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Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Quantum Physics Can Teach Us About Leadership




What Quantum Physics Can Teach Us About Leadership

By Russ Simnick
Senior Director of State Advocacy
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
&
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University


For decades, organizations have largely focused on selecting the right leaders with the right attributes who work optimally with others. They consider leadership to be the key factor in an organization’s success. 

Northouse (2012) and other contemporary leadership writers have encouraged us to consider the following theories upon which leadership selection has been based:

Trait Theory – Selecting those with the right attributes for the situation.
Skills Theory – Selecting those with the right skills with tasks, people, and concepts.
Style Theory – Selecting those with a democratic, autocratic, or laissez faire approach.
Situational Theory – Selecting those who can adapt to different circumstances.
Contingency Theory – Selecting those whose styles match given contexts.
Leader-Member Exchange Theory– Selecting those who facilitate reciprocity.

Even notions of Transactional Leadership, Transformational Leadership, and Servant Leadership include, by definition, notions of leaders’ pulling the right levers to get employees to perform. It’s an action/reaction type of thing.  We have long been taught that the proper motivation (or conversely, punishment), said differently … the perfect blend of sticks and carrots, will accomplish our goals.

However, if leadership, or even followership, can be reduced to a playbook, why hasn’t a single approach, or even a blend of the best approaches recorded, “cracked the code,” providing leaders with a playbook that works equally well in myriad settings?

We would contend it is become something else might be going on – and further, that the subject is far more complex, necessitating a deeper understanding of what is actually occurring in organizational dynamics.

Just as quantum physics revealed a new world not previously explainable by Newtonian explanations, perhaps a quantum view is called for to gain a deeper understanding of leadership in contemporary organizations – certainly in schools.

Those who suggest that organizational excellence can be attained through sticks and carrots, or even “fierce conversations” and “heightened accountability measures,” are living in the Newtonian world at best, and further, not seeing the entire picture.  In the real world, actions do not always produce their intended result, even when they make sense, as we would expect in a mechanical, cause-effect system. In our real world of K-12 education, the questions we ask toward the answers we need are still phrased in a mechanical paradigm.

Physicist David Bohm theorized an “enfolded” universe comprised of what we see and experience and an “unfolded” universe, a state of awareness or higher consciousness less discernable.  If Bohm is right, as we focus our efforts each day on no more than what we see and experience, the reality of what occurs professionally and personally is that our lives are impacted more by that which we can neither see nor fathom.

If this higher-order universal consciousness exists within and around us, what can we learn as educational leaders?

The first thing, of course, is that much of what we perceive that we’re doing to promote excellence might be, in fact, wrong.  The sad part is that we’re teaching it to others, as if it were reality.  In Blink, Gladwell notes that highly effective leaders do not know why they are effective, and often make a false attribution. This seems to indicate that even the best leaders have no idea what leads to their success.

Yet we teach it. 

We profess that it works. 

And we might not even have a clue, while being effective and in the short term, while beating the odds and receiving distinction as “models.”

Quantum physicist Dr. David Hawkins has leaned upon the pioneering work of Dr. George Goodheart and Dr. David Diamond in applying kinesiology to psychiatric studies. He has used kinesiology to “test” consciousness and postulates that all things are interconnected and that “truth” can be tested through kinesiology.

Hawkins has developed a scale that calibrates all thoughts and emotions; it then orders them on their inherent levels of goodness and truth (what he calls, consciousness). Further, Hawkins claims that goodness (things that calibrate high) wins over ideas, emotions, tactics or people that calibrate lower on his scale. In other words, goodness has power.  He explains this by contrasting leaders who use “power” (that which comes from higher consciousness) and those who use “force” (that which comes from imposing will on others).

Consider Mahatma Gandi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln on the one end of the continuum, and Adolph Hitler, Nero, and Idi Amin on the other.

Could it be, as Hawkins suggests, that all people and energy are interconnected and that leaders acting with good motivations will always find greater and more lasting success than those acting in the lower order?  He noted, “It is a scientific fact that what is good for you is good for me.”  This is a difficult concept to understand as we strive to value and cherish diversity in our world, organizations, and certainly our K-12 schools, where many perspectives are relativistic and one’s good often comes at the expense of another’s.  However, delving a bit deeper into the realm of quantum existence, there seems to be more potential for a universal “good.”

