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Leadership and Activism, School Stories

Be hurt

This week the Coöp asks, What must we do to transform schools into places of authentic, democratic learning?

I’m with Becky and Paula. I join them in urging us, essentially, to forget the tests, to stop separating kids, and to build instead a joyful classroom community around shared work, authentic learning, and compelling assessment.

So here are my suggestions for transforming yourself into a facilitator of joyful communities and authentic learning:

  1. Publish your beliefs. Help your students, parents, colleagues, and administrators know you. You’ll find yourself in much more meaningful conversations about learning once you’ve taking a stand and sloughed the adaptive camouflage of compliance with traditional schooling. It’s easy to compromise your beliefs to please others when the system gives you all kinds of leeway in “managing” students, cooking grades, and designing inauthentic work. Take a risk and declare yourself. Your work will become more meaningful to you. It may not be comfortable anymore, but it will be true. There is a kind of fulfillment, if not comfort, in acting in accordance with your beliefs.
  2. Build a support network that celebrates you, but also supports you in meeting the accountability goals you set for yourself. Find people with whom you share core beliefs about children and learning who are, nevertheless, unafraid to question you. Invite them to challenge you to revise your thinking and work on kids’ behalf. Ask them to call you on compromises of convenience. Reciprocate with enthusiasm and constructive criticism for their work.
  3. Be willing to get hurt; refuse to hurt back. There have been times in my career when I wanted control over a classroom to keep from feeling rejected by non-compliant students. The students were non-compliant because nothing in what we were doing offered a compelling alternative to resistance and rebellion. No one was unsafe, but no one was doing what I wanted them to do. In situations like these, really consider whether or not winning the fight is the best course of action. Most teacher failures happen publicly, in front of children. These failures sting. We have to stop stinging back. We need to own up to these failures, acknowledge them as quickly as possible, and either suggest alternatives for learning – but not consequences – on the spot or somehow solicit from students their own ideas about how to learn better in that moment. We have to be hurt and go on anyway. We have to hold on to that hurt and dump it somewhere where it won’t hurt kids or damage the communities we build with them. We have to be hurt and let go of the test for the kid who is ripping it apart; we have to be hurt and let go of the project that doesn’t fit our kids’ notions of engagement; we have to be hurt and heal ourselves by doing better for our students than perhaps our teachers did for us. We have to be willing to be hurt by parents, communities, and supervisors’ judgments when we refuse or subvert harmful educational practice. It sucks, but that’s okay. Stand up to the system, not against kids.

What else do you think we have to do to transform schools? I’m excited to learn – please help.

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


11 thoughts on “Be hurt

  1. Wow, Chad,love your #3 especially.

    “Stand up to the system, not against kids.”

    POWERFUL words. . . ..

    Posted by Paula White | May 17, 2010, 3:11 pm
    • Thanks, Paula –

      People like to talk about teachers being on the front lines of education. The kids are there, too. Pop culture pits kids against adults all the time, especially in schools. However, school can’t be us vs. them. School has to be all of us together subverting the system by surpassing its expectations using pedagogies of authenticity and community.

      Schools, in fact, are rather oblivious to what’s going on in the classroom. How else would traditional grading and classroom management survive?

      It’s time to take advantage of the system’s willful ignorance and to recruit kids to re-imagine their own schooling. It’s time to shut the door on the system and open students’ learning to their communities and world. Keep the system in the hallway; knock out the walls between classrooms and between classrooms and the world. Put in doors to adjoining rooms. Let the kids navigate a web of learning that looks like only so much labyrinth to the auditors on the outside.

      We shouldn’t be afraid to get yelled at in the hall or office when learning is cheered in our classrooms.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 17, 2010, 6:10 pm
  2. I believe that the first thing we need to get out of our school system is the grading system. There should be none. It should be left up to the student to decide if they felt they got the most out of their learning experience or if they need more time to absorb it and have maximized that level enough to go onto the next one or if they would rather remain on that level because they feel they need improvement. Tests should be only for refective purposes, in other words they should be taken, then reviewed and explained together..or better yet, individually with the teacher overseeing and helping to see what it is they are not understanding but with no grades.
    The children should be taught how to do research, projects, reports and should be doing them at school, with help if need be, and with others ideally,then should share why they chose to research it, how they created the project, what obstacles they had to overcome, what they enjoyed the most overcoming or learning, how they felt doing it, how they feel they grew from learning this and then go on to sharing the contents of the project with their peers. Teachers should always consider themselves the ignitors not the authority or judge, they need to transmit the fact that they are there to help the students learn and grow and understand how to measure their own achievement and its importance in relation to themselves and others and their starting point. They should be asked how they have used whatever they have been learning this year… There should be many trips or outings to show how whatever is being learned is used in the “real world” , as many tools as possible to enhance the different points of views or ways of using or learning the task, computers, radio, tv, cd, photographs, magaiznes, newpapers, blogs, whatever. Now with the possibilites of connecting, there could be collaborations from other classrooms or schools in other states, or countries, to see how and what they learn. There should be guest speakers through the computer or in person to enhance any type of learning, could be relatives or anyone that could give some expertise on the subject …

    There should be no rules or zero tolerances because rules are only as good as the concept behind them, and you can teach the concept without there being a rule which will alwasy bring a problem with punishment or compliance from an authoritative channel ,but not always through an internal moral compass.. the goal we would like to follow is a rightous reason why something should not be done because there will be a natural cosecuence that will hurt someone else or themselves or affect something negatively, and that is not a good thing. Sometimes its easier to do what may not precicely be the right thing to do, or more self-serving to do something in spite of the natural consecuence of affecting someone negatively, then they must be allowed to retract and improve and see how much better it is to do it differently…second chances teach more than punishmnets.

