The IDEA Blog

“Healing” and “Love”

This is a guest post from long-time friend, organizer, and family member of IDEA, Darcy Bedortha. Her writing comes shortly after a recent visit to Puerto Rico for Session B of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series. To read more of Darcy's splendid writing, be sure to see her highly acclaimed piece showcased on Living in Dialogue titled, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale.

It is difficult to capture Puerto Rico in words. I’ve been struggling for a week to do so, wanting to share my experience and yet limited by this language thing... My journey with IDEA began nearly four years ago, in a much different latitude and season, but with the same centering of the heart. This week brought new faces to the table, and found some sadly absent. But life and love and the work move on.

I’m always amazed by the wisdom in the room when IDEA people gather. The presence of these hearts and minds has become a foundation for me, a deeply-rooted refuge I can return to for connection and inspiration when I struggle to make sense of the world. This community grounds me and gives my heart a safe place to rest when seeking shelter from the battlefield of injustice. As I look back over this year with IDEA, and over my own worlds, both professional and personal, the words that stand out are “healing” and “love”. How right that both words also filled the spaces I experienced in Puerto Rico, so thick sometimes I breathed them. I listened to stories of strength, courage and commitment to a vision of self-determination for a people overshadowed for centuries by a series of foreign empires. I saw first-hand the power of love and community in schools, rising against all odds to meet challenges and empower their students to become leaders of social change and justice.

This year has given me an exhausting and exhilarating array of experiences; from heart-warming to heart-breaking it has been a year of growth, change, acceptance and denial... a twelve-month walk-the-talk...

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Posted on Oct 13, 2014 - 03:14 PM by Shawn Strader

Isla del Encanto

This is a guest post by Jenerra Williams, IDEA National Fellow. Jenerra teaches first and second grade at Mission Hill School and lives in Boston, MA. This blog was first published as a submission to Mission Hill's weekly newsletter which can be found on their website and here.

Isla Del Encanto – The Island of Enchantment. Puerto Rico has enchanted me indeed in many ways. From its landscape that is picture perfect no matter where you look to its food that fed my stomach and my soul. The music and the dance still beat within me and I can still hear the ocean just before I sleep. Lastly, the people... warm smiles, and genuine hugs all to make sure that I felt welcome.

My work with IDEA (Institute for Democratic Education in America) is what took me to Puerto Rico. I was asked to help facilitate the second in a series of three conferences they are hosting (Learning Breakthrough Series). These conferences bring teams of community/educational organizers from around the country together to talk about and plan how to move their work forward around four areas: practice, policy, strategy and narrative. These organizers/ educators are amazing people. The passion, sincerity and commitment they pour into their work is exemplary. I felt so honored to be among them and so at home. As a part of the conference we got to tour two schools, both in the city of Caguas: Escuela Diego Vázquez and Nuestra Escuela ( There is not enough room here to tell you about these schools. It would take days! However, I will say this – their work is extraordinary.

Justo Méndez Arámburu, founder of Nuestra Escuela, says that the school is “a community based organization that offers support services – bio, psycho, social, academic – to develop talents and initiatives” and is “founded in love”. Sound familiar? On the tour of both schools, I drew many parallels to MHS – the close knit staff, the strong adult/student relationships, the student led...

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Posted on Oct 07, 2014 - 03:21 PM by Shawn Strader

Special Announcement: IDEA’s New Executive Director

Special Announcement
Albert Sykes is the new Executive Director of IDEA

Albert Sykes has been named the next Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) and will begin November 1st.

Albert is a native son of Mississippi and led the organization of the National Youth Congress for the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and has been an IDEA organizer and fellow for three years.

Albert has a powerful personal story, one that is rooted in the struggles and search for quality education through community organizing and youth advocacy. The proud father of three sons, Albert grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where NAACP member and civil rights activist Medgar Evers lived and died. Evers has been one of Sykes’ guiding lights in doing the work needed to move Mississippi and our nation forward. Becoming a student of the Algebra Project and a mentee of Bob Moses brought Evers into Sykes’ life, and made his sacrifices tangible to the then teenager. Through this experience, Sykes gained much firsthand knowledge and understanding of Black Mississippi’s struggle for justice, equity, and full citizenship.

Over the past decade, Albert has served as the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Young People’s Project, helped organize the “Finding Our Folk Tour” in response to Hurricane Katrina, and has been active in the development of Independent Television Services’ “The Masculinity Project” sponsored by the Ford Foundation.

IDEA’s new Board President, Kwesi Rollins says, “While leadership transitions can be tricky, the Board couldn’t be more pleased about the possibilities under Albert’s leadership. With Albert playing this new leadership role, the IDEA family of staff members, organizers, national fellows, and supporters is in good hands.”

Sykes officially becomes Executive Director of IDEA on November 1, 2014, taking over the role held for the last 4 years by Scott Nine, who remains on the IDEA...

