Education Perspectives

EP 11 Dr. Landon Mascareñaz & Dr. Doannie Tran: The Open System

June 09, 2023 Liza Holland Season 1 Episode 11
Education Perspectives
EP 11 Dr. Landon Mascareñaz & Dr. Doannie Tran: The Open System
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Show Notes Transcript

PODCAST EPISODE 11 

Dr. Landon Mascareñaz  & Dr. Doannie Tran
The Open System Institute 

Quotes of the Podcast – 

"Fortune favors the bold"

"We can succeed only by concert. It is not "can any of us imagine better?" but, "can we all do better?" The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." - Abraham Lincoln

On this episode of Education Perspectives, host Liza Holland interviews Dr. Landon Mascareñaz and Dr. Doannie Tran, co-founders of the Open Systems Institute. They discuss their mission to create more responsive and open education systems that involve communities, and center democracy, family engagement, and student input. They share personal stories of their own journeys in education and the transformative power it holds. The guests also delve into the principles of open system behavior and leadership, providing practical techniques and case studies from their experiences in the field. We learn about their work in Kentucky where they emphasize the importance of diverse perspectives in creating an inclusive council for education reform. Tune in to this episode to gain a deeper understanding of the urgency to prioritize openness and co-creation in education and beyond.

Introduction of Guests – 

Dr. Landon Mascareñaz 

Landon is an educator, writer, and democracy builder. As co-founder of the Open Systems Institute, he partners with leaders around the country to encourage an emerging discipline for openers everywhere. He is a senior partner at the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) where he is responsible for community-driven economic development through breakthrough partnerships in the Homegrown Talent Initiative, working in sixty rural districts across eight regions of the state. At CEI he helped assemble the Sin Fronteras Education Partnership, a coalition of local, regional, and national organizations co-creating family partnership strategies for New Mexico communities, and he supported the launch of Colorado’s Statewide Family Engagement Center. The Open System will be published by Harvard Education Press this June.

Dr. Doannie Tran

Dr. Doannie Tran is the Partner for Liberatory Co-Creation at the Center for Innovation in Education. He leads and supports processes for bringing educator, family, community and student voice into the creation of more equitable and liberatory systems, especially around assessment and accountability. Prior joining CIE, Doannie led the Innovative Programs Division at Fulton County Schools and the Academics and Professional Learning Department in Boston Public Schools. He has led innovative school design processes, co-creation of equitable instructional frameworks, implementation of district-wide math and literacy curriculum, expansion of early childhood access, and served on two successful teacher contract negotiations teams. His primary work currently focuses on community-driven assessment and accountability redesign in Kentucky and the scaling of deeper learning in Georgia. He is also the co-founder of the Open Systems Institute, supporting school syste

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Intro and Outro by Dynamix Productions

Liza Holland [00:00:02]:

Welcome to education perspectives. I am your host, Liza Holland. This is a podcast that explores the role of education in our society from a variety of lenses. Education needs to evolve to meet the needs of today and the future. Solving such huge issues requires understanding. Join me as we begin to explore the many perspectives education we would like to welcome today dr. Landon Mascarnes and Dr. Donnie Tran to Education Perspectives first, landon is an educator, writer, and democracy builder. As co founder of the Open Systems Institute, he partners with leaders around the country to encourage an emerging discipline for openers everywhere. He is a senior partner at the Colorado Education Initiative, or CEI, where he is responsible for community driven economic development through breakthrough partnerships in the Homegrown Talent Initiative, working in 60 rural districts across eight regions of the state. At CEI. He helped assemble the Sin Frontatas Education Partnership, a coalition of local, regional and national organizations, cocreating family Partnership strategies for New Mexico communities. And he supported the launch of Colorado's statewide Family Engagement Center, the Open System. His new book will be published by Harvard Education Press this June. We also welcome Dr. Donny Tran. Dr. Tran is a partner for Liberatory Cocreation at the center for Innovation in Education. He leads and supports processes for bringing educator, family, community, and student voice into the creation of more Equitable and Liberatory systems, especially around assessment and accountability. Prior to joining CIE, donnie led the Innovative Programs Division at Fulton County Schools in the Academics and Professional Learning Department in Boston Public Schools. He has led innovative school design processes, co creation of Equitable instructional frameworks, implementation of district wide math and literacy curriculum, expansion of early childhood access, and served on two successful teacher contract negotiation teams. His primary work currently focuses on community driven assessment and accountability redesign in Kentucky and the scaling of deeper learning in Georgia. He's also the co founder of the Open Systems Institute, supporting school systems to be more open and responsive to the communities in which they're embedded. So welcome to education perspectives. Dr. Tran, dr. Mascara NES. And I should ask you, is that the correct pronunciation?

