New Nashville teacher cooperative chips away at public, private partition

Teachers aren’t only good at teaching students. They’re good at teaching each other, too.

That’s why Gregory O’Loughlin decided to form a network of teachers in grades 3-8 from across public and private schools in Nashville.

A sixth-grade English teacher at the University School of Nashville, O’Loughlin wanted to bring together teachers from schools like USN, where tuition reaches nearly $23,000, and Paragon Mills Elementary, where most students qualify for free and reduced price lunch.

Last week, his vision came true when 20 teachers became the inaugural cohort of the Educators’ Cooperative at University School of Nashville. With half of the cohort from the public schools and half from private schools, the group spent the week working together at USN’s campus in Nashville.

“I taught in Metro (Nashville Public Schools) for years at Paragon Mills and worked with some of the most amazing teachers I’ve ever met,” O’Loughlin said. “Now I’m at USN, and I teach with amazing teachers as well. I thought, ‘Why is there not an opportunity for us to meet with each other?’”

In the mornings, the teachers practiced giving feedback to each other on lesson plans and honed in on specific instructional challenges and how to overcome them. In the afternoon, principals, social workers, and nonprofit workers participated in panel discussions on social and emotional supports and mindfulness, a practice of taking time to be aware of one’s thoughts and emotions.

Now, the first cohort will have lunch once a month, each time at a different Nashville school. O’Loughlin hopes next year’s cohort will grow to 30 teachers across K-12. Eventually, he envisions having a member in every school in Nashville to help connect teachers with resources and experts across the city.

The cooperative already has caught the attention of heavyweights in Nashville’s education community, including Shawn Joseph, the new director of Nashville public schools. He dispatched members from his senior leadership team — diversity officer Maritza Gonzalez and charter school officer Dennis Queen — to observe last week’s sessions. Xiu Cravens, a professor at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education who studies teacher collaboration, also stopped by.

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce is looking at ways to support the program as it grows. The group formed too late to get any financial backing from the Chamber this year, but that could change. In its annual education report card last year, the Chamber called for more sharing of strategies among Nashville public schools. The cooperative has the potential to fill that void, says Candy Johnson, a vice president of policy for the Chamber.

“It gives teachers an outlet to find out what’s working, strategies they can use where there has been success,” she said.

O’Loughlin says Nashville teachers have something to offer each other, even if they are teaching in different circumstances.

“Each teacher, no matter where they are teaching, needs to understand relationships with their students and guide them to their learning goals,” he said. “I think teachers who understand that have a lot to share.”