Transcription of the episode “Opening up: Recreating schools as a community”

[00:00:15] Amy H-L: I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. 

[00:00:17] Jon M: And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guests today are Landon Mascareñaz and Doannie Tran. Dr. Mascareñaz and Dr. Tran are co-authors of the recently published book, “The Open System: Redesigning Education and Reigniting Democracy.” Welcome, Landon and Doannie. 

[00:00:36] Landon M: Wonderful to be here. 

[00:00:39] Amy H-L: What do you mean by an open system?

[00:00:43] Landon M: Well, first off, Amy and Jon, we just want to say thank you for having us on, and thank you for all the work you do to spread the word about things that you care about in education. We need more advocates in education, and I think that’s a big part of your role. And I just want to say thanks for inviting us into the space. I feel like we have all the time zones covered actually on this podcast today, I think we’re pretty good. 

“The Open System” is a book that brings in a concept that began in biology and organizational theory back right after World War II, which is that organizations, organic systems, cybernetics, receive information from their external environment and in the Open System book. Doannie and I bring this concept into education, and use it as a way to understand the closed legacy systems that we’ve inherited in education, that have failed, in too many places, to co-create and co-design with the communities they serve, to propose path forward for more openness, which is more co-creation, more co-design, and an opportunity for citizen participation in the foundation of our democracy that can not only bring the future of education to the present, but create the opportunity for more and more of our citizens and community members to participate in such a critical aspect of our society.

[00:02:08] Jon M: You delineate three phases of shifting a system toward openness. Perhaps you could take us through those phases and give us a few examples of what they look like. 

[00:02:17] Doannie T: So we conceptualize open system work in three phases: preparing, provoking, and propelling. In the preparing phase, it starts with the internal reflection of what does it mean to be an open systems leader and then looks outwards to understand: what is the context in which I’m working; how do I define community in the context of openness?

The provoking phase is then about how do you create a space where co-creative work can actually be done: bringing people together, inviting with intention, bringing those people into a space where they can do deep work. And then also within the provoking phase is enacting and modeling a more robust and creative democratic process for deliberation, and where the unusually inclusive group that you’ve brought together is actually assembled to do and trained their shared expertise on a shared problem.

After the provoking phase, we’re then looking at how do we propel openness within your organizational context. First, we think about doing that through assembling abundance partnerships. So in the spirit of there being enough resources and time and energy for all organizations that want to be part of the work, how do we form those kinds of partnerships so that we can expand our capacity?

And then the final part of propelling is looking for opportunities to expand openness within your system. After you’ve had a successful open co-creation process, what are some other opportunities to also engage in that similar kind of work. 

[00:04:02] Jon M: I’m interested in this idea of an open system leader. Is it usually an individual who self-identifies and says, “I want to start this work?” How does that process work? 

[00:04:17] Landon M: One of the things that was important to Doannie and me in the course of writing this book is that his experience in Georgia and Boston, being a senior leader in school systems, and my experience helping to run the family engagement office here in Denver, is that we got to know a lot of these leaders, leaders who were leading turnaround efforts in fundamentally different ways, or inspired to think about the economic development of their community through their work as a school leader or as a superintendent. And so we sat down with a bunch of these folks, interviewed them, and spent time working with them to understand what were some of the key things that we saw. And it’s true some of them came to this work because they had to, because they were involved in a project that provoked them to confront themselves or confront the system that they were running as a closed system, or maybe in their heart, more closed off to the community than they wanted to be, and had to reconcile what that meant to actually lead in a co-creative fashion.

But there are a few things that we saw in these leaders that were important because, it is hard work. It’s not exactly what the system was originally designed to do. First is that they were very aligned in their purpose, their passion, and in their place, the community that they’re working in. And that when they were clear on the question they were there to answer, that their job and work in the community gave them passion and energy. And when they were very curious and clear and grounded in their community, it unlocked significant reservoirs of energy and opportunities for them as a leader. 