Landon Mascareñaz [00:02:52]:

Yes, it is. That's really dang good. Thank you.

Liza Holland [00:02:56]:

Hey, awesome. I do think that's kind of an important thing, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have you as a part of the show today. I actually listened to you guys on another podcast and was just like, wow. Lots of amazing and great work being done here. And thank you both for generously being willing to be on this podcast as well.

Doannie Tran [00:03:17]:

We're thrilled to be here, Liza

Liza Holland [00:03:19]:

Well, Donnie, maybe we'll start with you. This is my 30,000 foot question that I ask all of my guests. Why do you think that we as a society choose to invest in education?

Doannie Tran [00:03:32]:

Well, the way in which we invest in our young people is the common narrative is that it's about investing in the future of our workforce. And we don't doubt that that's important. We do want people to be productive members of society. But I think beyond that, the way in which we engage in the education enterprise is also how we apprentice young people into the practice of our society and our democracy. And so the way in which we conduct schooling and also the governance of everything around it is the way that we model that and practice that with our young people. We bring adults into that space as well and create an intergenerational enterprise that both deepens, but it can also has the possibility of reforming our democracy and our society. And I think that is why it's a moral imperative and a societal need for us to invest in education.

Liza Holland [00:04:29]:

Nice. Landon, how about from your perspective, why do we do this crazy thing?

Landon Mascareñaz [00:04:34]:

Well, one of things I think is really interesting when you think about kind of at the center of your question, is that we have a lot of choices to make in our society about how we invest, and we have a lot of things that we care about as a society. And clearly, we're in this middle of a giant budget debate when we're recording this in DC. And there's a lot of questions. And someone once told me that budgets are moral documents. They're the kind of guidance for our society in terms of the values and morals that we care about. And I think core to the expansion of democracy that Donnie talked about has been since the 19th century, really, this idea of education as a foundation not only to build the citizenry to participate in this democracy, but to build the future, as it were, and to prepare our students, our future fellow citizens, on the journey to be entrepreneurs, be engineers, be future teachers to help build the future of our society. And so, fundamentally, I think, at its core, the intersection of future building and democracy building is at the center of our education system. And that's a part of the investment, and that's a part of the work that we get to do. You get to be a part of Liza that the teachers and educators and students across this country are part of. But I think the fundamental question that we have to ask is, is the system that we're currently operating running and building actually living up to the promise of democracy building and future building?

Liza Holland [00:06:03]:

Couldn't have said that better myself. And that's honestly one of the reasons that education perspectives exists, is that thought process right there. Thank you. So obviously, it's taken quite a road for each of you to get to where you are in this critical type of change management. Landon, why don't we start with you? What drew you to education in the first place?

Landon Mascareñaz [00:06:27]:

I appreciate the question. My mom was an educator and is an educator. She's retired now, but she can't resist it. She's being a substitute principal right now. She was a principal for nearly a teacher for nearly 35 years. She just retired from the profession. And my sister is an educator. She's the director of some really incredible community schools and equity work in West Sacramento. And so I come from a family that has really valued education. My dad, my grandfather, graduated with his business degree from Cu Boulder in the 1950s. And I often ask him, grandpa, how many other New Mexican mexican guys were at Cu Boulder in the 1950s? He goes, There were six other guys, and I would say hi to him every once in a while on the campus. Education has always been very valued by both sides of my family. And the connection I had to it was that experience and wanting to give back. I became a teacher to commit to learning and understanding what it meant to what is happening in our society. I think that a lot of the folks that I was living and working alongside in college, I wanted to step away from the patterns that we were a part of and go someplace pretty different. So I went to the Navajo Nation to teach, taught first grade on the Navajo Nation, and that's really where I was first confronted Liza with this question of open versus closed. The woman who became my wife wanted to host a community event where we brought in families and to kind of students to have a conversation about how we should all work together for the benefit of the school. And there was a lot of resistance among the faculty, and I could see those parents and families across the dirt road from our school and that question and wondering of how can a school exist so divorced from the community it serves? We eventually had the event. Over 150 parents and families showed up. It was an incredible success, and it really kind of cracked open something in me about what's going on here in the relationship between schools, our democracy, and the communities it serves. I've held many other roles in the education space, but that thread of wondering how to build community, how to work with parents and families, how to help and support communities in materializing and envisioning and actualizing their vision for what's possible in their education system, it's their system. And I believe as educators, we are servants in pursuit of the community's vision of what they aspire to and believe in. We obviously have expertise and roles in. And whether that's my work in advocacy in a place like A plus Colorado, in family engagement in Denver Public Schools.