It might very well be that our best K-12 leaders who invite in others a higher level of performance than they are capable of on their own, are motivated by higher-order good and further, their results are greater and will be longer-lasting than those in the mainstream who act as follows:

Leaders who use force to impose will (i.e. “Pass the test, or you’ll receive a failing grade and may need to go to summer school”);

Leaders who pass along the force that is being thrust upon them (i.e. “If your children do not pass the test, your job may be in jeopardy”).

History is replete with examples of powerful leaders and nations who acted against the interests of humanity. They rarely succeed. However, those such as Gandhi and Jesus who acted on behalf of the good of all mankind are (and will be) remembered for all of time.

For whom do we act on behalf of with our current focus in education?

To date, countless studies have tried to show a cause-and-effect theory to explain effective leadership. While they may sell many books, none has served as a complete explanation, let alone adequate, for cross-contextual circumstances that confront us in K-12 education each day.

Possibly, we are looking in the wrong place and should start looking to Bohm’s unfolded universe and, as Hawkins would advise, begin tapping into a consciousness that is ever-present in order to be truly transformative.

References

Bohm, D. (1982). The Holographic Paradigm: Interview by Ken Walker.

Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York, NY: Back Bay Books. 

Hawkins, D. (2012). Power vs. Force. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

Northouse, P. (2012). Introduction to leadership: Concepts and practices (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

____________________________________________________  

Russ Simnick and Ryan Donlan enjoy deep conversations that involve turning-their-minds.  They encourage comment and feedback and can be reached at russ.simneck@sycamores.indstate.edu  or at ryan.donlan@indstate.edu. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From Ph.D. to Practice: Applying Coursework to Our Leadership


From Ph.D. to Practice
Applying Coursework to Our Leadership

By Whitney Newton
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
&
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University


            We understand that at times, when folks share that they are working on doctoral degrees, the response received is often one of practitioner-based skepticism.  Folks wonder if doctoral students are able to keep their feet on the ground while reaching for the stars – interpreted, “Is this learning ‘at-all’ practical?” 
We cannot answer this for every terminal degree program; however, in the Department of Educational Leadership of the Bayh College of Education at Indiana State University, as students and faculty, we certainly know the focus:  Those working each day to make a difference for the children, families, and communities.   We are focused on the needs of practitioners.
            In keeping this in mind, what we try to do is to partner as co-learners in both one’s art (Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind), as well as one’s science (Kahler’s Process Communication Model).  In this week’s five-minute read, we’ll demonstrate how we apply Ph.D. coursework to our leadership through a first-person account of the learning that has taken place over the summer, as well as the reflection that will help support an even better launch this fall.  We hope, in part, that this will encourage you toward future educational pursuits, wherever they may lie. 

Whitney’s Reflections on Coursework

Hiring season is in full swing for many schools. At my urban middle school in Indianapolis, we have a more complete picture of our student body and school landscape from the district, as well as from our teachers, where those who have decided to move on have made it official.

I work in a school where hiring is considered the most important job of the leadership team after supporting our current staff in meeting students’ needs.  We interview and decide as a team, with consensus decision-making, and maybe more intuition than we’d like to admit, driving each interview.  We look for a few characteristics during our hiring process, including clearly seeing and hearing a passion for kids, hearing each candidate’s own passions – whatever they are, a collaborative spirit, confidence, and the ability to role play a courageous conversation.  

More than we likely understand, we believe we are selecting people for their talents like Buckingham and Coffman (1999) describe, whose “filter(s) and the recurring patterns of behavior [they] create” we can capitalize on as new members of our team (p. 82). We believe we are hiring the best, fitting them into the role that is the best fit for their unique talents, holding them to high expectations as part of our organization, then getting to watch them soar.  I am wondering, though, whether we could be doing more to capitalize on the diversity of our current staff, and whether we could be asking better questions during our hiring process – both of our candidates and of ourselves.

