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A new network to create distributed, replicable, and equitable community learning partnerships.

Photo of John D'Anieri
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I am a.....

  • Teacher
  • Organization

Tell us about your idea

What was true before the pandemic has become so much clearer since. Educational opportunity is doled out by zip code. The greater the need, the fewer the resources. True creativity, connectivity, and collaborative growth become virtually impossible, as our best educators are forced to push and fight against an organized system - public, quasi-public, and private/corporate - better suited to perpetuating a set of institutional failures that dismantling them. 

The good news, though, is that our communities have the ideas, the people and technology to avoid a return to normal. As the innovations generated by this challenge show, we're more ready to collectively rethink some of the fundamental assumptions about learning than we've ever been. Our name is an acknowledgement that these ideas are really not all that new, evolving from at least 40 years of organized thinking and practice. Our theory of action is that only if we start with an entirely different set of assumptions are we likely to produce the revolutionary change our current crisis calls for. Among those different assumptions, all of which can be answered with varying models and iterations:

What if small groups of skilled and committed folks from all walks of life, unburdened by orthodoxy or ideology, could easily collaborate to support kids and families, instead of delegating all of that work to compliance and batch-sorting oriented schools?

What if the work itself mattered, rather than test scores, transcripts, or connections? 

What if getting along mattered more than getting ahead?

What if learning were not constrained by the walls of a school building or a disintegrated discipline, but liberated by design to be integrated and to occur anywhere, anytime?

What if our expectations for children were built not on an antiquated past or idealized future, but on what we know about the impacts of adverse childhood experiences, racism, and poverty? 

The long term goal of is to make it easy for individuals and small groups to create local/regional/global crowd-sourced solutions through a network of worker-owned, geographically distributed co-operatives. We're working to develop a system of learning tools (with partners like Headrush Learning); communities of practice, and technical supports that will allow small groups of innovators to be genuinely responsive to their students and their communities. The POPUP school is one example of how we think that could play out, but we think there are many ways to empower educators, parents, and communities determined to provide high-quality education regardless of economic privilege through distributed, replicable, and equitable community partnerships

Our submission to the Reimagine Learning Challenge has pushed us to launch a little earlier than we'd expected - if you think your ideas and ours have some overlap, please get in touch! 

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

There are absolutely amazing examples of inspired teaching and learning all over the world, but in the US, where I've spent more than 30 years in innovative public schools, the best we can seem to do is one step forward, two or three steps back. So here is my list of things I'd like to leave in the past: school funding models that are inversely proportional to need; school buildings that continue to assume the classroom in conducive to learning; teacher contracts that underpay and overwork teachers; a patchwork of ever shifting regulations and political interference; a standardized testing regime that grades schools based not on what value they add to a young person's life, but on the relative advantage or disadvantage they walk into the building with; disintegrated mental health, social service, and criminal justice systems that are both fed by and feed a cycle of "worst practice" when many, many vibrant and replicable examples of best practice exist.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I've had 30-year career as a public school teacher, leader, school founder, coach and reform facilitator with organizations like the National School Reform Faculty and EL Education. Areas of practice included community engagement, school culture, and designing and starting new schools, including Poland Regional High School in Poland, Me as a teacher; Casco Bay High School in Portland, ME as a School Designer for EL Education, and as founding Head of School at Harpswell Coastal Academy, a project-based, place-based public charter school. 

I was inspired to share (r)evolution learning in this forum by: my daughter and collaborator, Sophie; colleagues who've worked with openIDEO and suggest I submit this project; and by so many of the other ideas that have been shared here. It's clear students, parents, educators, activists, and community members are thinking along the same lines: distributed, open-source platforms; simple, community-based collaborations that do not rely on schools; citizen-science or other problem-based learning projects that engage students in their own future, rather than as passive recipients of what we hand them. 

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

I live in rural Maine, where, as a part-time teacher of writing at Central Maine Community College, I learn an enormous amount about how K-12 schools have or have not worked for both new Americans in cities and rural first-generation-in-college Mainers. Over the years, I've worked closely with several national networks, schools and teachers in Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, New York City, Rochester, and Buffalo, and consider those brilliant and collaborators part of my community as well. Though the culture, history, demographics of each place are different, two things tend to be true. A small group of committed people can change the world - at a very local scale. But at large scale, especially in schools, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tracee Worley

Hi John! Love where you are going with this.I’d love to see your post refined before the Challenge ends today. Would you add a bit more depth around the Pop Up School model to your post? Would be great to get more of a description and/or a visual of how you are imagining it.

Photo of John D'Anieri

Hi Tracy, Thanks so much for your feedback. There's quite a bit more information, including some visuals, on the popup school page of our website: So much so, that I thought adding it to the proposal would be overwhelming. Would you be able to look at it and see if you think one or more of those sections will address your question?

Photo of John D'Anieri

Hi again Tracy, Just letting you know that I did add 3 screenshots give some more context. We're working on a visual that lays out how we see the "co-op of co-ops" working, which will be added to the website later this week. Some of that is explained in my response to Sara above. Thanks again!

Photo of Tracee Worley

This is great! Thanks for that.

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