The second thing that we saw in all these leaders is the commitment to being a democratic leader, with a small d, versus an autocratic leader or a centralized command- and-control leader. And this is a leader who takes on big questions as what does it mean to confront the past in this community, but also move us forward? And then how do they also hold their heart open, their mind open, and their spirit open, which was some work that we found from Otto Scharmer and the Theory U practice, and it was very aligned to a lot of our work, and we found it to be integral to a lot of the open leaders that we met along the way. 

[00:06:16] Amy H-L: Are these phases, do they progress in a linear fashion or is this work ongoing? 

[00:06:25] Doannie T: Yeah, we, we wrote the, the book in and laid out the principles and phases of this work because we did find that there is a little bit of linearity to it. You do progress, to some extent, through each of the phases that we were talking about before, but that it’s often also recursive. You might find yourself after having, for example, to find a shared problem and a shared reality. You actually may need to go back and reconsider the group that you have assembled and introduce additional voices and capacity in order to be able to do the work.

That’s just one example of, of being responsive and not just barreling ahead in a bullish way. It’s actually thinking, pausing, reflecting about where you are, what you’ve learned, and how you might need to respond, which we think is also critical to an open system leader. 

[00:07:21] Jon M: In the book, you mentioned your work with several specific groups in different contexts. Could you describe a couple of the groups that you worked with and what that whole thing looked like, what the groups looked like and what they were working on? 

[00:07:37] Landon M: Sure. I’ll start with a couple examples of work that I either worked on or thought were pretty interesting as we got to dig into the book, and I’ll let Doannie share a little about some of the projects that he was connected to. The first one that I think is interesting to talk about is the Homegrown Talent Initiative, which was a project focused on rural Colorado, eight school districts, with the intent of building out pathways, internships, career-connected learning. And so much of that work that is pretty hot in the education space right now is actually usually done by a group of teachers in the back room designing a credential path. In the Homegrown Talent Initiative, we said we’re going to do something pretty different. We’re going to actually ask each of these communities to come together with their business leaders, their civic leaders, students, parents in particular, students for this from opportunity, and say, what is our aspiration for this work in our community, whether it’s Holyoke, Colorado on the Eastern Plains; Clear Creek, Colorado, up in the mountains; or Durango, down in the Four Corners region. And in these projects, the engagement and partnerships and new energy started to flow into each of these school systems. Sometimes people think in rural communities, everyone hangs out everywhere. They get along for everything. But actually, in many of these places, the school system and the higher ed are literally across the street from each other and don’t work together. The Homegrown Talent Initiative created an open system opportunity for leaders to call a new community into existence focused on the idea of the educonomy, this idea of education and economic development in rural communities.

One of the other projects that we talk about that was, I think, particularly relevant in the Covid pandemic was Chicago Connect, which was a project to bring a significant amount of community stakeholders together to co-create with parents and families a dramatic increase in internet access during the Covid pandemic to parents and families. It’s an example we use in the Abundance Partnership chapter. It’s a powerful example of rejecting scarcity dynamics and doing co-creation work and partnership work in a pretty big way, and it’s received a significant amount of awards and a recognition for the level of impact it has had on families and kids.

[00:09:37] Doannie T: I’ll share a little bit about work that’s happening at the state level in Kentucky. What I appreciate about the stories we were able to tell is that they span school level open systems, work district open systems work, and even at the state level as well. We were lucky enough to be a part of a project called the Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education, where we worked with the Commissioner of Education and the Department of Ed to bring together an unusually diverse group of stakeholders, actually twice as racially diverse as Kentucky as a whole, to reimagine what the future of education should look like in the Commonwealth. We engaged in an empathy-driven process. Each of the members of the coalition went out and did empathy interviews with people in their community, brought those back together, made sense of them, and came up with a list of themes that articulated what the problems with the current system are from their perspective, and also named an aspirational future vision for the future of education. That report became the launchpad for a local design process that was replicated across 18 communities across Kentucky to reimagine the student experience and also to change the nature of assessment and accountability. The state department was then in the position of listening and learning from the innovations that were happening across the state and was solving, embodying, an open system stance.