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Posted on Oct 01, 2014 - 10:22 AM by Shawn Strader

Connecting Communities through Video & Online Collaboration

A few weeks back I shared an overview of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series that began last fall and continues through summer 2015 with 8 teams working together on the shared challenge of educational transformation for youth (Check out that article for an overview of how the LBS works).
As a collaborative change project with teams in widely different locations and communities around the United States and Puerto Rico, we've had to think creatively about how to bridge the geographical challenges and provide opportunities for authentic sharing and feedback-giving during the Action Period months between in-person Learning Sessions. The Action Period is a critical time when teams implement the plans they crafted during the Learning Session, and we knew there would be great benefit if LBS participants could provide feedback and support to one another during these months, albeit from a distance.  
While at the first Learning Session in Jackson, Mississippi, we took time together as LBS participants and IDEA staff to brainstorm ideas to overcome these challenges. We were looking beyond the often-unproductive yet typical ideas of large group conference calls or email lists, and no one felt inspired by social sites like a Ning or creating yet another group on Facebook.
                               Shared work at the first Learning Session
What we did come up with was an idea that turned out to be not only productive and a helpful learning experience for teams, but also fun - we called it the Action Period Team Video Sharing Activity. Here’s how it worked:
In April 2014, about 4 months into the Action Period, each team used basic technology - in most cases a smartphone - to record a 5 minute video that shared an update on their team's progress in achieving the plans they devised at the Learning Session, reporting on challenges they've faced, and asking questions they'd like help with from the other teams. They then uploaded their...

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Posted on Jul 10, 2014 - 06:54 AM by Dana Bennis

Last Call for Executive Director Applicants


July 15 is the deadline to apply!

We're seeking a curious, thoughtful, creative leader who wants to lead a movement building effort to make value aligned connections across the United States and Puerto Rico. This person will lead the strategic and operational efforts of IDEA in pursuing its mission while modeling it values. Does this sound like the right opportunity for you or someone you know?

Please share this news along with the Job Announcement and Application with your networks and potential candidates you’d like to see in this role.

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Posted on Jul 08, 2014 - 11:02 AM by Shawn Strader

Why Thousands Are Traveling to Mississippi Right Now

A lot of people have been traveling to and paying attention to Mississippi over the last few weeks. 
You’ve probably heard of Brett Favre and Sarah Palin’s visits. But do you know who Mr. Hollis Watkins is? You hear Rick Santorum came for a visit, but have you heard of the Alliance for Educational Justice or the Freedom Side?
With MSNBC as a notable exception, the majority of media attention and noise has been made around the Republican primary and runoff for the U.S. Senate seat between incumbent Thad Cochran and tea party challenger Chris McDaniel.
But thousands of young people and adults have also been traveling here to Mississippi and paying attention to the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the Youth Congress that opens a week of both commemoration and renewed strategizing and action to meet current and future challenges rooted in past struggles.
Irony and contrast are words born for days like today and weeks like this week.
I woke up this morning and found this headline on POLITICO’s site “Mississippi’s revolution may be just starting.”
And the picture and story is so flat, so incomplete, and so wrong.
Though, the headline may be right.
While Mississippi voters head to the polls and politicos foam over the meaning of this primary contest, young men and women will be participating in a political track and organizing track on the 50th Anniversary of events that changed the nation.
Our public awareness needs to include all the sights and sounds in Mississippi including the sights, sounds, and voices at #FreedomSummer and #fsyc14 - the Freedom Summer Youth Congress. 
Here’s some of the words and video from Mr. Hollis Watkins at the opening plenary of Freedom Summer this morning:
We have to move beyond this whole notion that this country and older people have put on you. That you are our future. I say I want you to get beyond that because you are more than our future, you are...

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Posted on Jun 24, 2014 - 08:01 AM by Scott Nine

Collaboration Across Geography & Context: IDEA’s Pilot LBS


IDEA's pilot Learning Breakthrough Series launched November 2013 in Jackson, Mississippi with eight teams of educators and change makers from across the United States and Puerto Rico. The goal? To come together over the course of 18 months in a deep-dive research process to generate knowledge on a specific question:

What connections and approaches to practice, policy, public narrative and strategy support the meaningful and sustained engagement of all young people and communities in education, while honoring the wisdom and differences of varying local contexts?

The structure of the LBS features three in-person Learning Sessions to identify innovations and solutions, alternating with Action Periods when teams return to their sites to put plans into action. The LBS concludes with a Learning Summit where the findings are presented, published, and shared with media and the broad public. 