Doannie Tran [00:08:57]:

Or for the last few years, helping.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:08:59]:

School districts across the Mountain West at the Colorado Education Initiative, my role has really been to kind of think through, work alongside, and create spaces for communities to materialize and envision that process.

Liza Holland [00:09:12]:

Very cool. Donnie, how about yourself? What drew you to education in a.

Doannie Tran [00:09:16]:

Way that's really similar to Landon. My family also has a really deep sort of commitment to education. My parents are from a town in Vietnam that's sort of like the Boston of Vietnam. It's like where all the academic centers are. And when I went to go back to Hui, which is where they're from for our honeymoon, actually, my wife and I, so much of what I saw there made their commitment to education snap into focus. It was just in the air and in the water. Everywhere. Everybody's just sort of thinking and dreaming and imagining the future of Vietnam and the world, and it was just really incredible. And it gave me a lot of insight into them because we came over where they came over to the United States right after the fall of Saigon. My dad was in the military, and they always raised us to have a really powerful commitment to both our community and ourselves. And so that's something that's really stuck with me. I was a science major in undergrad. I was a chemistry major, and I spent a lot of time working in a lab. And one day I looked up from my pipette and I said to myself, I can't do this in this way anymore. I needed to work closer to the intersection of science and people, even though I love the pursuit of science itself. And so that's when I took some time off. I actually went and I taught English in Albania. This was right after the Kosovo conflict. And that really helped me see the transformative power of education and then came home and continued to sort of reflect and dream and think and applied to Teach for America, which is a piece of shared history that Landon and I have and taught middle school in Oakland, California. And that was a really beautiful and wonderful thing. And a lot like Landon was sort of the beginning of this intersection between community and education. One of my favorite moments as a teacher was teaching my kids how to test things for lead content. And we just went out in our community and tested a bunch of things because it was sort of known that there's a lot of lead in the area. And then they published a little pamphlet about what they found. And that was something that we shared with the community that began this journey of always finding those types of intersections. Because I love pure academia. I love ideas, but it's the application of them to making people's lives substantively better that really drives my commitment to education.

Liza Holland [00:11:45]:

Excellent. I actually come to education from a very involved parent perspective, was deep into the PTA and went all the way up to the state level and that sort of a thing. And so your open systems really resonate with me. Can one of the two of you, you choose maybe a combination of both tell us a little bit about the open Systems Institute and how this came to be and why it's so wonderful for the world.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:12:15]:

Well, Liza, first off, I just want to say thank you for having us on this podcast and thank you for your service as a parent and as a leader in your community. I think I know Donnie believes as well that this is critical. We talk a lot about future building and democracy building in the open systems work. And parents like you that take it upon themselves to activate their leadership to help transform systems for kids are critical to the functioning of our education system. So thank you. And I think in that story is the power of the open system and probably some closed systems along the way. I think Donnie and I started working together in graduate school, went off on separate paths and in different ways started to confront similar problems and challenges in the education system. Problems of unresponsiveness, problems of otherization, problems of expertise, domination. We're the experts. Parents don't know.

Doannie Tran [00:13:09]:

Stay over there.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:13:10]:

And as I was working in family and Community Partnership in Denver Public Schools in the Family Empowerment Team started to see and experience all sorts of things that people would use the term family engagement for, but fundamentally were not sufficient and helpful to call family engagement. Let's bring some parents in to redesign our school performance framework. Well, that's not really family engagement. What's happening here? And we began to convene folks together in kind of the 1819 period to have a conversation around. You're a community organizer, you're a family engagement professional, you're a superintendent, you're a school leader, you're a parent. What are we all trying to do here to open the system up to the community it serves? And what we discovered that there is actually a rich intellectual tradition of open system theory that we are kind of synthesizing and porting into education, which emerged out of the end of the Second World War, where there was an increased recognition of the interconnectedness of organizations and their broader environment. And so fundamental to the idea of the open system is a permeable layer between the organization and its community and that it receives information, ideas, knowledge, insight, perspective, and then it responds and adapts like an organic thing to that broader environment and that actually closed systems remove themselves. Anne Henderson calls this a fortress school in the family engagement literature or a fortress organization. And I think we really, in the book and in our work across sectors now talk a lot with people who have started to see this decline in trust and decline in responsiveness in our public systems. So we are putting forth this idea of open systems in education as really a provocation to say what does it mean for our public systems, including education, to co create, co produce, co design, to welcome parents and families? In where family engagement is a strategy, but one component of a larger approach. To say our public systems ought to be responsive and designed with the communities they serve. And it's actually more important than ever before right now in a period of declining trust and legitimacy in those public systems to actually design with the communities they serve. And it's not enough. We talk a lot about pathways and economic prosperity education right now, and too often, Liza, those pathways are built by a few teachers in a room and then brought to the community. What does it mean for students to design their pathways to opportunity? What does it mean for families to design what it means to have a school discipline system? And what does it mean for a city to come together to design what turnaround looks like? And inside the book are six principles that we've seen deployed across this open leadership, designing breakthrough spaces, modeling created democracy, et cetera. And in each of those principles, a vignette and a case study that actually highlights examples like that of where people have embraced this idea of openness to create something they couldn't have done alone.

Liza Holland [00:16:13]:

Nice. Donny, what do you have to add to that?

Doannie Tran [00:16:16]:

Just a tiny thing. So I just love how Lannon talks about it. I think that anybody who's worked in education for any length of time has run into the issue that the change we have sought and created was not as durable or as deep as we hoped it would be. And we have this belief that things are sometimes not durable because they weren't actually created with the people who would have to hold it and carry it, and it didn't have legitimacy with them to be something that they really felt connected to and would want to carry forward. And then they weren't as deep. The changes we saw weren't as deep and pervasive as we had hoped, because we really just aren't. We're leaving a lot of capacity on the table either the capacity of the teachers who have to implement the reform or the change the young people who have to live and breathe life into it, or the families that have to give their consent and commitment to things. And so we believe that the open system design and architecture and approach and mindset is a way of getting to that deeper level of legitimacy, unlocking more capacity so that things persist and go deeper than they have traditionally.

Liza Holland [00:17:29]:

Let me ask you a follow up to that. So often we see these wonderful points of light throughout our education system where one particular school really has it going on or a teacher is doing amazing things, but that piece of making it systemic, that when those leaders move on, this is still how we're doing business. Can you talk to us a little bit about what you've encountered so far and what recommendations you would have for people to kind of make it sticky?

Doannie Tran [00:17:59]:

Yeah, I think one phrase that I think comes up a lot is the idea of coherence. And we use that as a little bit of like a catchphrase or often a little bit of like a noun. It's like some state, mystical state that you attain. We have reached coherence when coherence is actually, I think, much more of a process than an ongoing sort of habit that you embody rather than a state that you can attain. And coherence has to be sought and made sense of by the people who comprise the system. And too often we sort of seek coherence by memo. We say, all right, I'm going to draw this diagram, I'm going to write out exactly how these things connect and I'm going to publish it out into the field and to the system, or I've disseminated it through principles. And we have this mental belief that, okay, now we have achieved coherence and now things will persist when really it's done through open processes of sharing, learning together, bringing all of the different stakeholders into a place to really actually hammer out the connections between things the way that things will really work, rather than imposing our beliefs about how that system is going to work. So if we can create spaces where leaders can do that and develop their capacity to make those kinds of conversations happen, we'll both be embodying the open system as we understand it, but also laying the foundation for real coherence and real ownership across all of those different stakeholders. And hopefully for expansion of bright spots into something more systemic.

Liza Holland [00:19:43]:

That is really interesting. And I have this kind of particular love of language in communication and I love the term that you're using there. Can you tell me how you define it and how you feel that coherence is different than consensus?

Doannie Tran [00:20:00]:

Yeah, there's a beautiful phrase and I won't remember it perfectly, but it's from no worries, from Michael Fullon, who is educational visionary and leader who has done much of this kind of coherence building work. Coherence is not a diagram of the interconnections and linkages between things. That's a little mechanistic. It is the emotional felt sense of the idea that multiple parts of the system are working together in concert, moving in the same direction in ways that are sort of mutually amplifying and not creating friction or conflict where it doesn't need to exist. It's that sense of, I do this math curriculum over here. You're doing this professional development on continuous improvement over here where you have this equity training over here, that these aren't separate pieces. It's the felt emotional sense that these are all a part of something bigger than any one of their individual pieces. And that felt sense can't be just in the head of the superintendent. It can't just be in the head of, of the, the board chair. It has to live throughout the system, which is why we think the kind of approaches to openness are so important.