[00:11:10] Jon M: What were some of the obstacles that these groups had to overcome, and what enabled them to remain open systems?

[00:11:17] Landon M: It is a important question, Jon. I mean, I think there’s a few things that we talk about throughout the book. This is clearly a different way of operating than our traditional public education or just public systems at large. It requires new muscles at the leadership level, at the school level, at the system level. And what we often recommend to people doing, and some of the examples we give in the book are pretty big system shifts. Obviously what Doannie’s talking about in Kentucky is pretty big. The discipline work in Boulder was a pretty significant process, but we also talk about the micro openings: the home visits, the family nights, the opportunities to listen and learn to redesign how parents enter the buildings and to reconceptualize how the information flow occurs between the school and the community it serves. And that’s at the key part. So in each of the situations that we’ve talked about, whether it was in Homegrown Talent or in Kentucky, usually one of the first things community members say to these leaders is “are you serious? Is this a serious effort?” And what does it mean to take you credibly? And leaders, whether it’s the district leader or the school leader, have to spend a lot of time often processing the history of their community. 

You know, there’s an old adage in education that schools are the stages where our community dramas play out. And indeed, in many of these places, that’s a big part of the energy that the leader has to hold: the backstories, the channels, the history of what’s happened. And then we often have to help them and they have to help themselves through breaking through some of the traditional way that we’ve thought about task forces and committees or processes in the past.

And we talk about this also in the book, is that we have to admit to ourselves that the way that the task force and committee has often been done in education is broken. It’s a part of the reason why we see so much failure and challenge in this work around the country typically. There’s an application. The same people apply. They get on a task force and the group meets one hour a month, every month for the rest of the year, and there’s not much culture, momentum, or clarity or shared reality built. We recommend a fundamentally different type of process. We recommend that people have different methods of selection for different types of constituents. The essential stakeholders in your community versus the interested stakeholders that will apply versus taking an approach that’s emerging in the democracy innovations space around the world, which is leveraging something called sortition, which brings in almost like a jury panel for a discussion which disrupts the “traditional players” to have a different type of conversation.

And so these are the challenges that openers face in all these circumstances. And a big part of the book is naming those things and helping people with some clear moves on how to work through them and hold a space that will create that openness and then take everyone to the next page.

[00:14:06] Doannie T: I think that one other challenge that openers often face early in the process is not being clear enough with what the project is meant to do and what boundaries or guardrails need to be taken into account. People can swing a little bit too wide on a spectrum between having it be a completely blank slate and not giving any guardrails at all, and then having to impose a bunch of constraints later because they weren’t clear upfront, or on the other side, by having a process or a project that’s so narrow that there’s actually not a lot of room for creativity or co-creation. It’s actually a little bit, feels like a fait accompli to the community members that are a part of it. And so defining some project where it’s clear what the community is going to be able to do and have space to be creative within is part of the challenge I think for a lot of initial openers.

[00:15:09] Amy H-L: Obviously openness is by definition important, but how do you contend with organized groups that want to ban books or are overtly racist or homophobic? How do you deal with those sorts of situations? 

[00:15:27] Landon M: Well, I think it’s a important question, Amy, and it’s something that we’re talking with folks all over the country about, and it’s a major concern of educators in lots of places. If we open the doors, what’s going to happen when folks who have dramatically different beliefs, or potentially even in some cases violent beliefs, walk through the door? And I think that first and foremost, you know, obviously Doannie and I stand united against any hate and believe deeply that schools and our education system should be inclusive places where all students are free to be their full selves. And so that’s just full stop what we believe. We actually believe that openness is a key aspect of building a world where that actually gets to occur. Because when we’ve seen students and parents actually involved in process, we find that by default, typically it starts to listen and engage in fundamentally different ways.

