Updated: Sep 8
Cooperating (co-op) teachers are educators that we visit during our field experiences in the local schools and districts. Having a cooperating teacher is fantastic as they provide pre-service teachers with real hands-on experience with lessons, classroom management, and teaching strategies.
However, these experiences are often limited by geographical location. It makes sense, right? We can only travel so far to get into a classroom to observe or conduct fieldwork, we only have so many hours in the day.
But, what if we take away those geographical barriers? What if we opened the world to our field experiences? What if we reached out to innovative educators around the globe and worked with them to create engaging learning experiences for students? Please enter stage right: the virtual co-op.
I pair a preservice teacher with a current educator in the field in which the preservice teacher wants to study around the world.
The two work together throughout the semester. The student makes artifacts for the virtual co-op to use in his or her classroom and the preservice teacher gets the experience of creating materials for an authentic audience. It's that easy.
Virtual co-ops come from all walks of life. I have had virtual co-ops from around the world including USA, Canada, Turkey, and even Niger, West Africa. Not all virtual co-ops are teachers; some are administrators, librarians, or technology coaches.
The course with virtual co-ops is for designed for all majors and levels of students (freshmen through seniors). I try to make assignments applicable to a variety of grade levels, subject areas, and certification areas– which is not an easy task. I dedicate time to the courses that I teach to truly plan with intention and reason behind assignments for my students to complete.
When it comes to pairing students with current teachers, I have my pre-service teachers chime in on the process. During class, I block off time where students review co-op biographies. Students document on sticky notes why a particular co-op would be a good match to pair with them. Pre-service teachers document many different reasons why the co-op would be a good fit for them including living in their home state (or teaching in a state that they would like to live) or hoping to be paired with a subject matter expert in the field the pre-service teacher hopes to work, among other factors.
When I get to work on pairing students with their co-ops, sometimes I look at qualities such as geographic location, subject area, or future area of study focus. Virtual co-ops are then revealed during the next class in an envelope fit for the Oscars, and students begin their professional journey with their cooperating teacher that day! Some students have even visited their virtual co-ops over breaks. How cool is that?
What is the role of a virtual co-op?
Share your passion for being a connected educator
Introduce the preservice educator to Twitter and online social networks for professional development
Provide the preservice educator with an authentic space for his/her projects
Provide feedback as appropriate.
This is a great opportunity for you and preservice educators to connect, collaborate, and create an authentic, meaningful learning experience. In addition, the practicing teacher can benefit from the materials being created by preservice educators to use in his or her own classroom! The intersection of relationships, passion, content, and teaching are very powerful.
What do I do next - end this blog post with a choose your own adventure type scenario.
Do you want to learn how to get started implementing a virtual co-op program in your higher education class? Find below a sample letter that I use to inform teachers about the opportunity to be a virtual co-op. Please reach out if you would like any additional information or to brainstorm on creating one for your class!
Pro tip: The alumni of your college or program is the secret sauce when it comes to finding great co-ops. They often want to give back and raise up the next generation of teachers.
If you want to learn more about virtual co-ops what I learned along the way and how to get started then please check out EduMagic: A Guide for Preservice teachers. The "C" in EduMagic stands for Co-ops gone virtual. This chapter is all about the virtual co-op program and its origin. It details stories from preservice teachers and their co-operating in-service teachers. The virtual co-op program has many wins – you will have to read about it to learn more.
As always friends, you have the EduMagic in YOU! It's up to you to let it out!