Learning Breakthrough Series

The Need

Major policy changes are taking place with little to no input or awareness of the people who are most impacted by them, though they often know the most about what changes are needed.

Conferences and professional development opportunities are abundant in the field of education, but too often they are:

  • Driven by content delivery more than on generating shared learning
  • Decontextualized
  • Designed to seek replicable solutions
  • Limited to one kind of expertise being shared

IDEA’s Approach

“I used to think that we needed to focus on playing defense. Now, I’m thinking the best defense is a powerful offense. We need to generate the narrative, policies, and practices we need and want.”
– Caitlin from Youth on Board, Boston, and participant of LBS 

Pioneered by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the health field, IDEA has been adapting this deep-dive action-based research model to educational change work.

Each Learning Breakthrough Series (LBS) is framed around a guiding question and topic faced by young people, educators, schools, and communities. Over the course of two years, three in-person Learning Sessions to identify innovations and solutions alternate with Action Periods when teams return to their sites to put their plans into action. The LBS concludes with a Final Summit where findings are presented, published, and shared with media and the broad public. 

In more detail it looks like this:

IDEA’s Pilot LBS 

Our first series launched in the Fall of 2013 with this guiding 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?

Seven teams are part of IDEA’s initial LBS, including educators, young people, youth workers, and community leaders from Puerto Rico, New York City, Vermont, Minnesota, Oregon, New England, and Jackson, Mississippi. Coaching and support comes from IDEA’s National Fellows. You can see documentation from Learning Session A and Learning Session B and follow additional links below.


1. Weaving local and national change. Organizing is at its most impactful when critical connections are being made between local place-based teams and national actors through story, dialogue, and collaborative actions. The first LBS weaves place-based actors with national content and research experts that have skills in the 4 drivers of policy, practice, public narrative, and strategy.

2. Generating knowledge. The LBS integrates a strategic cohort model with a values-aligned evaluation tool called Story Mapping that supports teams to monitor their progress while generating knowledge by linking deep dive research, storytelling, and continuous performance improvement.

3. Values and relationships. IDEA believes that change begins with values and by developing relationships with key organizations, individuals, and actors. Read more about IDEA’s values and our strategies and relationships.

4. Building ongoing collaboration and mentorship across roles, organizations, and strategies. Teams engage in collaboration and receive mentoring through in-person gatherings and regular phone and online communication with national experts and other teams. The LBS is not a one-time professional development experience.

5. Conextualized learning about the four drivers of change based on the needs and realities of each participating team.

Efforts are underway to determine the focus for a second Learning Breakthrough Series, scheduled to launch in Fall 2016. Have ideas or want more information on how to get more connected? Contact IDEA Chief Learning Officer, Dana Bennis at dbennis@democraticeducation.org.


IDEA’s Learning Breakthrough Series

Session A Documentation
IDEA LBS Learning Session A Documentation – Jackson, Mississippi |  November 7-11, 2014
Collaboration Across Geography & Context: IDEA’s Pilot LBS – Session A Overview
Connecting Communities through Video & Online Collaboration – Action Period Overview

Session B Documentation
IDEA LBS Session B Documentation – Puerto Rico | September 18-22, 2014
LBS Session B: Love and Learning, Boricua Style – Session B Overview

Networks and organizations connected in to the Learning Breakthrough Series:
NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ)
Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC)
Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Providence Student Union (PSU)
Boston-area Youth Organizing Project (BYOP)
Youth on Board
Granite State Organizing Project

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