A huge part of the processes that we’ve run, whether we’re in conservative rural communities or in progressive communities, or even somewhere in between, spaces where empathy interviews occur, where participants actually go and sit down with students and learn about their experience or other community members or businesses,. And back to the composition of the group that we talked about earlier, I think typically, or maybe most often the one to five most angry folks that show up at the board meeting aren’t invited into a robust political process that actually includes a significant diverse set of voices in the community where they have to advocate for their beliefs alongside lots of other folks. And typically, we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve forgotten how to practice the idea of sitting down and having those conversations. And I’ve been in the room with people when they’ve shared those beliefs, I would say, that are potentially hostile to kids and their identities. And when students and parents and other community members say, well, that’s not what we stand for.

And that’s not what we believe. And part of our work here is to design something for the system to move forward. A democratic process occurs where a shared reality builds where people say, yeah, you can believe a thing. And we may very much disagree with you, but we are hearing so much else here. And through building a consensus process when we’ve worked on these processes, typically we shoot for 80 to 90% agreement on critical issues. And we have found that oftentimes just the very act of learning together softens people’s beliefs and encourages a different type of discourse to move forward. And in fact, I think an important thing to name is that we’ve actually seen community groups both from the left and the right be told, no, you don’t have a place in this school. And that actually just builds the pressure on the other side, and that there becomes more and more questions about what’s happening in the school when it’s just like, no your questions are illegitimate. And I’ve seen that actually happen with lots of civil rights parent organizing groups who have put pressure on schools to become more equitable. Schools often say, you know what, we don’t need this pressure. And so while I might have a political belief that says a certain thing, we think that the work of the school leader, the work of the open leaders to create a space where pluralism can mix it up and a space strong enough for a shared reality and discussion to emerge.

[00:18:44] Jon M: You mentioned the idea of looking for 80 to 90% agreement, and in the book you are very clear that you’re trying to move away from a 50% plus one decision making process. Could you talk a little bit about that? What’s that actually look like in practice? 

[00:19:00] Landon M: Sure. Well, a number of potential consensus building and consensus driven decision making processes that we discuss. I’ll bring up one concrete example. So there’s a process that’s familiar to folks in a lot of education circles called fist to five. So it’s a way of signaling the level of agreement instead of making it a binary. If a proposal is clearly stated, then assembled group, which could be any number of people, put up anything between a fist to a five, so 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. And a fist means that it’s blocked, like the proposal can’t move forward. And the five means like incredible levels of excitement for the proposal. So for something to move forward in a traditional fist to five process, you could have fours, fives, ones, twos from, you know, a distribution of those across the whole group, and it would signal then that ones aren’t thrilled about it, but they’re willing to go along with the proposal as stated.

And what we have found is that we can often get to consensus actually, but we set the bar in some processes, at up to 10% of the room can put a block on a proposal. Which is much, much higher of a level of consensus than 50 plus one. And it can, you can feel the energy when people are displaying that level of commitment through that consensus process.

We were inspired by a lot of works that occurred in the eighties and nineties around the subject of communitarianism, which was a strand of political thinking around understanding the dynamics of how communities become bound together and evolve and just shape over time. And one of the things that was very clear in a lot of the communitarian literature is that a brittle majority actually does a lot to pull a community apart, and that 50 plus one as a decision making process has a significant impact on the 49 that get left behind. That may actually be just inches away from agreement on the actual proposal. To Doannie’s point, and we’ve seen this over and over and over again, where actually people who politically may think themselves on the same page, have interesting conversations. When I’m a five and you’re a two and you have a concern, I’m like, oh man, I didn’t even think about that. It moves us away. To Doannie’s point, from this dichotomous yes-no thinking toward a deeper understanding of what it means to build and bridge together, and I think pretty important to a part of that fifth principle for us, model creative democracy.