    The week/ day should be broken up into modules, with interchanging teachers, with a break in between each module, one module per day shoudl be a review or homework module, where the child chooses to practice something they feel they need help in or they can take it home and then bring it in so that the teacher can help the student Teachers should constantly ask the input of the students on everything that goes on in the class including what subjects they enjoyed most and why and what they would be interested in learning more in depth and how they feel they could help the teacher help them.

    The day could start with a little social time for eveyone to be able to explain what they would like to do to learn the subject at hand that day or if they are ready to give it their best or if they have some reason why they are not feeling they will be able to learn that day and others should be able to help the process of teaching and learing or suggesting how to overcome the obstacle .. all can discuss how they think they can make the most out of the task at hand so that instead of a grind its a window of opportunity…but it must be clear that there is a task at hand that has to be dealt with and its not a matter of not dealing but how to deal with it so that all get the most out of it…

    I could go on and on….

    Posted by norma | May 17, 2010, 4:13 pm
    • Norma, thank you for your continued participation with us on the Coöp – thank you for sharing your ideals and ideas with us.

      I see bits and pieces of the school you envision all around us. How would you synthesize these ideas and resource/staff them as a pilot within an existing school?

      To whom would you suggest a teacher pitch an idea for such a school? A principal? A superintendent? A school board?

      What would be your plan of attack to begin anew on a manageable scale so the reforms you suggest thrive?

      Thanks again for adding your voice to the conversation –

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 17, 2010, 6:01 pm
  3. Norma, You should officially join the COOP!!! and sign the pledge.

    Posted by David Loitz | May 17, 2010, 7:05 pm
  4. Thanks guys, I am enjoying the feeling of not being alone in my mission…I think it is not a quick fix solution…and the best way to start this reform is to lead by example…and we have to take ownership of the idea that WE ARE THE SCHOOL, THEY SYSTEM, THE DEMOCRACY etc. We dont pitch to them, we pitch within them….I believe that is how true change happens…you see most of the people that are following the traditional existing models don’t really do it because they believe this is how it should be, they follow because it is, but once it is no longer, they will follow something else , and here lies our power…WE BELIEVE AND KNOW WHY WE WANT THIS TO HAPPEN , and therefore by showing a new model that will surely work, we will now give those that follow simply because it is , a new IS….That is what I do in my everyday life as a parent and as a teacher and as a citizen…I feel everyone has a right to my opinion and I show it often, oh sure, at first I am looked down upon, frowned upon, but after I explain there is a reason to my madness, and I don’t let up, and I take heat, they must think…well, if she is willing to still hold on lets see what she is holding on to…and they do , and for the most part they begin to consider there is another way…only time and results will or will not help them adapt to different…and then the different shall be different no more. Most people who just follow without the true connection of ‘WHY” they are doing whatever they are doing, will follow just about anything that others are following….So my plan of attack? just be the idea you are trying to sell, everywhere, always and to everyone , whether in positions of power or not even involved in the schools…, but especially to the students, it is they who will be your greatest allies…..I brought Kirsten to my school district, I would say I almost had a boycott, but nevertheless I continued, and will continue, and somehow I feel people are not afraid to side with the lone loose cannon as much because I am still here, standing, talking and being…

    Posted by norma | May 18, 2010, 7:02 am
  5. Chad, As usual I find this an incredibly brave and inspiring post. Because others have already admired others, #1 is important to me. Make clear what you stand for, and why. How else are we going to change conditions on the ground, or anywhere.

    I am moved by your honesty and eloquence.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | May 19, 2010, 8:22 pm
    • With the continued contribution our work here is making to my teaching, I sometimes feel like the best thing I can do is write about what we’re doing. Thank you, Kirsten and all our colleagues on the Coöp, for really accelerating my understanding of what teaching, learning, and schooling can be. This work has been a needed complement to local mentoring for my shift from self-doubt and frustration with my self-perceived lack of traditional success to joyful re-engagement with my students and learning. My mentors and I have been able to find kindly ways to hold myself accountable for enacting the beliefs I’ve grown into here and at I still err in practice, but less so, not so much philosophically, and without much frustration.

      With gratitude,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 19, 2010, 8:56 pm
  6. I have a small notebook on my desk… all the pages are used up and ripped out. What’s left is the pretty cover and the phrase, “Be a Force For Good.” It’s what I look at when I am confronted with #3 and need to remember to “refuse to hurt back.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ego and the dire need that all educators learn how to step aside and “check your ego at the door.” I mean, we all want to feel successful and loved, but how many of our systemic problems are really the result of individuals clinging to old customs and structures as a means for keeping their own egos intact?

    The irony is this… Who are they protecting? Their own inner children. Not the children sitting right in front of us…

    Posted by Laura Webber | May 19, 2010, 9:42 pm


  1. Pingback: » Be hurt « Cooperative Catalyst - May 18, 2010

  2. Pingback: The Blind Side « Cooperative Catalyst - June 27, 2010

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