spring of 2020 – our first project providing access to the types of support and unparalleled collaboration to all educators everywhere, including those who aren’t members of the CoOp (yet). One teacher who dove into the experience without previous knowledge of the Cooperative is Rachel Slezak. Rachel teaches Exceptional Education at a Public-Choice middle school in Antioch, Tennessee. I had a chance to catch Rachel on her (short) lunch break and find out her perspective on the experience. 

How’d you find out about the EdCo Cultivates Calls and what encouraged you to hop on?

Rachel: I got an email from another teacher at my school who just did this summer’s conference {Educators’ Cooperative Summer Workshop} telling our whole staff about the calls. It sounded interesting, like some conferences I participated in back when I lived in D.C., so I put a few in my calendar and came to the first one that fit my schedule. 

What did you like about the call?

Rachel: It was really refreshing to talk to other educators who are in similar situations as I am. Most of my teacher friends are all over the country now, so while we have some similarities, sometimes it’s hard to connect across multiple states. This is such a hard situation we’re in and it’s nice to hear that other educators are experiencing the same things – that goes a long way to remind you that you’re not the only one. I also like the “unconference” setup; I’ve attended some unconferences in the past and really like the way it democratizes the conversation. While sometimes it can be hard to jump in and share airspace with everyone, I liked having that familiar background to anchor me. 

Do you see yourself coming to another call and what can we do better? 

Rachel: I would definitely come to another call! The timing is a little tricky when you can’t decide if you want to keep working all the way through to the call or not. But, it’s also nice to take a break and go to the gym and then come back on. I think it would be helpful to make it clearer that the calls are for everyone and not just EdCo Members. I like knowing that this community is out there and I think what you guys are doing is great. 

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.   

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