Connection and Community—Engaging for Impact

Note from Education Reimagined   24 January 2024
By Demi Edwards


[Connection] manifests in the vision we advance, the partnerships we build, the meetings we convene, and the ways we operate as a team.

Demi Edwards
CEO and Co-Founder of Education Reimagined

Getting connected. It is a practice easily skipped over in service of the idea of efficiency or productivity; the content of the conversation is what connects us anyway, let’s just get to it. We enter important work as our titles, our organizations, or the perspectives we were asked to bring. We leave parts of ourselves at the door.

Yet, as human beings, we biologically crave connection; we seek belonging and community. And in a world of increasing division, isolation, and turbulence, we’re losing our ability to create human connection, particularly across lines of difference. We’re losing a vital part of what makes us human and without it, what society will we create? What world will the next generations inherit? 

As I enter this year in my new role as Chief Executive Officer of Education Reimagined, I am starting off with connection. This commitment to connection is at the heart of Education Reimagined. It manifests in the vision we advance, the partnerships we build, the meetings we convene, and the ways we operate as a team. 

One expression of this is in how we start most meetings—with the act of getting connected. We begin by inviting everyone in the room to respond to a question—an intentionally designed question that not only invites us into the work, but to share something of ourselves, to unveil our humanity in some way. Today, I’ll share with you my response to one of those questions: When did you first get committed to learner-centered education? And are you still committed for the same reason?

Two moments stand out to me.

The first was in September of 2013. It was the second meeting of the six-meeting series that would ultimately produce Education Reimagined’s foundational vision and the entity itself. 

We’d brought together a group of “strange bedfellows”—ideologically diverse educators, principals, superintendents, union leaders, business professionals, and policy advocates—to reimagine education. All were seasoned professionals and leaders in their sectors. Their titles and work histories demonstrated their expertise. They gathered, intrigued by, but skeptical about, the promise of this dialogue to actually transform the future of education.

Over the two days of the meeting, something remarkable happened. I watched as who these individuals were to each other (and to me) complexified in beautiful ways. Of course, they were still their professional selves, but they were also parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, citizens, and community members. They were learners themselves, united in a quest to set aside what was in order to reveal what could be for education. 

Their humanity was front and center, creating a foundation for discovery and creation. They openly shared their vulnerability, compassion, and risk-taking. It was a room of deeply connected human beings who saw within their collective capacity the opportunity to make a decisive difference in the world. 

I left those two days transformed. I was committed to creating more spaces and conversations where people could come together around seemingly insurmountable challenges, uncover their underlying relatedness as human beings, and create true possibility.


I was committed to creating more spaces and conversations where people could come together around seemingly insurmountable challenges, uncover their underlying relatedness as human beings, and create true possibility.

Demi Edwards
CEO and Co-Founder of Education Reimagined

The second moment came in November 2016.

We’d gathered over forty young people from across the nation—diverse in where they came from, their backgrounds, races, religions, accents, and identities, but all experiencing learner-centered education in some form or fashion. It was the first of what would become a flagship Education Reimagined program and an expression of our commitment to centering the voices, perspectives, and leadership of youth in our work—SparkHouse.

That first night, walking amidst the crowd of teenagers who had only just met each other, I witnessed what I could only describe as magic. I saw inclusion, passion, warmth, and connection. I spoke with kids who knew who they were and were already in pursuit of curiosities and dreams uniquely theirs. They were all already their own people, each authentically seeking to know each other as full human beings without the judgment or aloofness we often associate with this age. They were embodying the act of connection as a natural self-expression. 

I watched with tears in my eyes. Tears of hope and of sadness. I thought of myself at their age—a straight-A student who knew how to play and win the game of school. I was quiet, studious, driven, and diligent. I had family, connections, and access on my side. And still, outside of my identity as a good student, I wasn’t sure who I was. Tunnel visioned on performing in school all but blinded me to the idea of pursuing my own passions. And seeing these kids, it dawned on me—it did not have to be that way. 

This is what drove my deepened commitment, the recognition of what could be—a world of young people who wield their diversity as a gift and who have the skills and support to create meaning, community, and lives of their own choosing. This was no pipedream. In fact, it was imperative for our future.

Just under ten years later, my commitment to this work and this organization have not waned. Nor has my conviction in the power and essential nature of connection as a driving force in this work. 

Our next era at Education Reimagined is upon us. We are actively igniting and supporting vital systems invention work to enable learner-centered education to become available to every child in our country. As we continue to build the field of learner-centered actors and discover new voices and partners leading this work, we are also seeking to instigate and support waves of ecosystem pilots across the country. It is our bold ambition that by 2028, there are at least five communities, diverse in their populations, dynamics, traditions, and histories, fully demonstrating the impact of a learner-centered public education system. They will illuminate for the nation how those systems work and the evidence of their impact on children, families, and the community. 

This is going to require intense and exciting work. It’s going to require new levels of collaboration, problem-solving, courageous conversations, and idea generation. More than ever it’s going to require that our team is deeply connected with partners like you.

And in that, we can remember the transformation of the education system is unto itself, a deeply human endeavor. It must be if we are to bring to life a system that enables and centers relationships, care, justice, human dignity, and joy. And those of us committed to this new future must find rejuvenation, possibility, and sustained momentum in each other, and in the connections we build. What we are undertaking is too great, too challenging, too isolating to have it any other way. 

As Education Reimagined enters this next era of growth and expanded impact, we will continue to live by and into our steady drumbeat, captured so powerfully by Peter Block: “We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” 

Connected, allied, and united, together, we can change the world.

New resources and news on The Big Idea!


We recently announced a new R&D acceleration initiative to connect and support local communities ready to bring public, equitable, learner-centered ecosystems to life.