About Monica Cochran
Lifelong Learner | Educator | Mother | Learning Consultant
As a Student
Many call me a teacher or a guide, but the truth is that I am a lifelong learner who loves to help others enjoy learning as much as I do.
Like so many young kids, I entered the public school system in Kindergarten, curious and excited. However, by third-grade, I had what I now call the third-grade daze on good days and a guarded gaze on others. Fortunately, I had a few teachers and a librarian along the way who took an interest in me, and we developed a relationship. They noticed my love of reading and fostered what would become a primary way of learning in my life. I was also lucky to have met mentors who were willing and able to nurture my curiosities and skills at various times.
In grade 12, I experienced a Humanities program that combined social studies and English and allowed us the agency to research, discuss, and write about any topics we were interested in. The teachers brought in speakers on issues we brought forward, and we had opportunities to contribute by volunteering in the community. This self-directed learning experience was one of the richest learning experiences I had had up to that point. It whetted my appetite for more at University.
I loved my university experience. At the University of Pittsburgh, which has an urban campus nestled amongst hospitals, research facilities, and three other colleges, I had access to museums, conservatories, sports, music, and more. In addition to this exposure to information, art, and culture, I was asked to wrestle with many difficult questions professionally, politically, and personally. I had the opportunity to learn in ways that worked for me more often, try out ideas with experienced practitioners in practicums, and use my voice in marches and protests for causes that mattered to me. As an RA in the dorms, I learned A LOT about relationships and helping others resolve big life challenges, as well as how to balance part-time work, classes, study time, and fun
After a brief summer school teaching job, I enrolled in graduate school in special education, where I had many opportunities to practice my new ideas of seeing learners as individuals in substitute and nursery school teaching, in-patient hospital programs, tutoring, and parenting. That period ended with a master’s in Education with emotional impairment and learning disabilities certifications as well as a Montessori Primary Certification.
I am a lifelong learner. The University of Life has been generous with lessons as I’ve continued to take courses, workshops, and intensives to sharpen my skills and deepen my understanding that learning is happening all the time.
As an Educator
I didn’t plan to become an educator. That happened through a twist of fate of program funding cuts. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to be part of a pilot program where I could receive my BS in Child Development and a Pennsylvania teaching certificate. I worked with excellent professors and practitioners who knew the “one size fits all” approach didn’t work. Instead, we connected with learners and integrated child development and education principles to create individualized learning experiences that prioritized relationships over content.
I wish I could say that it was a straight trajectory from that point forward to today. However, there were many twists and turns in the next little while. Graduate school and Montessori training were excellent growth opportunities. However, I had a lot of learning to do to find my voice, be an authentic educator, and use the strengths and interests of the learners to help them on their self-directed learning journeys. I made a few forays into public education, but it wasn’t a good match.
Those experiences inspired me to contribute to alternative education as a practitioner, parent educator, teacher trainer, and mentor. Over the years, my definition of an educator expanded to include the whole child and the family. I worked in various alternative schools and hospitals as well as supervised practicum students and student teachers in the early years. Later, I was an adjunct instructor at a local community college and a university and offered corporate training and consulting.
When attempting to navigate traditional school stopped working for my youngest son, we began home learning. This was a significant growth step for me. I had never imagined myself as a home-based educator.
My passion and purpose merged when my youngest son sustained a severe traumatic brain injury in a car accident a few years later. It was a life-changing experience for him and our whole family. I can’t even begin to share how grateful I was for the many years of working with our kids’ strengths and advocating to find ways to help them learn. These experiences enabled us to create a personalized recovery program and help him redesign his new life journey. Shortly afterward, I began working in a home-based education program focused on self-directed, child-led learning.
I have continued this work for the past 25 years and have especially enjoyed finding ways for youth and families with learning differences, chronic illnesses, and other neurodivergences to develop their talents and reach their full potential.
I’ve also been able to continue to learn about new and cutting-edge ways of facilitating learning, to create a positive meaning out of our experiences, and to pay forward to all who have helped me learn and grow.
I look forward to many more years of working and learning.
As a Parent and Advocate
If I knew what I know now when I started my parenting journey, I would have done things differently; however, wisdom only comes with experience and learning from our mistakes. For example, I wouldn’t have tried so hard to use my older son’s gifts and talents to fit into the school system or get the school system to accommodate my younger son’s interests and strengths. Instead, I’d have focused more on looking for the learning environment that was the best match for each child. We got better at this with our youngest child who helped us learn that the environment we learn best in isn’t static; thus, we need to observe and revisit the match often because individuals’ needs and situations change over time.
Advocating for the best match in a learning environment for our children can be a challenging, time-consuming, and a messy process, but I wasn’t unfamiliar with it. As a teen and young adult, I learned a lot when I helped my parents advocate for my youngest sister with a disability. I remembered how overwhelming it could be to be outnumbered by professionals in appointments and meetings discussing your loved one’s problems in great detail, yet offering few options. As my younger sisters grew into adulthood, they joined in the advocacy effort, and the team expanded.
When our younger son was severely injured in a catastrophic car accident, navigating the health care and rehabilitation world was gut-wrenching. He had to relearn even the most fundamental eating skills, moving parts of his body, thinking, and communicating. We had to get comfortable advocating even when we were uncertain of the outcome and be even more willing to try out-of-the-box learning strategies that often weren’t in line with the traditional rehabilitation models.
It was a huge learning curve because so much of what used to be easy for him was now hard. Since one of my coping mechanisms is to learn as much as possible, I took a deep dive into neuroscience and brain plasticity. They say “necessity is the mother of invention,” and it has been for our family. He missed his old self, and so did we, and we all had to get to know this version of him. So, when he was super frustrated, we often had to dig deep to stay connected and keep his learning meaningful and relevant. If he didn’t understand why we were doing an activity, it was a non-starter.
We all became intensely aware that learning is a state of mind and a process involving the body, heart, mind, and spirit, not simply acquiring skills and knowledge. This unexpected turn of events has taken us all on an incredible learning journey, and he has progressed way beyond what was imaginable in those early days. What I learned on this journey has enabled me to help so many other families.
As a Learning Consultant
As a learning consultant with over two decades of experience, I’ve observed that many learners have different learning needs, strengths and interests. By focusing on their strengths and interests, I help learners across the globe work around their challenges and achieve their potential. I especially love the challenge of facilitating learning for youth who learn in non-traditional ways, so they can enjoy learning, as well as supporting their families and other educators who work with them.
I’m very grateful that I have been able to support so many families whose lives and learning were upended with the global pandemic. In my estimation, this was as clear a message as we could get that education needs to change.
I’m looking forward to expanding my network so the youth have many more mentors and others to connect with in their learning adventures.
Over the years, I have deepened my capacity to support parents and students with:
- Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh in a multi-disciplinary program in child development, social work, and early childhood education
- Master’s of Arts Degree from Eastern Michigan University in special education
- K-12 Michigan teaching certificate in learning disabilities and emotional impairment
- Primary Montessori Certification from the American Montessori Society
- ICDL Advanced DIR practitioner Certification
- Certified ILs SSP (Safe and Sound Protocol) provider for in-person and remote delivery
- Certified ILs Focus practitioner
I’ve also done continuing education in areas of strength-based learning, neuroscience, autism, trauma-informed education, social emotional learning, resilience, Polyvagal Theory, Neurosequential Theory, and more.