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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

First Year Reflection: Who the hell am I and what am I doing here?

Somehow, it’s been over a year since we began the Coöp between a few tweets, a Skype call or two, and our first posts. In assessing our growth – and how the Coöp has impacted me personally – I wanted to share this #CoöpReflect post and to invite you to share your own Coöp story. Part of what makes the Coöp unique is its community of readers and writers, and our family wouldn’t be as strong as it is without all of our contributions from reading to linking to tweeting to commenting to posting to joining.

When I started the Coöp, I hoped that Aaron Eyler and I would have have some fun jousting with one another and our progressive ideas. I thought Aaron’s brand of confrontational pragmatism and my damn-the-torpedoes idealism would make for an entertaining mix, at least for us. I imagined that we would collaborate on a kind of Siskel and Ebert blog about education.

Aaron invited Adam Burk to the Coöp, and I invited Paula White. We started out posing a question per week. We tried several different posting schedules. We found a small audience and began to recruit Coöp members from it, while at the same time maintaining an open door policy for progressive educators looking for a safe-harbor for civil conversations about – and a steady push towards – changing public education.

After we reviewed Kirsten Olson’s Wounded by School, Kirsten found us and joined up as a critical friend and constant support for our work. From that time forward, we’ve recruited colleagues, tweeps, and authors who found the blog on their own or through their social networks. It’s been our intent to welcome in and talk with everyone interested in making school a more authentic, passionate, and kind experience for kids and adults. I’ve been delighted by every author’s choice to join the Coöp. In looking back at our early days, I’m reminded how indebted we are to Casey Caronna for helping us move away from a set publication schedule in favor of an organic and asynchronous “editorial” policy, to David Loitz for carrying the Coöp banner, and to Goddard College for sharing so many thinkers with us! We likewise owe each community member a debt for joining in our collective reading and writing and enacting change. I remember and am grateful for too many posts and conversations to name and count.

It has been immensely gratifying and profoundly weird to watch and experience the evolution of the Coöp – I never would have thought we’d have over fifty authors. I never would have thought we’d have hundreds and then thousands of views per month or on any particular post. I never anticipated being able to use the Coöp to host movements like #blog4reform and #blog4nwp, but here we are with this wonderful site that pays attention to both the issues and the people working to address them throughout public education.

At one level, the Coöp began because I was lonely at Classroots (at another level, Classroots began because I was lonely and unsuccessful in my classroom in figuring out who I was supposed to be as an educator, parent, and person). While I’ve found myself many times over since beginning the Coöp, I haven’t become who I want to be yet. Regardless, the Coöp has, thankfully and wonderfully, become something much more than I thought it would be.

I am not an especially gifted teacher; I am a frustrating leader. I was successful in my own schooling and so I spent years and years teaching as I was taught, which did little or nothing for my students who struggled the most with school. Even after I began work at a charter school for non-traditional students, it took me and year and half to figure out that just being there didn’t make me any different than I was before my arrival. I had to fail spectacularly, repeatedly, to become so uncomfortable in my own classroom that I had no choice but to abandon teaching or to abandon what wasn’t working for my kids, my school, and myself. My early writing here and at Classroots should be read as an argument against who I was and what I was doing. I had to deconstruct public education to deconstruct myself. In many ways, I am the system, and every member of the Coöp community is an anti-body helping me cure my ills.

At the blog, we don’t pose a question a week anymore or organize weekly posting around a topic or according to a schedule; however, we’re free to address a wider variety of topics during any given week and we can post on a whim and respond nimbly to current events in education. We don’t all comment on one another’s posts anymore; however, we have a wider audience of commentators and all kinds of new and inter-looping relationships between Coöp members. We don’t seem to have Aaron anymore; however, we have a huge family of passionate, visionary contributors, and I like to imagine Aaron floating next to my screen – like a blue Jedi spirit – whenever I read a new post. We don’t have a traditional editorial process; however, we do have a fantastically organic and democratic opt-in community on the blog and in back-channel conversations about everything from meet-ups to new initiatives to re-designs.

And we’ve held on to our vision of saying exactly what we think about education to one another in a constructive and uplifting way.

Through the blog, I’ve become a clearer thinker, writer, and speaker about public education, especially regarding the United States. I’ve become more conflicted about how complicit I am with the status quo.

