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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Soap-Opera Schools

Soap-Opera Schools

By Trent Provo
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Principal, Meadowlawn Elementary
Twin Lakes School Corporation
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            Soap operas have been airing in the United States for well over fifty years.  Most have the following in common: Love triangles, outlandish plots, over-the-top acting, and last, but not least, DRAMA. 
What is it that makes these programs so popular that people will watch them for half a century? Is it that they allow people to escape from their everyday lives and experience a fantasy world?  Do viewers enjoy the entertainment value of the plot lines?  Or could it be the drama? 
Soap operas are a lot like some of our schools, it seems.
No single organization is immune to drama and its effects. 
In their book, Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires, Dr. Nate Regier and Jeff King (2013) define drama as "the pattern of habitual and predictable roles that cover up our best selves, justified by myths, which move us further away from solutions, healthy relationships, and effectiveness" (p. 26). Drama invites us to put on figurative masks and play roles that are certainly not representative of our best selves. 
When drama takes place in schools, it leads to a decrease in productivity, morale, and overall effectiveness, not to mention time wasted by principals who are trying to make sense of it all while working to diffuse it. 
Let's take a look.
Teacher A: A good teacher. His students are motivated; they achieve above the state average on state assessments and show above-average academic growth.  He is dedicated to the schools mission and champions the cause of the at-risk student.  At times, however, he will push his beliefs about classroom management and best practice upon others, and when school leadership does something that he would consider shortsighted, he will not hesitate to hold court in the teachers lounge.   At times, his tone comes across as preachy, as if he were saying, "Do you mean to tell me, given the fact that we offered our input, that it was completely discounted?  Wheres the commitment to the faculty!?"  He has been known from time to time to sidebar with parents at the local Walmart and offer critiques of their childrens current teachers. Every so often, he looks for the faults in others and at times, forsakes others for having a lack of commitment. 
Teacher B:  A good teacher.  Her students are usually at or above the state average on state assessments and show typical growth.  She cares about her students and forms relationships with students and parents.  She considers her students her flock, and at times will over-adapt to them when they are misbehaving.  While in distress this teacher acts as a victim.  She droops around on some days, not looking as well-accessorized as she does on others, almost as if someone has hurt her feelings.  She appears down on herself when things arent going her way, and often says that she deserves what she gets.  She bemoans how hard she works, yet at times she feels that nothing she ever does is good enough. 
Teacher C:  A good teacher.  Students are performing and love her class.  In fact, she is the chairperson of the buildings Teacher Assistance Team.  Oftentimes, when other teachers are having problems with students, she will help them with strategies that she feels will make a difference.  Yet at times, shell go too far.  Shell spend her preparation periods in other teachers classes helping supervise off-task students.  Shell even help those students complete their assignments, taking the responsibility off of their shoulders.  So that teachers can have more planning time, shell even offer to take their classes or their extra-duty assignments so that they have more time to work on curricular alignment or pacing guides.  Shes the peace-maker in the teachers lounge and one who often will quietly sweep conflict under the rug by placating as many people as she can, instead of inviting others to be accountable.
In each of the descriptions above, the teachers respond differently to distress.  One is a Persecutor; another is a Victim, and a third is a Rescuer.  Regier & King (2013) might concur, per the fascinating discoveries of Stephen Karpman that they noteded in their book.  In our example, each of these teachers handles his or her distress in a different way, each as part of Karpmans Drama Triangle.
What does this cycle of drama mean for school leaders? 
Imagine if these teachers could avoid this sort of distress, or at least provide for their own needs more effectively so that they would not allow distress to affect their teaching.  Kahler (2008) offered tools that a school leader can use to help with this. The most important thing to consider is that we as school leaders must focus on people.  In doing so, we can then recognize drama and help to put an end to it.  Better relationships allow for educational effectiveness, critical in successful schools. 
Teachers need to be as close to their best selves as they can be, everyday.  They owe it to their students; they owe it to themselves. If workers at a factory face drama and their effectiveness suffers, then they could produce faulty products. These products, albeit substandard and at times, even unsafe, can be recalled by the manufacturer.
 If teachers face drama and are less effective, can we recall the students?  Do they have a second chance at market dominance? 
We all know the answer.
Schools are creating a product that our country depends on more than anything else.  And on the way to becoming economically competitive and socially responsible, our students are relying upon us as both clients and customers.  Is a daily Soap Opera the script that students arrive at school to purchase?
As school leaders, once we recognize drama, we can use appropriate tools for human relations that we have at our disposal (Kahler, 2008).  Our first step is to recognize the personalities of those involved in the drama, as well as the roles our staff members may play in their own Academy Award-Winning Performances.  The next is to communicate openly and honestly with our staffs.  Regier & King (2013) noted that this is being compassionate with them.
The way these messages are delivered is often more important than the messages themselves.  With this in mind, it could be said that ones channel of communication (Kahler, 2008) can help change the channel on any given days hourly broadcast.


Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model: Six personality types with adaptations. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates.

Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: Transcending energy Vampires. Newton, KS: Next Element Publishing.


Trent Provo and Ryan Donlan believe DRAMA is quite influential in student and staff underperformance today in our nation’s schools.  They wish to invite K-12 education in America to move from where it is to an even better place.  If you would like to have a conversation with our authors, please feel free to contact them at or 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Who is Guiding Our Students?

Who is Guiding Our Students?

By Jill Robinson Kramer
Associate Vice President Planning & Research
Ivy Tech Community College
Indiana State University Doctoral Student
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

As parents of young children, we talk to them about where they want to go to college, not if they want to go to college.  College is a foregone conclusion.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true for all families.
Some children start their lives with a certain degree of privilege, even at times with College Savings Plans.  Many of the fortunate, of financial means or not, have their parents’ visions of and experiences in college passed down to them.
Other students, whom we may refer to as potential first-generation college students, may wonder how to get to college and if by chance they get there, yearn from semester to semester for belonging, purpose, and the means to pay for tuition, books, and basic expenses. These challenges confront students each day.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s College Readiness Report annually documents student academic enrollment and course-level placement in the state’s public colleges and universities based on secondary school factors such as diploma type, high school of record, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and academic performance.
Did you know that Indiana ranks 14th among states as to the percent of its high school graduates who go directly to college (66 percent) (National Center, 2011) yet is 34th among states in the percent of adults who hold a postsecondary degree, at 36.1 percent (U.S. Department, 2012)? 
Educators, community groups, and policy-makers have pushed for equitable college access during the past two decades, yet supports for college completion have lagged. What happens prior to college is a strong predictor of completion in college.
Diploma type is one factor that can affect students’ chances for college success.
For example, of the 2,553 students who earned a general diploma, 78 percent needed remediation, as they did not place into college-level courses, while 38 percent of the 17,119 students earning a Core 40 diploma needed remediation.  Only 7 percent of students earning an Honors diploma were placed into remedial courses (Indiana Commission, 2013b).
Remedial courses might not sound such a bad place to be enrolled, if one needs the help, yet in many cases, students enrolled are required to pay full tuition, without these courses counting toward a college degree.
That’s a lot of investment for a lesser tangible dividend.
We’re surprised, actually, given the intended rigor of an Honors diploma, to see any of these students, 946 in total, testing into courses that are not at college-level (Indiana Commission, 2013b).  Ivy Tech, for example, recently changed its placement policies so students who earn certain grade point averages place directly into college-level courses. Did college advisors suggest placement testing as the first alternative?  Did students and families fail to provide high school transcripts that would have allowed for direct placement?
The need for remediation and sporadic under-preparation of students coming from K-12 education to higher education causes tension. All too often K-12 gets blamed, a victim it seems of another’s persecutor in an unhealthy relationship.  Regier and King (2013) speak of accountability in healthy relationships, where we are to a certain degree responsible to others, yet first to ourselves, through our behavior.  It is with this in mind that we wish to remain “open” as to what is happening in terms of children’s under-preparedness.  Let’s not let drama carry the conversation.
Business and industry blame “Education.”  Within our profession, higher education blames K-12, and oftentimes, K-12 blames parents and “poverty.”  Blaming poverty is very fashionable, it seems. Instead, might we identify a simple fact that seems ever-present – That some students simply do not know what they need to do to prepare for success in college?
