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.