Network Connectors: Connecting From the Heart

Flora Lerenman, Teach For America Alumna

What does it mean to connect?  I asked my fellow Teach For All Network Connectors and received a wide array of perspectives, as vast as the many cultures and national traditions that we represent across our 23 countries. For me, connection is a form of synergy, the joining of two or more elements to create something greater than the individual parts. 

That’s what I feel every time I engage with Teach For All Network Connectors—a jolt of electrifying energy when we put our minds together to help one another articulate and clarify our individual and group roles on this journey to ensure collaboration and sharing amongst all Teach For All network participants and alumni across the world

Who are the Network Connectors?

The Network Connectors initiative is an ideas incubation lab where 51 alumni of 23 Teach For All network partners will work together to build bridges between network teachers and alumni worldwide. Over the next year, we will generate and launch new initiatives to support more of our peers connecting with teachers and alumni in other contexts, to learn from and support one other. We hope that the result of these cross-border connections will allow them to take their ideas to the next level, fostering intercultural collaborations, and scaling our impact on education together.

The program started in May, and the first two months have been focused on the Connectors getting to know each other, building relationships, and deepening our understanding of the Teach For All network and the potential impact that fostering more global interconnectivity can achieve.  For example, a few Network Connectors and I met virtually with Teach First (UK) alumnus Charlie Foot to learn about the exciting new language exchange app Bili that he piloted with network teachers and their students to practice foreign languages with one another. The connections we made with Charlie gave us an opportunity to brainstorm ways we could utilize his app further across the Teach For All network and also inspired a few of us to consider more innovations around language exchange. Another Network Connector, Jazmin Udias of Enseñá por Argentina, and I have been exchanging Spanish and English lessons on Saturdays, which has provided a way to build bonds and trust, as practicing a new language can be quite a vulnerable activity to share with someone.

COVID-19 has made us more creative

When we applied to become Network Connectors we assumed we would meet in person in Madrid this summer for the official launch, to plant the seeds of our connectivity projects in-person, and to later water them from afar virtually. When the COVID-19 pandemic removed that possibility, we were forced to get creative about how we could build those intimate bonds and trust across the internet rather than across dinner tables. So, on top of our official programming, we have also been meeting one another for virtual tea sessions and in small groups for silly Zoom game nights to build the foundations for working together. 

I have learned that I share a love of STEM education for girls with Makafui Dzidzienyo (Lead For Ghana) and Callie Herring (Teach For America); a dedication to mindfulness and social-emotional learning with Natalia Herrera (Empieza por Educar in Spain), Alejandra Rincón Gómez (Enseña por Colombia), Camila Lopes (Ensina Brasil), and Tatiana Daleoso (Enseñá por Argentina); a fascination with using Artificial Intelligence and Alternative Reality in education with Alejandro Calvo (Enseñá por Argentina); and hope for excellent Early Childhood Education for all students with Emma Goddard (Teach First). I also learned from Pramod Bathena (Teach For India) and Rebecca Crook (Teach For America) that they both created their own networks to professionally develop school leaders in India and Kenya respectively, and each pivoted their platforms to do so remotely during the lockdown. Abdou Dedeche (Teach For Qatar) held a personal coaching session with me remotely, as that is one of his projects apart from teaching, which helped me enhance my insights and potential. Veronika Mercks (Teach First Deutschland) hosted a small group nature art project where some of us used natural materials to create life maps and share our Teach For All journeys with one another over Zoom. During my virtual tea with Tae Okamoto (Teach For Japan), I discovered that we both are learning Spanish and advocate for expeditionary and experiential learning for students in our respective countries. Kula Vijayakumar (Teach For Malaysia) and I discussed the similarity of unequal university access in our countries and ideas for bridging the education attainment gaps in our societies, as well as how to truly practice empathy with people you’ve only met virtually like all of the Network Connectors have with one another so far. (You can learn about these amazing alumni and many more in the Network Connectors Directory!)

For the next phase of the Initiative, we will be working together to generate and launch our own projects to help foster more cross-border learning connections among the Teach For All network teachers and alumni community. Spending the last two months getting to know each other has enabled us to discover shared interests and goals that will help us feel comfortable enough with one another to propose shared projects and bring them to life together. The potential to discover more similarities and common goals is endless if we are all able to vulnerably share our hopes and dreams and support one another in reaching them. 

The Network Connectors don’t just brainstorm new ideas for how to connect our peers and work together to make them happen, we also practice gratitude together, one of the strongest connections you can share with people, especially during a pandemic. Shared values and appreciations tether us together as common bonds and allow us to lead from our hearts. This global pandemic reminds us that there is so much to appreciate about life, and I am so grateful for Teach For All and the Network Connectors, from the bottom of my heart. 

My message to Teach For All network participants and alumni reading this: Lean on your Teach For All network! Tapping into the variety and expertise of other Teach For All network peers worldwide might increase your chances of turning your education innovation idea into reality and being able to scale it so that it can reach children, educators, and families locally and globally. Start now and get in touch with a Network Connector! 

Teach For All’s Network Connectors initiative was launched to support participants and alumni of network partners in becoming an interconnected global community of changemakers. The inaugural cohort of 51 Network Connectors are working to build stronger cross-border connections and learning opportunities between network participants and alumni across the network, to foster collaboration among them, and to help spread knowledge and innovations around the world.