Clearly, the alignment of K-12 and higher education curricula would seem an avenue for increased preparation. Additionally, high school counselors might be benefit from knowing the (ever-changing) postsecondary admission and placement policies. Finally, students and parents might be encouraged to become more active consumers of the education for which they are paying.
Let us ask ourselves within the current structures of secondary schools, “Who is advising these students along every step of their journeys?”   Ideally it would start in the home.
Yet, with only one-third of Hoosier adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher, many of our secondary students miss-out on effective parental guidance to allow for the best decisions regarding college access and success.  So that leaves again, an “all other duties as assigned” job bullet, for someone in any community’s high school.
That someone is typically the high school counselor.
Yet, does that profession itself even have clarity of what is expected of it?
This spring, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation revisited the history and impact of school counseling in Indiana with its report Twenty Years After High Hopes Long Odds: Indiana School Counseling in 2014. “For the last 50 years, that tension between whether school counseling is designed to help students prepare for work, to enter college or overcome social/emotional challenges has remained” (Fleck, 2014, p. 8).
Indiana is one of 26 states that mandates school counselors in K-12 schools.  However, the student-to-counselor ration is one of the highest in the nation, even among states that don’t mandate counselors at 620:1 (Fleck, 2014).  Low college attainment rates among Indiana’s adult populations and high counselor-to-student ratios in professional positions that split their daily duties among administration, behavioral intervention, and college/career planning, give rise to the reality that many of our students lack a college-and-career road map.
We would further suggest that it is not the parents’ or the counselors’ fault. 
It’s a systems-design flaw in a society that is wanting for intervention.
Might others share with students that if they do not earn an Honors diploma in high school that their chances of graduating college decrease? Do students know that going part-time decreases their chances of graduating college?  Who might talk to them about it?  It is an important topic, considering that of the 2012 graduates who attended college, 80 percent attended full-time, while just five years ago, 90 percent of college-going students in Indiana attended full-time (Indiana Commission, Key Takeaways, 2013a).   We’re losing ground.
Who’s talking to the students, when counselors are chasing standardized testing windows, disaggregated data reports, and “other administrative duties as assigned”?  Leaving no stone unturned in finding a creative solution is imperative; communities may have our answer.
Commission data provided us some enlightening news:  Thirty-five percent of 21st Century Scholar Students needed remediation compared to 42 percent of students with similar financial backgrounds (Indiana Commission, State Report, 1). Thus, it seems that a financial promise, coupled with intentional college preparation services, may have an academic impact on students, evidenced by the fact that more of the 21st Century Scholars are college-ready.
            As educators, how do we increase expectations of all students who come through our buildings while empowering guidance counselors with the time and permissions to focus on the college and career readiness portions of their jobs? A clear disconnect currently exists between student aspirations of going to college and college completion once there.
Would a viable answer be to suggest relief for some of the political pressures placed upon schools that seem to rest upon the shoulders of the guidance counselors, so that they can reclaim an equal emphasis on course scheduling, emotional intervention, and college and career planning?


Fleck, M. (2014). Twenty Years After High Hopes Long Odds: Indiana School Counseling in 2014. Indianapolis: Indiana Chamber Foundation.
Indiana Commission for Higher Education. (2013a.). College Readiness Report: Key Takeaways. Indianapolis. Retrieved from
Indiana Commission for Higher Education. (2013b.). College Readiness Report: State Level Report. Indianapolis. Retrieved from
National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (2011). College-Going Rates of High School Graduates. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
Regier, N. & King, J. (2013). Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires. Newton, KS: Next Element Publishing. Retrieved from Kindle.
U.S. Department of Education. (2012). New State-by-State College Attainment Numbers Show Progress Toward 2020 Goal. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from