What does it mean for us to understand other ways of being and practicing democracy? In indigenous communities, consensus was often deployed as a democratic structure, and I think that in our American system, we’ve become obsessed with 50 plus one, and I think it’s important for us to understand other ways and approaches of making decisions.

[00:21:59] Jon M: Many creative initiatives don’t survive their founders or key initial participants. How can this be avoided?

[00:22:09] Doannie T: Sure. You know, one of the most important things, Jon, that you bring up is the idea of a durable solution, something that actually keeps going beyond this breakthrough moment. And we talk about that a little bit in the book. Where we’ve seen a lot of creative openers succeed is when they’re leaning into the idea of co-creation. Hey, I’m starting a new school, I’m starting a new initiative. We’re going to design this new thing together. Let’s co-create and let’s bring all these stakeholders together, business, community. But one of the things we talk a little bit about in the book is sharpening our understanding of going deeper into the implementation work around co-production.

If co-creation is the promise, co-production is the commitment, keeping stakeholders at the table in the long term for the implementation of the exciting creative initiative. In the Year Zero Turnaround schools that we talk about in the Knowing Your Community chapter. In the book, Denver Public Schools embarked on something called Year zero Turnaround, where instead of just turning the switch over, handing a new leader the keys and saying, go do turnaround, which we know has failed across this country, they said, actually we’re going to, we’re going to hire two leaders, one to hold the ship together for the year, a veteran leader, and we’re going to hire a new leader to do a community design for a full year to bring the community on board. That act of co-creation was very powerful, but these leaders didn’t stop there. They actually reconfigured those advisory committees that had helped them design the school into oversight groups where parents and businesses and community members participated in the ongoing management of the school, which allowed [inaudible]. Many of these leaders have since departed. Community members to still be committed and connected to the ongoing work of building a school. It’s hard work. It’s challenging, but we think it’s an important discussion to have to move from co-creation to co-production, to make the work successful, and we also talk about the need to focus less on perfection and more on progress. A lot of the things that can blow up emerging openness is when it doesn’t meet this mythical bar of a perfect system.

People need to ground themselves in making progress towards being more responsive, and to celebrate and appreciate what they’ve learned from going through that process. We have a phrase for it that we talk about in the book, Communitas, the sense that we need to take a step back at the close of a project and acknowledge that there was incredible progress and incredible learning, and to name and catalog some of that for the collective benefit of everybody that’s there because it’s those, those lessons that metacognition about how we did the work and what we accomplished that can provide a lot of momentum into the next phase of work.

[00:24:57] Amy H-L: Often these types of partnerships fall apart because of conflicts over money or credit. How do you avoid this? 

[00:25:06] Landon M: Man, Amy, it’s so real. You see it all the time. We talk about this a lot in the Abundance Partnerships chapter. Why did they get the grant? Why are they working on that thing? Why aren’t we the lead on this? It’s a significant challenge in our space, and I would say that in the social impact community, the nonprofit space, we see a significant scarcity orientation that that ruptures and actually damages a significant amount of partnerships, usually even before inception. And if they survive inception, then the ongoing work is tremendously challenging to hold the pieces together.

We talk a little bit about how the opener needs to reconceive more of an abundance frame, which is rejecting a tally marking system. Who gets credit here? Who gets the dollars over there, and lean in to radical clarity and real conversations around what is the actual issue with the money? How do we work together? Let’s give real feedback on the issues. A significant amount of our experience when these partnerships fall apart, and I’ve been a part of many coalitions, managed many endeavors like this, and some of the most exciting partnerships that I’ve seen move into an abundant space. For example, I’m working on one right now where a dozen school districts are working together in new and exciting ways. I mean, that’s pretty hard. A dozen school districts building shared capacity. That’s a lot going on there. There has to be recognition that not everyone will be in the front all the time. There has to also be a trusted convener, an intermediary, a broker that allows, whether it’s a facilitator or a neutral space that everyone trusts. And oftentimes this doesn’t occur and there’s not enough intentionality in the construction of the intermediary or the broker. And the commitment to clarity, as my dad says, clarity is a gift we give to ourselves and other people. And that’s a key aspect of how the work has to move forward.