As I dive deeper into my learning and understanding of Taibi Kahler’s Process Communication Model (PCM), I am thinking through how to apply what I have learned in the ISU Ph.D. program to the work I do at my school, especially in the area of hiring, and I am thinking hard about what questions to ask next. Particularly, “How should I bring all of this information to my team so that it can inform our team dynamics, impact our hiring process, and impact our teaming/training of teachers?” More questions include the following:

How do we bring this to our teachers, so that it can impact the work they do with our students?

Should the leadership team take Kahler’s Personality Pattern Inventory?

Should we ask the whole staff to take the inventory? Maybe just new hires?

Should we do some professional development on Kahler’s approach to human interaction?

Do we work to put together diverse teams of teachers, or is the real question orbiting around how we teach our teachers the “process” of communicating with our students, especially those whose personality energies (and thus, communication preferences) look different than ours? 

In “Process” in Building Cultural Community (2014), Dr. Ryan Donlan and Dr. Michael Gilbert suggested that, though more research needs to be done, awareness of the Process Education Model (another application of the PCM) among educators and school leaders leads to more effective communication and “expand(ed)…understanding of diversity (p. 193).  

Donlan and Gilbert summarized that the Process Education Model “has provided educators a deepened understanding of a more inclusive world, inviting us to see and understand the differences in others so that we can interact successfully. It has allowed educators and leaders to utilize others’ frames of preferences to enhance the how of communication” (p. 194).

This makes a pretty strong case for our leadership team’s developing a deep understanding of Kahler’s PCM in order to impact our capacity to work with the diverse teacher and student populations in our building.  Ultimately, it certainly makes the case that teaching our teachers about PCM and developing their understanding of how to communicate with diverse students would be an extremely wise investment.
           
Buckingham and Coffman (1999) described the importance of looking at “the total work environment into which this person must fit” (p. 101) when selecting a new member of the team.  We can ask ourselves, “What are the talents of the other members of our team?” and “What talents are missing?” Applying this to PCM makes the case for trying to build diverse teams of teachers, whose condominiums compliment, rather than replicate, each other.

I am not sure I have any answers to the questions I am asking my team and myself about how to strengthen our hiring processes.  The fog will likely clear some as I begin trickling information about what I have learned in ISU’s Ph.D. program into our team meetings, as well as when I hear further the diverse opinions and perspectives from my team members.  What I know for sure is that in every interview from here on, alongside my dutiful notes on each candidate for our team discussions, will be a tiny “PCM Condominium,” predicting each candidate’s Process Communication Model (PCM) personality energy arrangement.

***

Hopefully these reflections have stimulated some thinking in you, offering some “science to your art” – about hiring, teaming, or another topic deeply impacting your practice as you begin a new school year.  We very much hope, as well, that you will feel inspired to pursue other readings or research from graduate study or that which you can use as material for reflection to guide your practice.  

As leaders and life-long learners, we know reflecting is an important part of our process of making a difference on behalf of faculty, staff, students, and community. What questions and reflections do you have as we wind down the summer and begin another new year?


References

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). The First Key: Select for Talent. First, break all the rules: what the world's greatest managers do differently. New York, NY.: Simon & Schuster.

Donlan, R., & Gilbert, M. (2014) "Process" In Building Cultural Community. Building cultural community through global educational leadership, 183-196.

____________________________________________________  

Whitney Newton and Ryan Donlan are deeply committed to taking education from where it is to a better place.  Whitney is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership in an Indianapolis-based cohort, nearing her last semester of coursework in preparation for her Preliminary Exams and Dissertation.  Ryan Donlan is a faculty member in this program teaching human relations, advanced theory, and research.  They can be reached at whitney.newton@sycamores.indstate.edu or at ryan.donlan@indstate.edu. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Parenting of Pre-service Proteges


The Parenting of Pre-service Protégés

By Casey Patterson Smitherman
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Principal, Brown Elementary School
Brownsburg Community School Corporation
&
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

As parents we send our little ones off to kindergarten with mixed emotions of jubilance and trepidation; thirteen years later we revisit those feelings when we see them off to college.  As school leaders, we experience similar emotions when bidding our best teachers a fair adieu as they enter school leadership. 