Both the Coöp and Classroots have helped me hold myself accountable for letting go of hurtful practices and for co-creating my classes with students. I do a better job of being humane than I do of being progressive, and I’m not great at being either – but I try to do good and to value what my students bring to school more than what I bring to school.

The Coöp, in particular, has given me a better understanding of advocacy – especially of online campaigning for educational change. Consequently, I’m most interested in helping the Coöp help others change teaching and learning for the better in public schools. I think we Coöp members and commentators have eloquently described the problems that we see. I’d like us to help one another envision how to solve those problems so that action steps become as clear to us as the issues are. Specifically, I think that running democratic classrooms – no matter what – and ending high-stakes testing are complementary goals that we could start with immediately.

At the start of our shared work, I needed the Coöp to help me see what was at stake in my classroom and in public education. Now I need it to help me figure out what to do next.


About Chad Sansing

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


15 thoughts on “First Year Reflection: Who the hell am I and what am I doing here?

  1. Chad,
    Although I don’t remember how I got wind of the Catalyst in the first place, I do remember that it was posts like yours above that pulled me in; I took the bold step of asking to become a member of the Coop. It was at a time, as you describe above, when I was questioning the direction I was taking as an educator. I was looking for intellectual stimulation at the same time that I was questioning myself as an educator. I wanted to “make a difference” by connecting with a wider audience, putting my ideas out there for others to comment on and grow something new as a result. I am proud to be a member of the Coop. One of the best professional moves I’ve made to date.

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | April 25, 2011, 8:36 am
    • Elisa, I’m so glad you took that bold step in joining us. I value our site, too, as a crucial piece of my professional development.

      How do you think we can best continue to invite and attract questioning educators to the Coöp and educational transformation?

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 25, 2011, 10:08 am
  2. Chad, I find this particularly moving in what you’ve just said:

    “Both the Coöp and Classroots have helped me hold myself accountable for letting go of hurtful practices and for co-creating my classes with students. I do a better job of being humane than I do of being progressive, and I’m not great at being either – but I try to do good and to value what my students bring to school more than what I bring to school.”

    I don’t know that there is any more powerful expression of what a blog can do, and learning out loud can do–for all of us–than this.

    I am deeply appreciative of your driving honesty, your community building, your respectful fire, your vision.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 25, 2011, 9:54 am
  3. Thanks, Kirsten – when I catch myself doing something that grates, I can always trace it back to a counter-productive desire for expedience and convenience. When I catch myself in time, I try to shift gears and hand choice back to my students. When I don’t catch myself in time, I go back to the drawing board for the next time.

    I will now start work on an educational philosophy mash-up album called Respectful Fire, which will sample heavily from the Coöp and The Unforgettable Fire. Thanks for your kindness and unwavering care for the site and its community.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 25, 2011, 10:18 am
  4. I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange’s class. I really enjoyed how you talked about getting other teachers, intellectuals, and various other educated learners to continue education to a way where students would love to be in school. The old way of school is not getting our students educated and coming up with classroots and coop with others in the education field is great. Also when you start campaigning for educational change is to start with your rep from all states to agree that education is best for our country which is why we teach for our country’s future leaders. Mainly saving the national writing project is a start to helping educate students.

    Posted by dustin barsch | April 25, 2011, 3:13 pm
    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Dustin – I’m not sure what numbers convince elected and appointed officials to keep or kill a program, but I know that on journey to advocacy, the decision to participate is an individual act; I hope the Coöp can help people make that choice in support of authentic education.

      The writing project is a robust model that does what our government wants; too few law-makers know about its work. Regarding both the project and authentic education, we need to find ways to reach out, share what we know, and learn how to best champion the kinds of education we value. I’m kind of an in-betweener now, ten years into my career, but it takes an awakening, rather than a particular amount of experience to work on the issues facing us; I work with more veteran teachers, as well as with new and pre-service teachers. All of us can change education; we can share a common readiness and develop strategies, capabilities, and aptitudes for civil subversion of an educational system driven by adults needs’ to be simultaneously constantly fearful and absolutely certain. There’s a great ambiguity – us and our students – inside of public education. Together we can co-create curricula and lessons that matter to all of us and our communities; we have to choose to do so, but we have the choice to make.

