Over a year ago, I saw Chad Sansing, a colleague in my school system, tweet something like “my blogging goal is to be as prolific as @Aaron_Eyler.” Not knowing Aaron then, I found him and started following him…and good gosh, I thought–why would anyone want to be as prolific as he was? He blogged every day, sometimes TWICE a day! As I read his posts, though, I understood Chad’s admiration, marveled at how smart Aaron was and loved reading the questions he had, the connections he made and the quandaries he posed!
Not too long after that, Chad asked me if I wanted to get in on a cooperative blog with him and Aaron, and despite being somewhat intimidated by their collective intelligence, being the only female in the pack, being the oldest, and without knowing what I was getting into, I said yes. The first experience I had with our whole group was being on Skype with a collaborative google doc where we tried to hash out our vision and mission–and decide on a name, and a theme, and all those other initial parts and pieces of beginning a blog site. What I found was a kindred spirit, Adam Burk, in wordsmithing! Adam and I kept hashing around words in our vision–words in our mission–and we got to know each other through crafting words that went together to share our ideal picture of what we hoped this blog would become. These beginning conversations were awesome for me–for so many years I had felt so isolated in my classroom, and this experience of working with 3 other amazing thinkers–challenging each other’s thinking, questioning, learning from one another, and trying to figure out how to work together online was truly a breath of fresh air for me. Getting together weekly to share our thoughts, challenge and affirm each other and learn and teach and write and talk together began a whirlwind of support and dialogue that is incredibly significant to me!
It hasn’t EVEN slowed down–in fact our growth on the Co-op has been incredible. We’ve moved from our beginning 4 to over 50 authors in a little over a year. We were thrilled when we had over 1,000 hits in our first full month, and are honored that we got over 16,000 last month. Our average number of readers a day in 2010 was 134. In the first four months of 2011, it’s already 410–a DAY! I still remember how excited we were the week we decided to write about the book, Wounded By School and actually got a comment from the author, Kirsten Olson! Then, she joined the Co-op! In November of 2010, as we supported the #blog4reform initiative, we were astounded by the number of interactions our website generated. Since then, we’ve had MANY, MANY, smart, thoughtful, questioning thinkers join our quest for conversation that changes our educational system, both as authors and readers. And as we grow, we continually welcome folks who want to think with us.
Being part of the Co-op has brought a great change in me. You see, I’ve always felt different from others, in that I WANT to think deeply about my teaching and learning and I’ve always WANTED to be challenged in what I think–I know that helps me grow. But, in my county, in my schools, I’ve found only a few people who would do that–and who wanted to think beyond our county practices. As I got into the conversations on the Co-op, though, I’ve found others who want to reform our schools, and others found us here, too. This place has become a hub of conversations about many issues of schooling and learning and teaching. The diversity of thought and stories has helped me think so much more deeply about who I am and I am continually challenged as to what I can do to support my students.
I typically write from a very personal place of reflecting on my classroom or interactions in my school. Initially, I wondered whether that fit in the Co-op conversations–but Adam, Chad, and Kirsten and then Monika and especially David L., (who has bugged me on the back channel to be more prolific) taught me my voice was one to be heard. Their affirmations, questions and connections with and about my thoughts, stories and reflections gave me, in some ways, an inner peace–that others thought like me, or connected with what I had to say, or recognized the amazing stamina and brilliance of kids.
Comments and questions from readers of the Co-op also built a bigger dissonance along with a GREAT desire to do something about the sorry state of education in most American schools. Being a part of the Co-op has made me an advocate in ways I never would have considered before this experience. In reaching out to tell my stories, I have consciously become more a part of the bigger story of humankind–and now I NEED to be not only an advocate, but also a major part of the work that needs to be done to reform our schools and our ways of educating our young people.
I advocate in my own community as I try to make my learning more transparent, sharing with my school and district colleagues. The conversations I have with my colleagues now refer not only to the learning I am doing online, but also pieces on activism, issues and mostly the art and craft of teaching. By opening myself up in person as I have virtually in the Co-op, I have found others who are willing to try more open ways of teaching and learning, who see the need for change, and who are supporting me by asking questions, thinking aloud and sharing their struggles as well. Chad, Adam, Aaron, Kirsten, Kima, Joe, Peter, Jason, John, Zoe and Monika (a real thought-pusher for me!) and so, so, so many other voices on the Co-op have stretched me as they share their incredibly deep insights, so much experience and knowledge about so many things about which I need to learn.
It’s important that others like me–who felt so alone in my thoughts and my desire to make a difference-find out that there is a whole contingent of people who want to change our world of learning and teaching. It’s crucial we include students and parents in these conversations and our work. (Thank you, Kima, for joining us here and so passionately sharing your thoughts, questions and ideas as you watch your daughters grow!) The writers, readers and commenters on the Co-op have been immeasurably important in my growth. It’s been great to see folks like Mary Beth, Ken and both Davids emerge as leaders on the Co-op to further our presence on the web, so others can interact and push our thinking, just as we push theirs.
The art and craft of teaching permeates the conversations here in a bigger context of the need for change and reform, and the huge world topic of supporting our earth, as we promote and build (as Adam says) a SANER planetary citizenship. We all talk about wanting a caring, democratic way of interacting with each other, no matter what we look like or where we come from. We all want to support learning and growing in ways that advance our vision and mission. Ready to step beyond the online conversations and increase the face to face ones, I want to help move the Co-op work forward.
Will you help us figure out how to do that effectively?