[00:27:01] Jon M: How do you resolve tensions and issues of differential power between those furthest from opportunity and those with technical expertise or institutional power? 

[00:27:12] Landon M: Well, one of the things that we try to do at the beginning of any creation of a working group or task force or a coalition is name that we actually all have expertise in very different things, and that our job here is to surface all of that expertise and create a space where we can learn from one another. That’s a great way to begin a process. But the question is how do you then actually live out that commitment. And in a couple of processes that we’ve worked on, actually building in opportunities, reflecting on their experience as a member of the team in ways that are increasingly verbalized . So, well, we create opportunities for people to pause and reflect on power dynamics, and we do it in, in a scaffolded way where they get to do it privately and for themselves, and then making that reflection more and more public so that everybody’s learning about how their engagement is shaping the experience of others in the room. So it begins as a personal reflection and then it becomes an anonymous survey, becomes a debrief, like a verbalized coalition. That process can help shape an environment and a space where people feel like they are equitable contributors. 

I think one of the things that we designed in the book to take on this question is in… Every chapter, in every set of principles, we have a callout for what’s the liberatory move around this principle. So in the questions around your leadership, who are you listening to, what are the affinity patterns you’re most interested in listening to? Are there race or class groups you’re most attracted to having conversations with? When you think about your community, when you think about designing a breakthrough space, what kind of tables are you building? Who are you going to to have conversations about your community overall? And in every one of the principles, we actually list a series of questions that leaders need to reflect on to ensure that they’re taking on a commitment to ensure that all voices are included in the process, in particular, those far from opportunity.

[00:29:20] Jon M: You’ve cautioned about issues with raising initiatives to scale. Could you talk about this?

[00:29:29] Doannie T: Yes. One of the things that we think is important to the concept of the open system is something that we learned a lot from Margaret Wheatley, who is an awesome leadership writer and scholar. Her book, “Who do We Choose to Be” was a critical touchstone for many of us in the Covid pandemic to understand, and she actually talks in the book a lot about open system design moving from a technical to an organic understanding of systems and humanity. And as you can imagine, an open system does a lot more of an organic, connective, regenerative process. The information flows in, the system redesigns and, like breathing in and breathing out, creates an opportunity for revitalization and new life to be occurring. And oftentimes our very technocratic compulsion to grow and to scale means that we find ourselves actually pressing copy paste on solutions that worked in one community into another, and that if we actually think about adaptation instead of replication and scale, then we can understand the work of community, different driven design in a fundamentally different way.

When we think about the Homegrown Talent Initiative, we’re going from eight communities to over 60 communities across Colorado. That’s an enormous amount more. Communities are part of our wider community, and yet we are holding space for every single one of those communities to go on their own journey, to define their aspirations differently, to define how they think about their priorities differently. And we’re not talking about replication, we’re talking about adaptation. And I think that that inspires and connects leaders in fundamentally different ways. In Kentucky, we went from six communities to 18 and saw very similar things. And I think as we went through those cycles of growth, in the spirit of openness and co-creation, we invited each of the earlier cohorts to help us redesign, edit, adapt, and transform the process for all later cohorts and got them into community with one another so that they could be learning about each other’s experiences.

[00:31:33] Amy H-L: So for educators who are listening and would like to get a process of openness started, where do you suggest they start? 