Jill Robinson Kramer and Ryan Donlan are stanch champions about the power of college completion in providing high-quality life experiences for students that are economically productive and socially responsible.  If you have ideas for how they can better encourage ALL with a vested interest in student success to counsel “just a little bit,” please consider contacting them at or 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Special Person; A Special Story

A Special Person; A Special Story

By Sarah Wareham
District Autism Consultant
Office of Special Services
MSD of Wayne Township Schools
Indiana State University Doctoral Student
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            When meeting someone new or catching up with friends, often the question, “How are things going at work?” comes into the conversation.  For those of us whose work is our life’s calling, this topic is one that we are proud to embrace and will talk for hours when given the chance.  We embrace the occasion to share our experiences with those around us, informing their understanding through our lens, and at times, asking for theirs.  Yet how often do we ask ourselves, “What is their take-away?”
            As educators, we have a special opportunity to tell our story each time the topic comes up, not only our story of our week, but also the story of education, itself.   Education is the one profession in which everyone in our country has experience, and an opinion, as we all have attended schooling of one form or another.  These experiences have made all of our current professions, livelihoods, and even our abilities made possible to provide for family, friends, and loved.
Have we considered that we can use this to our advantage when telling our story? 
Dr. Brad Balch in our Department of Educational Leadership probably articulates this best in the Bayh College of Education, the need for educators to become more active in defining the realities of our current profession for inquiring minds who want to know.  We believe that telling our stories allows us to better connect with those around us, forging bonds to each person’s K-12 experiences through the emotional connections we have felt, either positively or negatively.  For this reason, K-12 educators have an obligation to leave lasting impressions on our friends and family by telling the stories of our experiences.  Yet do we take these opportunities when given?
            Currently, a disconnect exists between the portrait of education painted through the media and the reality of what is happening in our schools.  If we had no direct experience in schools, we might think that the future of public education is dismal and  further, that society is crumbling because of it.  Unfortunately, this IS true in isolated instances of abject neglect for student learning, and for students in these circumstances, we need immediate and effective actions taken to provide them better for personally meaningful lives that are economically productive and socially responsible. 
However, for most students in our country, the K-12 system of education is moving along quite well -- the need for a systemic overhaul simply isn’t pressing, despite the haranguing of pundits and pontificators.  Often unshared in the mainstream is the fact that there are many great things happening for students in our schools, YES, in the traditional, public schools that have been around for many, many years. 
Take for instances the partnerships with the orthopedic industry and the efficacy in leadership at all levels in the Warsaw Community Schools under the stewardship of a dynamic, new, and innovative Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert; or the leadership in school safety and academic intervention in the Vigo County Public Schools, led by Superintendent Danny Tanoos, his fine staff, and local law enforcement officials.  Consider further the work of Dr. George Van Horn, Director of Special Education in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, and CAST who are working to imbed the principles of universal design for learning across their entire school corporation. 
Incredible people are doing special things for students, families, and communities, some shared and many not.  What is our obligation?
Amidst the sensationalized bludgeoning that is currently en-vogue with many desiring election to office, from the PTO President to the local school board to state and national positions, it is our duty as educators to step out of the victim role and stop whimpering about how the media and politicians are bullying us.  If in moving through victimhood we can access the openness though which to envision another role for ourselves, we can then begin a path through resourcefulness and persistence in sharing our message – our special stories.
 In doing so, we will then recognize that each time we speak of all the special stories happening with teachers, children, paraprofessionals, and parent volunteers, we very much have the ability to change the way others think.  Our stories are emotionally compelling.  More than that, our stories are honest, regaling feats of heroism in the face of adversity – Of that special teacher making a positive difference above all odds, serving as the parent, the coach, or the confidant desperately needed in a given situation. 
We bet that you have more than a few of these very special people in your school building.  How can we tell their stories?
Consider the power in the fact that when we tell folks that we are teachers, and DO IT RIGHT, the number one response really isn’t as much, “I’ll bet you love your summers,” rather it is more genuinely, “It takes a special person to do that!  I could never be a teacher!” 
Again, that’s when we do our job in telling what is actually special about when the buses drop-off children, each and every day.
Let’s capitalize on this sentiment and take those around us from where they are to a better place in understanding why our educational system is making a positive difference in a civilized society’s challenges, with its bottom line that special people, well-trained to supplant what society unintentionally abrogates, are working incredibly hard for students sent to us by parents who with few exceptions, are simply “doing the best they can with the hands in life they were dealt.” 
Their stories then become interwoven in our partnerships, and in our lives – very special, indeed.


