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Learning at its Best

First Year Reflection: Kirsten

I’ve loved the Co-op since I first started commenting and posting there in February 2010.  The original gang of four were discussing Wounded By School and I was so intrigued by the level of candor and openness, and the honest, respectful, grounded-in-practice kind of talk that was going on there that I decided to get in and stay around, if they’d have me. (I remember Paula White saying, “Aren’t we all wounded by school?”  Hell yes I thought to myself!)

What did I love about the Co-op?  For one, this was (and is) a place where strong-minded, well-read, well-tweeted and social networked teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and many others concerned about education could talk about what frustrates them about their work, and what they should do about it.  How powerless they sometimes feel in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds against real educational transformation.  About the ways school seems to actively reproduce the inequality and passivity they are committed to working against, and their intimate struggles and successes with teaching.  And most importantly, what they are actually doing and making happen.  Since then, the Co-op has organized two national reform efforts, grown from a group of four to 51 regular posters, watched several organizations grow (Monika Hardy’s lab, IDEA), yet retains its distinctive respectful, thoughtful, it’s-okay-to-be-vulnerable-here feel. (Peter Skillen brought up the problem of teacher ego getting in the way of release of control to students only recently.)  Chad Sansing reminds us almost every day in every comment what it’s like to be a successful practitioner and still be trying to weigh and balance who you are, and to be open about what we don’t know.

I writing to say that I think we have to widen the circle, and strengthen our circle beyond what largely appears to be White, Progressive-minded, transformation-interested educators at relatively well-resourced schools, who live part of their learning lives online.  We need to bring in folks who represent other points of view, who are interested in similar projects, and who will help us know better what we don’t know, and what we aren’t talking about.

As Beverly Daniel Tatum says in Can We Talk About Race, as schools dramatically resegregate in our country by class, socioeconomics and race–as they precipitously and agonizingly do, more and more with every passing year–our face-to-face social networks in school shrink and “the likelihood of at least one interracial friendship or a multiracial social network,” diminishes.  As Monika reminded me this summer, through Ethan Zuckerman’s TEDTalk, the economic and racial divide on Twitter, and our online lives, is real.  If we allow it here, we all lose.

Who is NOT a part of the conversation here?  Who should be here?  Whom, from your network, can you invite in here, to comment, to guest post, to perhaps become a part of the circle, if he or she wishes?

  • I am inviting the awesome and fiery Jose Vilson to guest post here, if he’ll have us.
  • I am inviting my colleague Bernard Gassaway, former principal of Beach Channel High School in Queens, NY to post here, if he has time.
  • I am inviting my friend Winston Benjamin, youth activist and educator who works only with students who “have been rejected from school,” to join the conversation.
  • I am inviting my friend Aldo, who is a student at a small charter high school in Chelsea, MA who immigrated from Mexico City when he was fourteen, and was recently accepted to college, to post here.

How can we widen the circle?

Who are you bringing in?


About Kirsten Olson

I'm writer and educational activist. I work in public, charter, private, unschools. I'm here for the learning revolution.


4 thoughts on “First Year Reflection: Kirsten

  1. You’re so right Kirsten when you wonder “Who is NOT a part of the conversation here?” and “Who should be here?” I would say that above all, we need more students voices! I would like to see more parents joining. I would be happy to have more progressive educators and thinkers in the group. But it is the students that we’re trying to protect or support in all of our discussions and we need them to be part of it too! We need their feedback, their frustrations, their stories! Do you agree this should be our goal for the second year?

    Posted by kima | April 30, 2011, 1:15 am
  2. I have invited and press my good friend and student leader Levi, from Terra Nova School to join us.

    I will also continue to share the CO-op with all who will listen and encourage everyone to find a post or an article that speaks to them.

    I also want to encourage all members of the Coop to take the energy we share here into are day to day life. We can be open, reflective and honest with our co-workers, parents, students and ourselves….even though the coop can be fun….it is just one method!

    Getting to spend time with a small cohort of educator (Including Kirsten) as part of the IDEA Innovation Tour and was reminded of how deeper learning can be when we share it with others!

    Thanks for this reflection Kirsten!


    Posted by David Loitz | April 30, 2011, 11:47 pm
    • David, A shout out to you for your incredible thinking, organizing, enthusiasm, networking, and for bringing so many folks, especially Levi! to the Coop.

      I continue to feel that our circle will only get stronger, as we reach out to each other around what is most difficult, what feels too hard to say, what makes us hurt. If we can create a place for talking about that, that can be transformed into action.

      Appreciative of you,


      Posted by kirsten olson | May 1, 2011, 9:35 pm
  3. I’m hoping some of my new iCivics friends will accept my invitations to join in our work!

    I’m also still thinking about how to write or build a “product” that will contribute something concrete to the Coöp and educators. It’s not concrete yet.

    I would like to recruit more.

    Vague, but earnest,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 2, 2011, 9:29 pm

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