      I hope you’ll keep reading the Coöp and share with us how it journeys with you in your career.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 25, 2011, 4:13 pm
  5. Wow reading this and being on the IDEA Oregon Innovation tour with Kirsten and Scott really makes me want to do a tour with Coop members! Can we get a bus or a vans! ((I will drive))

    We need to connect in person and connect the energy, share food, share a laugh, and hugs!

    Thanks for sharing this reflection Chad, it was your writing that truly open my eyes about the power of blogging and the power of doing it together.

    The Coop has given me a voice, but also a chance to share my passion with others, and to learn so much!

    Thank you to all the early founders, and also to Adam and Aaron for the great debates back in the day…on Aaron’s blog that got me all fired up! I can’t wait to reflect deeper soon!


    Posted by dloitz | April 26, 2011, 12:15 am
    • David, that’s so kind. Thank you – your enthusiasm and personal momentum in advocacy are inspiring.

      We should definitely look for opportunities to meet up – I’m envious of Kirsten’s Coöp-connecting travels!

      What have we done right so far in showing the power of blogging together for change? What could our next steps be to involve and impact others?

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 26, 2011, 10:28 am
  6. This is a great post as it empowers readers and other coop members to be transparent with their struggles and learning — thank you Chad for that!!

    What this group provided for me since I joined about 4 months ago is a safe place to test my thoughts. I get healthy feedback, my thinking is being pushed, I can engage in a great discussion that enhances my learning. I only regret I don’t have enough time to read every single post and comment on all of them, but I sometimes stay satisfied with a thought being triggered in my mind after reading a post from someone else.

    Thank you again for welcoming me as a parent into this great community of educators!


    Posted by kima | April 26, 2011, 3:07 am
    • Thank you, Kima!

      It is hard to respond to everything posted on the Coöp and its back-channels.

      How do you think we should move forward in increasing the strength of the site’s signal so that more readers are sparked to read, reflect, converse, and act?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 26, 2011, 10:25 am
      • Sorry for my late response Chad! I have to admit that I am not sure if I have any wisdom to share. I learned through my blogging that people respond to stuff that is thought-provoking, but I also learned since I joined the coop that many keep their discussion on Twitter and never comment on the post that triggered that discussion. It seems that the back-channel discussion is as important as the one happening right here on the blog. Maybe we need to try to feed the back-channel onto the blog? Or use chat or similar like @simbeckhampson does? (e.g. see the discussion at The Purpose Of Education)

        One thought that bugged me since you asked me this question is: I know the comments are valuable to us as authors, but are they valuable to our readers? What I mean is, when I as a reader read a blog post once, I will likely not revisit it again later to see if there are new comments. That is an opportunity lost to engage someone in a discussion if at the time I visited first there were no readers commenting yet or the few comments there were, didn’t motivate me to put a comment myself.

        What we really want, I guess, is our readers discussing among themselves the ideas presented in the posts as opposed to (as it usually happens) giving back the author feedback or asking a question. We as authors could then learn from that discussion and present back how that learning impacted us. How do we do this? Not sure, but we’re all here for the learning so we’ll figure it out! 😉

        Posted by kima | April 30, 2011, 12:36 am
        • I agree with you, Kima, about how much we want our readers to engage in the conversations we’re having with one another and with ourselves as we reconcile what school is and what we want public education to be. Sometimes we strike just the right note to inspire a vigorous comment feed; sometimes posts go more quietly by.

          Could you bring this question about how to bring in more people to our conversations apart from comments to the Google Group?

          When we started, before the Coöp’s potential energy for advocacy became evident, we were happy to comment in-depth, back and forth on one another’s posts. That practice was part of the norms of the site. I hope that more and more of us return to that and, by extension, draw our networks into more and more posts and conversations about change.

          All the best,

          Posted by Chad Sansing | May 2, 2011, 9:19 pm
  7. I appreciate all that you do for the Coop. I love the way you’ve helped form partnerships, promote ideas and spur dialogue. Your comments are deep and insightful.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | April 26, 2011, 9:22 am


  1. Pingback: Join the Coöp « Cooperative Catalyst - June 27, 2011

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