A Year at Mission HillJust Listen: Being Someone, Doing SomethingA Year at Mission Hill | IDEA

A Year at Mission Hill

The Need

A too-simple narrative runs almost nightly across the airwaves depicting the supposed brokenness of our schools, their lack of accountability, and the failure of teachers. Sometimes this oversimplified narrative also offers up oversimplified, narrow, and seductive solutions that are far removed from the complex reality of today’s students, families, teachers and communities.

At the same time, there are powerful schools and programs across the country doing incredible work to unite research and practice and help young people engage meaningfully in their education.  Young people, educators, community leaders, and other key actors are ready for this different story to be told and told differently.

IDEA's Approach

A Year at Mission Hill launched January 31, 2013 with Chapter 1: Why We're Here and ran just over four months. This series came together when filmmakers Tom and Amy Valens reached out to educator and news commentator Sam Chaltain. Sam brought AshokaIDEA and the NoVo Foundation together around the idea of making a series of short episodes to highlight a year in the life of Mission Hill. The concept grew under IDEA's leadership into a larger opportunity to share the story across an eclectic coalition of education organizations, schools, and nonprofits.


  1. Generating narratives and resources: Parents, community organizers, educators, and teacher educators found this series helpful. Several university and community college classes are using it to supplement and, in some cases, frame education courses. Every chapter came with at least 30 shared resources. One partner remarked that the series was really a living book on the subject of meaningful student, community, and educator engagement across the intersections of social emotional learning and social justice.
  2. Building a stronger loose network: A goal of the series was to make visible the shared efforts of a number of like-minded yet diverse organizations. Through the process of developing the series, sharing resources, tweeting until the series went viral, and promoting each other's work, many organizations formed stronger relationships with one another, especially among the direct staff and organizers engaged in the execution side of series development.
  3. Modeling a new way of collaborating strategically to spread ideas: When you Google "A Year at Mission Hill," you get a long string of search results that take you to each partner's content and all the original content and blogs around the series. This echoing effect is exactly what we wanted to try out. We were fascinated to see if this approach produced more effective results than the more traditional way of creating a single branded campaign to share a story or idea.

What’s been the impact of the series?

Here are just a few of the comments we’ve heard:

“The video series and publicity spotlighted an outstanding school and showed what is possible when staff and students truly respect and value one another. We were happy to affiliate the RC name and resources with such an effective school.” - Rick Henning, Responsive Classroom

“Gave people, both educators and especially non-educators--a look inside the life of the school showing the possibilities and the realities of quality education. I shared the series widely, and most people I discussed it with were astounded, as in ‘Wow, we could never have something like that here, could we?’" - Renee Moore, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

“I loved the conversations that were generated from this series and I really liked the way all the partner orgs contributed complementary resources. I loved the additional media that was created, seeded by this series. The Prezi was also a high point for me; what a fantastic idea and execution!” - Amy Erin Borovoy, Edutopia / The George Lucas Educational Foundation

“Broadening the conceptions of ‘successful school.’ Provided digestible video tool to accomplish this.” - Lars Johnson, Ed Evolving

“For SRI, it gave us another avenue of reaching out to our membership to discuss issues in education that are important. It also allowed us to align with other like-minded organizations around a common topic.” - Kari Thierer, School Reform Initiative


Report and Wrap of A Year at Mission Hill: If you missed the flurry of chapter releases, articles, and media connected to the film, or if you just want to watch them again and read some inspiring commentary about what education can and ought to be, this is for you.
A Year at Mission Hill - Official Website