Liza Holland [00:21:16]:

Absolutely. You have to have buy in at all levels for this to really work. Landon I'd like to pick up on a comment that you talked about in your early family engagement processes as far as getting resistance from faculty and having these schools that kind of stand alone as opposed to being an integral part, how does your open system focus on that and help to maybe get past the reticence?

Landon Mascareñaz [00:21:47]:

One of the things that I think is really important, Liza, as we're having conversations, is about language and the power of language. One of the things that's very powerful about the term open is it connects to very deep schema in you, in Donnie Me and a variety of other people around us. When we go to a group of educators or a group of parents or families and we say, is this school open to the community it serves, that's a fundamentally different question than, are you employing high impact family engagement strategies? We are connecting to something much deeper, much more ancient, and much more understandable to a cross section of audiences. Now, we may all have different definitions of what that openness looks like or could be connotated as or constructed as, but fundamentally like, though even the word open, as we were digging into the organization literature is ancient word. It's essentially proto Germanic. It goes back way a long ways in millennia, in human thought and understanding, and it really connects to something deep in people's sense of whether it is removed from them or connected to them and they're able to pass through it. And so I think that's a big way to start talking to your question, which is when we go in and work with families and communities that oftentimes they are wanting to work with educators, educators want to work with parents and families.

Doannie Tran [00:23:08]:

But there is so much fear and.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:23:10]:

So much apprehension about the right approach to do it, which is actually the kind of core reason we wrote the book. The book is a how to manual with shared language for folks inside and outside the system to work together and understand how we might be able to push and pull at each other in a way that can sometimes be confrontational, sometimes be collaborative, sometimes be cooperative. But fundamentally, we're all building toward a similar enterprise, which is an education worthy of our communities, where their expertise and beliefs are valued and embedded into the structure of the system, and that parents and families are an integral component of what it means to build and design a system.

Doannie Tran [00:23:52]:

So I think that's an important thing.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:23:55]:

For us to realize is that we need to build this shared language. We need to build shared understanding, and.

Doannie Tran [00:24:00]:

Through that, so much more is possible.

Liza Holland [00:24:03]:

I'm so glad that you're putting some focus on that language piece. Through my journey, I found myself at a lot of the parent representative at a lot of committee meetings in Department of Education. Okay, and I had literally a page where I took my notes and a column to the side that was acronyms and that sort of stuff, that I had no idea what they were talking about that I needed to look up afterwards.

Doannie Tran [00:24:27]:

Right.

Liza Holland [00:24:27]:

So that whole building, that bridge of communication and I've actually found that on the other side, that teachers and administrators are hesitant to talk to business people because business people have their own language of their KPIs and this and that and the other, that the educators don't speak. So I applaud that a lot. Tell me, as you have been implementing this in different places, have you found that there are other obstacles that you've had to overcome that we've not talked about? Donnie, maybe I'll put you on the spot about Kentucky because we've got a lot of good wind in the sails on doing, like, portraits of a graduate and that sort of a thing in our state. But what do you find are the limiting factors? What are things that may still need to change for us to be able to really embrace this new methodology?

Doannie Tran [00:25:23]:

There's a few things and thank you. I keep waiting for my honorary Kentucky Residency Certificate to show up in the mail, but Lou Young assures me that it's on the way. But I think in the work that we've done here in Kentucky, there's a few things that we've had to attend to very carefully. And I think this mirrors some of the experiences that Landon and I have had in other contexts as well. First, really making sure that the folks in the room represent a powerful and diverse set of perspectives and roles within the system. And you just have to really attend to that and attend to it very carefully. Land and I have talked a number of times and written now in the book about how you construct that sort of space, how you attend to both those who are politically important and need to be there, those who are interested and want to be involved. And how do we then also bring in those who are sort of rarely at the table, but who bring an experience of having lived through the system that can be very valuable to unlocking a lot of processes? And so we have an approach to that where about a third of any group that you want to do around work of consequence, about a third are appointed from the sort of convening authority. So in this case, Dr. Young and Dr. Glass, the Board chair and state commissioner, respectively, of Education, appointed about a third of what's now known as the United We Learn Council. About a third have come from an application process that was open to the entire Commonwealth, and we got hundreds of applications for about 30 or about 20 slots. And then a third we brought into the process through a process through a method called Sortition, which is a little bit like jury duty, inviting a cross section of citizens to join this council. And that's a real powerful element to bring in and do work together, because they're not coming with an agenda per se. They're not coming with a particularly cooked point of view. They're coming with the experience they've had as family members or the experience they've had as frontline educators and haven't been tapped or activated through a different kind of process. And so that I think attending to the inclusion of the body that you want to do the work is really important. I think another thing just to not go on too long is to attend to the shared learning of that group. Everything you talked about in terms of acronyms, points of view, key ideas. Everybody actually has something to learn outside of their domain of their expertise. Families have deep expertise in their experience of the system, but they don't have the experience of a policymaker or the experience of a psychometrician or the experience of a district leader, and vice versa, although those different ways of knowing the system is a lot like that old metaphor about the elephant. Everybody's got a different part blind man and the elephant. Everybody's got a different piece of it. But only by working together can they have a full picture. But in order to work together, you have to create space for mutual learning, shared learning, across those lines of difference. And that just takes time and careful facilitation and attention to saying your expertise matters, and your expertise needs to be right sized relative to all of the other kinds of expertise that are now in the room.

Liza Holland [00:28:58]:

That makes so much sense, and it really puts a heavy burden on those that are facilitating to be able to be conscious. And I think sometimes that role is underestimated, especially in situations where that type of dialogue has not really existed. So kudos to you for jumping in on it. Landon, I would love for you to speak a little bit more. It really resonated with me that you were equating these processes and what we're doing in education to strengthening our democracy. And I wonder if you might be able to share a little bit more about your thought processes there and how you try to build that in with the work that you're doing.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:29:40]:

The big question I think that we have to face as an education system is, as we watch our democracy struggle nationally, how do we look in the mirror to see to what extent we are actually practicing democracy in our education system? And to me, it's that cognitive dissonance Liza, that we have to take on as an education field. We can't, on one hand, with, in one breath, say, horace Mann said that education is the foundation of democracy and that we practice democracy and it's a foundational element, and then say, well, how do we practice it in schools?

Doannie Tran [00:30:12]:

I'm not so sure.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:30:13]:

And I think we have to have a real conversation in our society about we have to move beyond the idea of just elections as the structure for our democracy. Democracy is how we make decisions together, how communities come together to make decisions, how communities spend dollars. Back to that idea of the budget. When we design a new school, who's designing it? When we have students in a school, are they helping to build the new programming? I'm the newly elected chair of our state Board for Community colleges here in Colorado. And what's so exciting about the community college system to me is that every single month we have community college presidents showing up to tell us about all the ways they're designing programming based on student need. Hey, we're building out this new artificial intelligence unit. We're building out this new welding program because students demanded it. Do we see that same type of infrastructure and energy in K Twelve education? Do we see our students and families and businesses as the drivers of the kind of information and responsiveness that we want to see? And what are the long term implications? And I say this as almost kind of like a I think we know the answer. What are the long term implications of a closed system undemocratic approach in K Twelve education, which is really the first place where most Americans experience democracy? If the first place most Americans experience democracy lies is a place where their opinions, values, and beliefs aren't taken into account, then what are we telling them about the status of our system, about the vitality of our democracy, and about their usefulness as a part of the larger democratic process? We're saying, thanks, but no thanks. And so I don't think it's surprising that as a country, we are struggling with this idea of how to revitalize our democracy and fundamental. The premise of the open system is that our work to redesign education and bring parents and families and community stakeholders to that redesign process will ignite a.

Doannie Tran [00:32:01]:

Democratic spark that every education leader should.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:32:05]:

See their opportunity and their responsibility to nurture.

Liza Holland [00:32:09]:

That is awesome. And I love the component piece of the students because the cognitive dissonance about learning about civics in an environment where none of that applies makes zero sense. And we're trying to fundamentally train students to become productive citizens, and if we don't give them any agency and voice and practice in making those types of decisions, they come out and they're not what employers need just because we as adults haven't given them the experience. So I think this whole open system makes so much sense, and I'm glad that you're including students in it.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:32:51]:

Well, Liza, your point is so well taken. I mean, we hear this sometimes from educators. Well, we can't give the keys to the we can't let the students run the school. And it's like, well, who said that? What is with all this fear? Fear of parents, fear of teachers, fear of students, and how can we take small, important steps forward to actually build a muscle where we can all work together?