After all, like kindergarten, college, and life – school leadership is tough work:  Similar to the Peace Corps, it’s is the toughest job you’ll ever love.  Leading a school, albeit a huge responsibility is rewarding each day.  At the elementary level, regular hugs, giggles and high fives bring about great job satisfaction.  At the secondary level, seeing first-hand a transformation from childhood to adulthood is equally gratifying.

Because of the level of difficulty that exists in assuming a role in school leadership, it requires substantial pre-service parenting from field supervisors who are successful, practicing leaders in their fields.  Someone with direct knowledge of candidate competencies must separate the wheat from the chaff, serving as not only career counselor, but also the voice for tomorrow’s children and families -- one who is not only a teacher-of-teachers, but also a teacher-of-leaders.  Is this you? 

If so, our role in the training and preparation of K-12 leaders is one of the most honored experiences we can enjoy.  Having a pre-service leadership candidate job shadow and work with us not only allows us to impart whatever wisdom we have gleaned through our own dedication; it also provides to us a colleague and confidante during our service in K-12 education. 

More so, it provides us with the opportunity to grow and learn through revisiting our own experiences and sharing the lessons we’ve learned along the way.  After all, we retain much more of what we teach, don’t we?  It’s about 90% by some estimates.

When that day comes and our protégé lands a career as a principal or assistant principal, we watch a bit of ourselves, yet something refreshingly unlike us as well, taking shape in a new school.  It is similar we recall, to what we as parents reflected upon as the bus pulled away for the first time, with small, pensive faces waving from the steps while wearing their backpacks.  

We each thought, “Did I do enough to help this newbie navigate these new, unchartered waters?”

As we’ve both thought about the advice we have tried to impart upon pre-service principals – and the advice that we, ourselves, received from our own mentors – we offer this wish-list to you, for your consideration of what you might offer to your aspiring principals in preparation for that big day. 

We would ask that in reading what we have here, you consider sharing some of your good ideas with us as well.

As field supervisors helping to guide pre-service school leadership, you may wish to:

1.     Allow pre-service principals an opportunity to be involved with discipline, encouraging them to be firm and fair, yet be mindful and compassionate in employing the teachable moment.  Getting it right from all angles in the discipline department is the quickest way to establish partnerships with faculty, staff, students, and families. Most teachers don’t send a student to the office unless they really need the help.  Getting the word out that one shouldn’t want to go to the principal after a teacher exhausts all efforts will save a lot of work, we might add.  Likewise, helping teachers understand that best efforts at instructional relevance and parental partnerships should be communicated before children are “sent packing” from the classroom, will save much work as well.

2.     Model healthy perspectives, by laughing at yourself and not being afraid afraid to make mistakes in front of your protégé.  We work in a people business, and mistakes are bound to happen as the human condition presents itself.  When we work with kids, mistakes when no harm is caused can be downright funny.  Adults are oftentimes, older versions of their adolescent selves, so we mustn’t forget that.  Don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t see the humor in what you do while serving as a role model.  Don’t worry; be happy – it will pay dividends in those learning from your leadership.

3.     Distribute leadership to others, and as one example, consider letting your teachers design, plan, and organize professional development sessions and staff meetings.  Teaching teachers is hard work.  With the right selection of a planning committee here, your protégé will see that faculty will respect the efforts of their colleagues and will appreciate you for encouraging it.  This can provide the leadership team an opportunity to step out of the fish bowl for a time, to make the swim a bit safer.

4.     When it is possible, allow the aspiring principal to sit in on critical conversations you have with staff.  Such conversations can be among the most intimidating experiences for new principals, particularly when they’ve never been a part of such dialogue.  Vicarious learning here is the key. Allowing pre-service leaders to have mental models to use in their own schools can be priceless. 

5.     Include pre-service leaders in your work with support staff  – whether in monthly meetings with instructional assistants, lunch with the cafeteria team, or time spent shoveling with the daylight custodians on a snowy morning.  Support staff are essential to keeping the school running, so be sure you model the value placed in these folks.  By getting in the trenches and modeling your leadership brand, you will put your protégé in touch with those in our schools who have the most credibility in our communities.