The teams of educators, community leaders, and youth are from Vermont, New York City, New England, Puerto Rico, Oregon, Mississippi, Minnesota, and a national team of education actors. Organizations involved include The Young People's Project, Nuestra Escuela, Coalition for Education Justice, Urban Youth Collaboration, EdVisions Cooperative, Providence Student Union, Boston Youth Organizing Project, and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform

The LBS is an outgrowth of our learning over the past two years about collaborative change models pioneered in the health field by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). We had conversations with IHI co-founder Paul Batalden and current IHI Executive Director of Performance Improvement, Robert Lloyd, and realized that the needs IHI saw in the healthcare field are similar to what's needed now in education: many practitioners (in our case teachers and students) are dissatisfied with current policy and practice and want something different and more engaging; powerful models and new ideas are being explored in...

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Posted on Jun 17, 2014 - 01:18 PM by Dana Bennis

The Challenge: Re-Imagining Learning

The Challenge: Re-Imagining Learning

In the face of critical and complex challenges, we believe that children and young people need to better develop creativity, imaginative problem-solving, teamwork, empathy, and inspiration so they can step into leadership roles in pursuit of purpose.
Play is one of the brain’s favorite ways of learning. It allows us to practice, experiment and test how we might tackle similar challenges in the real world as we develop creative and critical skills along the way. There is also a playfulness in invention and innovation, two things we need more of in a world where solutions must outpace problems. Science proves that. Why not encourage more playful, enthusiastic learning everywhere we can?
The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka are teaming up in an effort to transform the way the world learns and you’re the most important player. IDEA has been nominated as a Network Partner for the Re-Imagine Learning Challenge. Up for the challenge?
Here’s the big incentive: everyone is a winner. As you share your ideas to help us map the landscape of innovation in education, we’ll give you personalized feedback and support to help bring your vision for change – what you’re most passionate about – to life. We’ll also welcome you into a global network of like-minded parents, educators, administrators, and social entrepreneurs—both online and on the ground—who are challenging the conventions of learning because changemaking can’t wait for future generations.
That’s not all: In November, 2014, 10 star Players will be named Champions of learning through play and will receive cash prizes totalling $200,000, as well as technical assistance and in-kind support.
This challenge has been designed to allow everyone to contribute, connect and benefit. If you're designing environments where kids and adults learn through play, whether at home, in a classroom or on a playground, we want to hear about it. So share your ideas and energy wherever you are: submit a...

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Posted on Jun 12, 2014 - 08:48 AM by Shawn Strader

Love and Iron Fused Together: Dr. Vincent Harding

Love and Iron Fused Together: Dr. Vincent Harding

I met Dr. Vincent Harding during my first week with IDEA. I was facilitating a gathering in Detroit that he ignited with his opening remembering of a favorite poem, “We are citizens of country that does not yet exist,” and his adaption for that gathering on education: “We are citizens of an education system that does not yet exist.”

In the middle of the four hour assembly, he changed the conversation by posing the question, “What are the attributes, the qualities, we want for the young people we love to possess?”

And later by leading us in song.

Then, at the end, he called us to be courageous, honest, and generous to one another.

After the assembly, for a just a few moments we spoke. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “we must be like love and iron fused together.”

I’ve yet to meet that challenge, though it has and continues to live as a mantra inside me. I imagine he’s left this and thousands of other mantras in the hearts and minds of those he touched.

Today, as thousands mourn his passing, I wanted to write simply to acknowledge what he set off in my own life and soul.

Dr. Harding, you were and will remain a center of gravity.Thank you for your words, your presence, your song, your courage, your dignity, your humility, and your generosity. May more in the world come to know what you knew and see what you saw. I ask that of myself as in these days of mourning and letting you go. Prayers, love, and strength to your family and all who knew you far better than I.

With much gratitude,



Vincent Harding, In Memoriam — Civility, History And Hope from On Hope

Vincent Harding, 82, Civil Rights Author and Associate of Dr. King, Dies from New York Times

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Posted on May 22, 2014 - 06:07 AM by Scott Nine

25-50% off most IDEA Auction items! Ends today at 8pm ET / 5pm PT

Last Chance to Bid or Buy Now

The IDEA Auction closes today, and there are still some fabulous handcrafted items and skillshare sessions available. Today only, we're offering most items to you at 25%-50% off the original minimum bid. You'll find them in the "Buy Now" category. Even if you've already browsed the auction, you'll want to take another look. You'll find great deals that raise money for a great cause.
Don't miss your chance to buy books, art, workshops, lessons of all kinds, music, and more. Every dollar raised supports the educational change work of IDEA!

Just a few of the items available:

Framed and signed poster by Ricardo Levins Morales

New book by José Vilson, signed

Handmade notecards set of 12

Poetry reading with poet Letta Neely

Juggling workshop with Arturo Gaskins, Director of the Puerto Rico National Circus
Follow the link now to bid or buy. The auction closes at 8pm Eastern / 5pm Pacific.

If you'd like, you can also simply donate directly from the auction site. A big thank you for supporting IDEA!
~ Dana, Melia, Shawn, and the rest of the IDEA team

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Posted on May 21, 2014 - 06:42 AM by Shawn Strader

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