Greg O’Loughlin, Founding Director at the Educators’ Cooperative, is helping shape future generations of teachers within an innovative community.
Being a dedicated, passionate teacher is one of the most challenging jobs in the world, and the Educators’ Cooperative focuses on supporting teachers to excel and grow. With a fresh take on educator support, the organization uses unique methods of collaboration and conversation — which means confident teachers and better schools. Here, Greg O’Loughlin talks about the goals of the cooperative and how it’s transforming the teaching profession.
What’s the focus of the Educators’ Cooperative?
The purpose of the Educators’ Cooperative is to create the time and space for teachers in all settings — whether public, private, or charter — to collaborate and share best practices in teaching and learning. We aim to create a new path of teacher leadership, as well as to increase teacher retention — membership in the Cooperative increases the amount of time teachers stay in the classroom.
We are a growing community of teachers in Pre-K through grade 12, as well as school psychologists and librarians, and provide support for one another as we grow and develop.
Tell us a bit about the approach of your organization.
You know when you’re teaching and your principal walks in and wants to watch you teach? Your heart jumps into your throat. But they do this because they’re curious. They want to support you and know what’s happening in your classroom — it’s that evaluative piece that’s kind of complicated. We provide non-evaluative observation and feedback and provide support so teachers can grow with best practices.
How does it work?
A teacher applies to join the cooperative. Once accepted, they attend a week-long workshop in the summer so they can learn how to use conversational protocols, various means of support, and rubrics to observe and provide feedback. Finding different ways of communicating allows teachers from varied settings to find solutions to instructional dilemmas and to create new pathways for sharing and collaboration. After the summer workshop, they enter the larger cooperative — now 80 teachers strong, and growing with another 33 in our next session. We meet monthly to collaborate, chat, and support one another.
How did the idea for the cooperative come to be?
The first seed was planted one day when I was talking to the math teacher across the hall. I wondered how he had never heard of other amazing math teachers who worked within public schools. He said, “Honestly, where would that have ever happened?” That became a push. No kid is sitting in a classroom and aware of the fact that he’s sitting in a charter classroom, or a private classroom, or a public classroom when he doesn’t know how to do a math problem.
I kind of tucked that away, and then two years later, I got a fellowship at Columbia University’s Teachers College. It was a really intense cohort building model. I met teachers from all over the world. You don’t know anybody going in, and when you walk out of that experience, you’d do anything for them because you have exposed all your vulnerabilities and found answers in a safe place.
When I started looking for something similar in Nashville, it dawned on me that I was probably going to have to invent it. So I asked the question across sectors: “What do teachers need?”
What need did you see your organization resolving?
At the core, we want kids to feel safe in any school environment. I know that when you take really smart, focused, loving people, put them together in a room, and give them tools to collaborate, there’s no predicting what will come out of that, but it will be amazing. I thought, if we could create the infrastructure and safe space to do that, that’s what we needed to do.
How did you know it was a success?
I don’t know that it is yet. The purpose our work is serving right now is to create a community to do this work. But people keep showing up month after month, and they tell friends to come join us. Those are the things I know so far.
Are there positive experiences that point to that success?
Certainly the common refrain I hear a lot in notes and letters is, “I’ve been looking for you my whole teaching career. I finally found my teaching family.” Or, “I was looking for it in my school, I was looking for it in my alumni association, but then I found you, and I can’t believe I trust what’s possible now.”
And here’s another great story, about a teacher who has won quite a few awards and is looked up to. She said, “You know what? I no longer feel like a teacher in room 2100. I no longer feel like a teacher in that one school. I feel like a teacher in Nashville. I feel like I’m connected to a community of learners and teachers in this space, and I didn’t know it was possible before.”
People just don’t know where to look. But then they find us, and it’s beautiful.
What motivates you the most in this work?
We have the summer workshops and monthly meetings, but there’s such a desire to do more. We now have a book club that also meets every month. The book we’re reading now is For White Folks to Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin. It’s a pretty tough book: to take a leap into issues of equity, social justice, and white supremacy, it requires bringing more of yourself into a conversation. And the hunger for that is unbelievable.
Do you ever think of giving up?
Nope! But I laugh at myself in retrospect. I would teach, get out at 3 o’clock, drive to the nearest school, and knock on the door and introduce myself: “My name is Greg. I’m a teacher down the street. If I could have a moment of your time. I’d like to come back and speak at the next faculty meeting about an idea.”
I did this so many times. “Thank you, but no thank you” they’d say. But every now and then I’d hear, “Well, that’s interesting — why don’t you come on back.” That was a tiny crack, and I’d return a couple weeks later to give a three-minute pitch at the faculty meeting, and then nothing would come of it. So it was an incredible lift to get the first group of teachers. Each year, it has become a little easier because they have become the vocal components of their own faculties.
What’s your reach now?
We have 80 teachers now. We’re in 58 schools all over Nashville — a pretty even split of public, private, and charter — and we’re teaching around 4,000-4,500 students.
When did you know and feel that this site is working well?
I knew it was working when people would either fill out the contact form or I would receive an email from a random person. When I started getting unsolicited contact requests for information, that was great. And seeing the spikes of statistical clicks from people I knew weren’t me, or my wife, or my coworkers. I said, “OK, we’re starting to get a little bit of traction here.” And I have something that I can use to make sure that the message is clear.
What has your experience been like working with WordPress.com as a company?
It’s nothing but excellent. I did a lot of learning on my own which was okay, but once I started getting some traction or clicks or views on the site, I just felt more nervous about taking risks to change things. When I made the switch to access customer support, I felt like there was that safety net again. I can ask them how to do things. I can play with it first before I publish it. And the rate of their response time and the thoroughness — they hit it every time.
What are you most proud of about your site?
The site is a platform for participating teachers to ask questions and share their wins. It allows people who are curious about our work to get both a broad look and very granular details. And it looks good! The innovation we’re doing in our work is reflected in the way our website works.
WordPress.com has allowed me to connect with and grow a community and greater network — people who need to find one another. It is the best option for anything you want to do online. WordPress.com is everything I need it to be and then some.
What advice would you give someone with an important mission and goal, who is beginning to build a website?
The risks are a lot lower than they feel. Create, make sure your voice is included, make sure people know what you’re doing. Don’t let the fear of knowing if it’s the right or wrong thing stop you from doing the thing. That was a big one for me. I can try and tell our story. And if I don’t get it right on first or second draft, that’s OK. I can take third, fourth draft. It’s still a work in progress — I know it’s not done, but I know I have whatever I need to do that.