Liza Holland [00:33:16]:

And that's brilliant in and of itself because especially for areas that are schools or districts that are resistant to change those small, little layers and those baby steps. Maybe you don't start out with project based learning, but maybe you could have a student survey. Or maybe we could start layering on these things and gee, we actually had a good experience with that. Maybe we're brave enough to try more. That is amazing. So maybe, donnie, back to you. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about your upcoming book and who should be reading it?

Doannie Tran [00:33:51]:

Sure. We couldn't be more excited about it. We're so thrilled with the process that we went through to put it together and what it has already sort of started to percolate for the system. So a few years ago, Landon and I brought together a group of organizers, educators, leaders from across the country to really start to think about, well, what does this open system concept look like? And we've just been so excited to be able to co create that with them, these ideas, these principles of open system behavior and leadership and design with a group of practitioners who have just infused it with so much energy and so much real experience. So the book is organized through the lens of those principles with a solid chunk at the very beginning, just laying out the intellectual foundation of the idea of the open system, some of which Landon already spoke to in terms of cybernetics and organizational design. Integrating that, though, with the idea, it begins as a leadership disposition. It begins with you as a person having to ask yourself whether to what extent you're committed to the idea of openness and co creation, and then from there, moving on to thinking about the opportunities that might be available to you once you know your community. And then how do you compose what we call a breakthrough space when that is intentionally diverse in terms of its perspectives, and then getting into the process of modeling a creative democracy, a creative democratic process within that space that you've created and then thinking through. Well, once you've done that sort of deliberation and have made the work come to life, how do you then create partnerships in the spirit of abundance to make sure that the work continues to be coproduced across a system? And then the last principle is focusing in on the idea of expanding openness. So we start with sort of a discrete project within a system generally, but then there's always opportunities to identify other places where openness might be possible. So each of those six principles has a dedicated chapter, which is filled with practical techniques, ways to enact that idea, with case studies and examples from real practitioners in the field. Many of whom were part of authoring that component. And then also reflection questions and ways to spur action within your context, which is really aimed towards leaders inside and outside of systems who believe that openness is important and possible. And we have examples both from schools, from districts, from states, state education agencies, and also organizations outside of the formal infrastructure, all part of the example set that is compiled in the book. We're just really excited about bringing those six principles into the world.

Liza Holland [00:36:53]:

Absolutely. And honestly, that is the best answer that I've had so far to what do you want decision makers to know? You've written it out into a book. That's marvelous. Bring all of those pieces together. And the thing that's exciting to me is that, yes, it is framed in the context of education, but those same types of thoughts and principles could work for communities at large, for businesses, for any types of big institutions that are looking to build and become more open in their approach.

Doannie Tran [00:37:26]:

Yeah, I think actually, Landon, I wonder if you could speak to the ways in which we sort of end the book thinking about expansively, about openness across multiple sectors.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:37:36]:

Yeah, it's one of the things that we really wanted to ensure we did, Eliza, through the course of the book, was to ground it in education for all the reasons we've discussed on this podcast in this interview, which is that we believe education is an important forge of our society. The democracy building and future building structure of public education in America is a perfect place to practice democracy, to build democracy, and there are lots of other public systems that are critical for us to seek openness in our public safety realms, our health realms, our infrastructure for private business and the way it interacts with communities and beyond the way that we think about technology. And our conclusion chapter is really kind of taking a sweeping look at all those other sectors of which we're not expert in, but see opportunities for openness and actually see incredible leaders building openness right now. And we asked some big questions around what would it mean for philanthropy, state regulatory agencies, the federal government, and civil society overall to prioritize co creation and coproduction as something that we would want to see more of in our society in across these fields and that if we did that, we might actually address the root cause of our legitimacy dilemma and our distrust dilemma in public systems right now. And that there's this other strain of thought out there lies that says, you know what? We just need to build new systems. We just completely need to get rid of the old systems. We need to build new systems. And actually, we don't even need to work with communities. We just need to make them really, really great. And we think that there are major problems with those approaches. We say, hey, look, if you want to build new structures and systems that work totally great. Have fun, have a blast. We wish you the best. And it's incumbent upon us to also do something with the tens of millions of children and families in our public education system right now, and that we have an urgency to move on and build a better system for them. We can't leave them be because of some intellectual pursuit over here. And then if we just build the best system in the world and we've seen this happen over and over again in education, lots of great ideas, lots of operational capacity deployed but lacking legitimacy and trust of the communities that serve and even the best system in the world will fundamentally be undermined and actually degrade trust in the community it serves. And we have to move to a place of increased social trust and connection with these institutions, or we're going to face even increasingly dire democratic dilemmas in our future.