6.     Enjoy classroom walk-throughs and observations together, and then discuss what you see as soon as you leave the room.  Experienced principals are observing the teaching and learning process with a very trained eye, or at least, that is the hope.  By sharing what you saw, heard, and felt in the classroom, you give aspiring principals a new way of looking at a classroom.  Then, listen to what they observed as well.  We are amazed at what another’s view of the classroom can give us, as a fresh perspective on instructional practices.

7.     Stop.  Pause.  And more than anything … LISTEN, to what your protégés need.  Are they asking for certain experiences?  Are they not asking for things they may be avoiding? Have you engendered the trust that encourages them to speak candidly about the areas they see as deficient?  Do they need some time to question you about things they are pondering?  Are they allowed to disagree with you and voice that disagreement? Your time is limited, we realize; however, your potential impact can be great.

A day will come when it is time to set your protégés free and watch them fly.  What a mixed blessing that will be! 

While it is oftentimes sad as well as a challenge to lose any of our great teacher-leaders, friends, and confidants, it is also incalculably rewarding to see all they will do for their new students and staffs, with us as their former teachers fondly remembering that we did all we could to make it happen.

____________________________________________________  

Casey Patterson Smitherman and Ryan Donlan enjoy great conversations on leadership.  They encourage you to share ideas of your own on how we can prepare the next generation of K-12 school leaders and can be reached at casey.patterson@sycamores.indstate.edu or at ryan.donlan@indstate.edu. 




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Leadership's Quiet Side


Leadership’s Quiet Side

By Jeff Papa
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Chief of Staff and Chief Legal Counsel
Indiana State Senate
&
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Charisma does not necessarily define leadership.  Neither does one’s professing boldly from any given bully pulpit or riding a public gallop of mission toward vision.  Such is certainly evidenced in K-12 education.

A recent ISU Ed. Leadershop article, Will I Lose Touch (March 4, 2014) discussed how a principalship could be “even more satisfying than a position as classroom teacher to forge one-on-one relationships with students and to make a positive difference.”  It pointed out that the majority of one’s time as a leader is spent interacting with people (one on one or in groups), and that “[Even] in times in which you try your best to act discreetly and confidentially, news will spread regarding your actions.  This can be used to your advantage; after all, you have the power to act when others do not.”

Communities, organizations, and the public oftentimes envision leadership as involving very public aspects of the role, such as leading large assemblies, conducting meetings, giving media interviews, announcing big changes, and directing subordinates.  While these aspects of leadership are important, the majority of critical work done by leaders is often not apparent to the casual observer.  An earlier Leadershop article, first-authored by Rex Ryker entitled, Managing, Mushing, & Motivating (January 21, 2014) made the leader/team analogy of a sled-dog team, “a living system of interdependence exist[ing] in each and every team-based accomplishment, with the leader inextricably linked to the forces that power the journey, which if absent, would result in ineffectiveness.”

As a leader, the charge is to have the overall best interests of the organization (however those are defined) in mind; this is not always aligned with the personal best interests of the leader in each micro (or macro) application.  Add to that the competing interests of subordinates, and the complexity becomes apparent, sometimes necessitating very private action.

Theoretically, this can be described as a result of the interplay between the nomothetic dimension of any organization (institution’s roles and expectations) and the ideographic dimensions (individuals’ personalities and need dispositions), in terms of how leaders act to maintain the institution’s structures, purposes, norms, and even its sanctions, while the people within make attempts to socialize their organizations to meet their needs and ends (Getzels & Guba, 1957).  From our perspective, done right -- it’s a push/pull, wink/nod, dance/dip type-of-thing.  Most people inside and outside the organization are unaware of the vast array of these micro-interactions in which leaders are required to engage, sometimes in stealth.  Leaders spend a good deal of time cultivating, coordinating, calming, and crediting; the vast majority of this work is done one-on-one or in very small groups.

Let us consider some of this work done, for the most part, invisibly … quietly.