Sarah Wareham is a Doctoral Student in Educational Leadership in the 26th Ph.D. Cohort Residency at Indiana State University, studying Human Relations in Educational Administration with Ryan Donlan, Assistant Professor in Educational Leadership.  If you would like to share a story of your own with them, please feel free to contact them at or at  They would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Have You Ben Bass Fishing?

Have You Ben Bass Fishing?

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

The first time I’d Ben Bass fishing was a few days ago.

My wife Wendy and I felt like elementary school children in a grocery store happening across one of our favorite teachers from school.  Through our eyes, it wasn’t an educator at all; in that context, it was a MOVIE STAR.

Well actually, it was. 

As we passed U.S. Customs and rounded yet another corner in a labyrinth of a pedestrian holding area in Toronto’s Air Canada International Terminal, I said quietly, “Honey, you might want to get your camera.” 

After “Why?” and a few looks here and there, she saw coming our way, American screen and television actor, Ben Bass most recently Sam Swarek on ABC’s Rookie Blue with a history of great acting since the 1980’s.

As we approached, I leaned across the rope and quietly extended my hand, mentioning that Wendy and I were fans of his work.  His response was warm, one of affability and thereafter, delightful conversation.  Admittedly, we took a picture.

When the next pass brought us together, Ben asked about our careers at Indiana State University and particularly, our trip to Tokyo, and as lines later reconstituted at the metal detectors, we were provided a bit more time to discuss his most recent production project, which sounded really cool, by the way. 

My point in the Leadershop today is to discuss stargazing, in terms of its connection to education and our children.  Star treatment, as well.

I would like to ask educators, admittedly with a play-on-words that sounded more profound with jet lag, “Have you Ben Bass fishing lately?”

We walked away from meeting Ben feeling better than we walked into it, even exhausted from a whirlwind trip to Tokyo with my own presentations, day-long sessions, and a 12-hour flight.  At one point, we rose at 2 a.m. to get in line for the famed early-morning Tuna Auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market, as only 120 spots were available. 

Ben listened with interest as we shared what we learned about Tokyo, especially the part about seeing only two police officers among what seemed a million people -- a city where crime isn’t fashionable.  Indicative of this was the safety of our midnight ride from subway-to-subway after visiting the Tokyo Tower (13 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower, by the way).

We ended our conversation quickly, yet not-at-all in a hurry.  No autographs signed; rather it was simply a situation of movie-star-meeting-fans in a public setting, unexpectedly – sort of like an elementary student seeing his or her “movie-star teacher” out and about in town.

One might assume that the harried nature of anyone’s day could adversely affect a star’s receptiveness with fans grateful to be in the moment.  Not so with Ben.  His day had been long; in fact, weeks prior were as well.  Still, he took the time and interest that a superstar, as I define it, would.

When we hire teachers and school leaders for schools, can we say that we have Ben Bass fishing? 

Do we “catch” those who, when discovered in contexts out-of-school, show as much interest in those discovering them as the persons star-struck? 

How often is “movie star” in the job description?  After all, isn’t oftentimes the local convenience store parking lot, Hollywood Boulevard?

I remember intentionally carving out an extra hour in Wal-Mart each week while a K-12 Principal and Superintendent.  Wendy and I still fondly remember how shopping trips used to be; I was stopped at least two-to-three times per visit by students and parents wanting a chat.  Sometimes I was the leading man like Ben; from time-to-time, the bad guy – yet, always, one whose starring role listened with interest.