[00:31:44] Doannie T: I think that what we try to ask people to consider is what is this? What is the thing that would benefit both politically and technically from the process of co-creation? And where’s the open opportunity that presents itself? And it has to be a meaty enough problem that is worth people’s time It a lso has to be an opportunity that has the support of the executive or manager in that person’s life and the governance structure around them. For example, if you’re a school leader, you would need to consider what your supervisor would be open to co-creating, around and also, if you’re a charter school and you have a board, or if you have, you know, some governance council that oversees your work, there has to be space that they would define as being open for co-creation. What we’ve seen is that conversation proceeding in a thoughtful way from a leader and deciding that, yep, okay, we can maybe take on our scheduling process or what about grading? It really is up to that political choice within the context of your setting what is possible, what is the open moment that’s available to you and your community? And we think that questioning possibility is everything because the open system work is about trust building.

We’ve seen lots of very well-intentioned educators and system leaders, because they feel burdened by the past, as we talked about earlier, in a lot of top-down initiatives, just say “let’s do whatever the community wants,” but that might not actually be politically possible or feasible. And by actually inviting that conversation, you actually then degrade trust in the system in the long term. And few things do that like a failed community process. 

[00:33:39] Jon M: An open systems mindset is very different from what most people involved with schools have experienced, and I can imagine even somebody who wants to start this process or be involved in this process may have lots of questions and may have issues with actually how to do it. How do you train and support people in making this transition?

[00:34:03] Landon M: It’s an important question, Jon. I think the first step is building consciousness about your system and understanding where it’s on close to open dynamic. And I love this idea of questions. We spend a lot of time in the book, and you could probably see, asking questions, because we think that each community has different answers. And so there’s a ton of questions on how to do this. We have some moves and principles in the book to guide the way forward. But critically, it’s about questions and inquiry and curiosity to move toward an open system approach and what it’s going to look like in Akron is going to be different from Holyoke, Colorado.

That being said, Doannie and I are very interested in some innovative ways to approach this. We’ve been working with an organization called Seek Common Ground over the past six months to essentially do a leadership network where leaders from around the country, education leaders, coalition leaders, nonprofit leaders, district leaders, come together to actually practice this work and simulate the work of democracy-building. So that’s, Amy, you’d be the mayor and Jon, you’d be the superintendent. Doannie’s a parent and I’m a school board member. And we have a dilemma that we have to actually simulate and work through, because let’s be honest, to your point, Jon, no one gives our teachers or educators or system leaders at-bats on working with community. It’s a very high stakes, scary thing to do. As Amy was talking about earlier, there’s so much politics right now in our education system, and we say that the answer is not to avoid the politics, but to actually train leaders in practicing ways of having a hostile conversation with community members or to come to a consensus agreement or to deal with all sorts of decision-making and structures that come with it.

And we think that’s going to be a lot of fun to keep playing and exploring with leaders from around the country. And the joy of working with those leaders has been a blast because first off, people just have such a good time not doing sit-and-get, which is our traditional way of delivering a PD in education. Actually getting up and moving around and having conversations, and as the model UN nerd in me, I get a kick out of seeing people do it too. And I think many of your listeners might be familiar with the wonderful writer and organizer, Adrian Marie Brown. And she has this wonderful saying that, “small is good, small is all.”

Don’t be afraid of the small, open bite. Just try a little bit of co-creation on for size, if you’re a teacher. Collaborate with your students to create a classroom structure or system. If you’re a principal, work with some parents to redecorate a hallway. The bites don’t always need to be swinging for the fences in terms of what you co-create or what you decide to make open to your community. Just embrace the smallness of it and be okay with it. 

[00:36:48] Jon M: 

Thank you, Landon Mascareñaz and Doannie Tran. The book is “The Open System: Redesigning Education and Reigniting Democracy.” 

[00:36:58] Amy H-L: And thank you listeners. Check out our new video series, What Would YOU Do?, a collaboration with EdEthics and Go to our website,, and click Video. In the first case study, a teacher using action civics faces pushback from a parent. The goal of this series is not to provide right answers, but to illustrate a variety of ethical viewpoints.

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