In order to be effective, leaders need to cultivate.  This includes cultivating potential employees and team members, cultivating current employees for new roles, cultivating professional contacts, and cultivating the desired organizational culture and expectations.  These activities are overwhelmingly done one-on-one or in small groups.

Leaders spend a great deal of time coordinating.  This includes scheduling activities, setting broad goals and agendas, ensuring that proper teams are put in place and that appropriate resources and people are connected in order to achieve goals efficiently.  These activities are often done alone, one-on-one, or in small groups.  Interestingly, in contemporary K-12 education, the whole notion of a principal-as-building manager is downplayed in importance, or even criticized.  Yet, what would happen if this “machining” was not handled?

Not much.

Leaders act to calm situations, those that could negatively impact (or are impacting) the organization.  Very often, these issues involve one individual or a small group causing conflict, acting inappropriately, exceeding authority in negative ways, or failing to perform. Because these situations are often volatile or involve confidential or personal information, leaders often resolve these issues discreetly.  Very often, no one outside the few people involved are aware of the potential damage that could have been inflicted if the situations were not addressed.

What is common in the aforementioned examples is their rather quiet nature.

Our best leaders rarely seek personal credit for successes and accomplishments.  Our best leaders give credit for things that go well, to others.  Conversely, they take full responsibility for anything that goes awry, even if out of their control.  When failures occur, the lessons learned and corrections applied are privately shared with the individuals or small groups involved, all the while the leader fields the brunt of public criticism. 

These leader-like activities fit well with what Buckingham and Coffman (1999) called “management,” described by way of Four Keys: [Managers] select employees for talent (not just experience or intelligence); they define desired outcomes (not steps to take); they focus on strengths (not weaknesses), and they help mentees find the next best fit (not just automatically the next rung up the career ladder) (p. 67).

What is not necessarily intuitive to the public about these activities is that they take place alone, one-on-one, and in very small groups.  Very few people will know that they even occurred.  They are for the most part, invisible … quiet.

The quiet of leadership is a must, as the myriad challenges it confronts are often confidential (such as personnel actions and counseling or initial discussions of interest in a new business venture or contract) or are dispute-resolving (settling a disagreement between individuals or groups; counseling or disallowing an individual or small group against a negative action). They may involve the mentoring or advancement of individuals (giving career advice or serving as a sounding board) and often only involve certain key stakeholders or partners (such as strategy meetings with key personnel or legal or fiscal meetings with relevant staff or providers). 

In order for an action to remain effective or to define itself as “becoming of a leader,” the leader often cannot reveal that someone else caused the problem, that a disaster was averted, that unnecessary conflict was avoided, that bad proposals were rejected, or that sometimes it is better in the larger picture of things for the leader to accept “blame” without revealing his or her micro intervention.  In some cases, this occurs without general knowledge that a far-less-desirable outcome had been avoided through quiet intervention.

These actions “lead” to the smooth functioning of a successful organization, with credit to the leader oftentimes provided in private, if at all, for the deft management employed. 

Our more shrewd leaders can, at times, gain credibility as word spreads of the interest and resolution achieved in these micro applications, even if details are not widely known. This indirect and sometimes clandestine orchestration is especially important in that leaders often know they will be criticized for perceived inaction or actions taken where the general organization is not aware of the efforts taken toward resolution.  This includes retaining necessary confidences, protecting personal information, and redirecting positive credit. 

It would do us all well to consider that amidst the cloak and cover of leadership’s best management, a bit of sunshine is needed to provide comfort regarding the good, moral, and effective actions taken in these micro situations, albeit “quiet,” to most.

References

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers to differently.  Washington, D.C.: The Gallup Press.

Getzels, J. W., & Guba, E. G. (1957, Winter). Social behavior and the administrative process. The School Review, 65(4), 423-441.

____________________________________________________  

Jeff Papa and Ryan Donlan enjoy deep conversations regarding leadership.  With similar perspectives on the machining of leadership toward quiet resolution of challenge, they encourage comment and feedback and can be reached at jeff.papa@sycamores.indstate.edu or at ryan.donlan@indstate.edu.