I see my own children star-struck every time they see teachers “Mrs. Engle,” “Mrs. Noble, “ or “Mrs. Johnson,” in public.  It’s a BIG DAY when we see their principal, “Mrs. Cassell.” 

In those contexts, my colleagues in K-12 are truly movie stars, and like Ben Bass, I’m grateful that these fine educators show interest in their fans, understanding the import of their actions in the moment. Their time is truly an autograph; the consideration of their signatures, indelible.

Can we say this of all in our schools?

Will we be able to say upon retirement that we had Ben Bass fishing, each time we made a K-12 hire, reeling-in another for a 30-year career?

Imagine if students continued wanting those autographs, as they matriculated through middle school and beyond.


Dr. Ryan Donlan often wonders what would inspire teachers and principals as much as the stars of television and movie screen do for all of us.  Capturing a bit of this transcendental experience might do well for all of us, vicariously helping our children move from where they are to a better place.  Please help him discover this by writing him at or calling him at (812) 237-8724.  He’ll pass this along to his Ph.D. students, who can then pass it along to those they hire.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coaching the Invisible, Invisibly

Coaching the Invisible, Invisibly

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Having my dad and other family members in town for our ISU Sycamore Homecoming Weekend was a treat!  My students even gave me the weekend off, so that I could enjoy some quality time, which consisted mostly of good food, football, covered bridge festivals, and reminiscing. 

What was particularly interesting was my dad’s recollection of a childhood coach, my second coach actually, whose actions were indiscernible to himself, yet made an indelible impression on me.

I was a quiet kid, not much a fan of the sport I was playing, yet played because I thought I should.  Not bringing much game at first, I had the blessing of my first coach’s care and attention.  He helped me elevate my game to a level that rose above the waterline of my initial embarrassment.  I believed in myself and more importantly, believed that hard work and effort would bring improvement and enjoyment.

Fast forward to the next year, where I had a coach who would do anything to ensure a win for “his boys.” 

That was the problem.

He wasn’t overtly critical.  He wasn’t mean.  He simply, through action and inaction, did not help those who were average and below, those less apt to advance the score.

It is interesting how the quiet disenchantment I had for this man as a child caught the attention of my father.   And stuck.

Albeit now with a gate less spry, my father has not lost a step in his own recollection of how his son was treated nearly forty years ago by a man devoid of any understanding of how he came across.  A man who did not notice the invisible.

After all, this coach went to the mat for “his boys.”  I’ll bet he was at every sporting event, every scouting event, every school event, and every social event. 

For those he noticed.

To be honest, this coach’s neglect gave me a convenient opportunity to opt-out of a sport that I didn’t enjoy, an opportunity to do other things that served more as platforms for life interests. 

Interestingly, my dad often asks as we talk, “What was that coach’s name?”

It is no surprise that the negative has figurative reservations at the table in the forefront of an elderly man’s recollections, as he thinks about his own children’s experiences that at times, were devoid of a kind word, a bit of attention, and more certainly, visibility.

My dad is not a fan of invisibility where his own children are concerned.  I’m not sure I know too many parents who are.

As school leaders, we have invisible students as well, who probably hope that they matter.

Will we notice?

Will we take the opportunity to identify them, even if it is not the most efficient use of our time, so that our more invisible students feel better about themselves after we interact with them, than they did before we noticed? 

Will we be like my first coach and help children rise above inconsequence toward personal growth, even if they don’t add to our win?  Or will we be like my second coach who truly cared for “his boys,” yet made it very clear who was visible to him, through actions and inactions he did not even see.

How will we be remembered in the golden years of parents’ lives for what we did for the invisible when we had other things, like school accountability for instance, on our minds?


Dr. Ryan Donlan’s mentor, Dr. William A. Halls, was a champion of the “C” student.  As such, he made a lifelong impression as one who made a positive difference in the lives of students who to some, were invisible.  If you are also this champion, please consider reaching-out and mentioning such to Dr. Donlan who can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or  He would like to meet you.