Liza Holland [00:40:03]:

I couldn't agree with you more, and I think we could talk about this for days because that kind of opens up an entire can of worms there. Yeah, definitely put that in your thoughts and be thinking about it. I do want to go ahead and bring our time here to a close with a happy note. I'd love for each of you to share an experience that was just marvelous in your work or a favorite story about why you do the work you do. And it looks like Donnie gets to go first.

Doannie Tran [00:40:39]:

This is actually invoking some guests that you had on your show previously, my good friend Penny Christian, who is a member of the Kentucky United We Learn Council. And in our very first day of our last convening, we had a proposal on the table to focus in on a topic for the next day or so. And it was a very go along, get along kind of moment. Everybody was like, okay, that's fine. That sounds fine to me. And Penny was brave enough to use a consensus driven decision making model that is also described in the book called Fist of Five. So five means, I love this idea. I'm fully excited and committed to it. And a fist means, I actually cannot abide by this. I block this decision. And we asked about it, and it's about 70 people, and just mostly fives and fours and fives and fours and fives and fours. And then Penny just puts up a fist and says, no, I don't think that this is low hanging fruit. I don't think this is the right direction to go, and I don't think we've talked about it enough. And that moment unlocked something in that group. And I think a lot of facilitators who maybe aren't committed to open systems would say, this is terrible. We've messed up. We have done something wrong, when in fact, it really opened up the space for deliberation. People also said, oh, I was feeling we were getting a little steamrolled, but I was going to go along with it. And in the end, we had such deeper commitment to the idea that we did come up with and to the process as a whole that we wouldn't have gotten to had there not been a system of true consensus, true deliberation. I think we modeled democracy in that moment in a way that I'm still thinking and reflecting about, oh, what a.

Liza Holland [00:42:36]:

Great story, and that is so Penny, good for her. Good for her. And good for you for creating an atmosphere where she felt comfortable to do that. Landon, how about yourself?

Doannie Tran [00:42:47]:

Man, I love that story, and I.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:42:49]:

Think it's actually so critical to the idea of open systems, is how do we make decisions together? It's really we talked a lot in this podcast, Eliza, about kind of practicing democracy. And I think that it's really fascinating that one of the major important components of democracy is making decisions. And we are really bad about teaching and practicing decision making in our society. And I think that's just a really interesting, again, cognitive dissonance for me oftentimes. I just love that story so much. There's something we talk about in the book about the idea of communitas. And the idea of communitas is this idea of when something happens, and we all get to share in this moment of being a part of something. And it's like when your entire neighborhood gets out on the street and because there's a siren or something happened or something joyful occurs, and there's this momentary connection between all these people, and there's this space that is created where there's this sense that much more is possible. When we're all connecting, and you feel that buzz and that energy. And we talk about this a lot in the book in the context of at the end of processes. We experienced this idea of communitas where in Boulder, when we passed the recommendations to Reimagine school discipline, or when schools in rural Colorado built new models for community learning and did a celebration with their businesses, or in Kentucky, when there were big breakthrough moments. These are all really critical because, Liza, as humans, we're really bad at celebrating these beautiful moments. And we believe it's the responsibility of the open leader to hold that space for as long as possible and to help share, connect, and reflect on what the heck just happened here. Look, we just changed the system. We just made a movement forward. And so often, we just let that.

Doannie Tran [00:44:36]:

Go by in an instant.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:44:38]:

And we don't celebrate the people, the toil, the work, the challenge, the frustration that led to this beautiful, joyous moment of communitas where we actually are all in a space together, seeing what is now possible and that we think that we've now seen this across so many places and times that's what's on my mind right now is when people feel that something bigger is possible.

Doannie Tran [00:44:59]:

Holding that space to celebrate could not.

Liza Holland [00:45:02]:

Think of a better way to end this podcast. Landon thank you both so very, very much. Please check in the show notes. I'll put links in for the book and the website for the Open Systems Institute. And again, thank you. Thank you for being here.

Landon Mascareñaz [00:45:18]:

And happy birthday.

Doannie Tran [00:45:19]:

Liza thank you so much.

Liza Holland [00:45:22]:

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Education Education Perspectives. Feel free to share your thoughts on our Facebook page. Let us know which Education Perspectives you would like to hear or share. Please subscribe and share with your friends.