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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 or at 

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.


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 or at 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shuffleboard, Bulldogs, and Mattering

Shuffleboard, Bulldogs, and Mattering

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

As I think ahead to an upcoming vacation with family, I’m moved by the thought that my wife Wendy and I will be leaving our children with grandparents in Michigan, as we head home again for a few weeks this July, coming back to our careers which call our name, year-round.  Our children will have time with the undivided attention of their grandparents who want nothing more than to celebrate their existence with whatever Sean and Katelyn want to do, for a two-week period of time.

I’m reminded of a trip I took, which if I were to be completely honest, was the best trip of my life, even though I remember few details.  It was with my grandparents on my mom’s side, nearly 40 years ago to the Redwood Motor Lodge in Oscoda, Michigan.  On a qualitative research visit to a nearby school district a few years ago, I drove by the Lodge, only to see a closed and seemingly dilapidated property.

Warm feelings rose comfortably within me.

What I do remember is this from that trip many years past:  I played shuffleboard.  Not tabletop shuffleboard, but the real type, with old people (probably in their late 40’s or 50’s).  I also remember my favorite picture of all time, hanging on the wall of the billiards room, where upon the velvety canvas of classic 70’s artwork, a cigar-smoking bulldog is shooting pool, surrounded by other dogs interested in the game.  I hope I eventually find it on E-Bay. I think I swam in the pool as well, but I’m not sure they even had one.

What is most cherished by me, however, has nothing to do with details of the trip.  It’s being with my grandparents, a kind couple who lived in Corunna, Michigan, in a house just a tad bigger than my office at ISU. They loved me unconditionally despite misgivings about my father’s marriage to their daughter.  Grandpa and grandma took their time, talent (at grandparenting), and treasure (meager, yet immeasurable), and spent them on ME.

I mattered to them. 

My favorite trip. 

I hope Sean and Katelyn, upon recollection of these next few weeks 40 years from now, will be thinking the same of this summer’s excursion to grandpa and grandma’s. 

And “mattering.”

In reflecting on what we are asked to do each week with children in our schools, what do we do with the children who don’t have grandparents willing to spend what little time and attention they have on them?  Or those without the parents who encourage these moments?  Or even those without parents?

I would dare say that we need to provide THE SAME EXPERIENCES IN LIFE AND MATTERING to them, not necessarily on our summer vacations, but during the everyday course of what we do – which, by the way for many of our children, is a “vacation” from their awful lives -- A momentary stay against confusion, as Robert Frost would say.

Can we consider that one of our goals as we move into our next school year is to provide for our students, not necessarily experiences in which they can remember fully what they did, but those in which they remember how they were treated?  Those in which they matter.

Further, can we provide something in our schools that serves as the shuffleboard-of-connectedness with others and the bulldog picture through which they will be forever imprinted?

What’s your plan for mattering?  Who in your school plays shuffleboard with kids?   

What’s your bulldog picture?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is honored to be serving in a position where he can think, and write.  If you would like to partner with him in either of these pursuits, please feel welcome to contact him at anytime at (989) 450-0272 or at 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Upon the Right Place

Upon the Right Place
A Cross-Cultural Perspective on an On-the-Job Focus in Education

By Dr. Fenfen Zhou
Visiting Scholar and Associate Professor, Shanxi Normal University, China
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

I enter into the meeting room, look around, and notice that tables were situated in a boardroom style, chairs arranged adjacent to one another, one-by-one. The tables provide a space in the center of the room.  My curiosity was aroused when I noticed white, round, little cards on the table. Those little, round cards were confusing to me, a mystery haunting in my mind.

Sometimes the card took the form of a square ceramic plate, with a similar function: to put one’s bottled water or coffee cup upon it.

Is that necessary? Or just something distracting? I thought further and decided, “Let me just watch!”

Dr. Ryan Donlan looked around his table for the card, and upon finding one, put his bottled water upon it. Dr. Steve Gruenert entered with a drink; I neither cared nor knew what it is.  I was just interested in how he dealt with the square ceramic plate.

Ha, he sat his cup on the plate as well, and so naturally. Noticing that everyone always kept his or her cup upon on the card, I saw that during the course of the meeting, the card was moved a little at times, but most of the time, it just stayed on the original point. People were not distracted by their protocols of keeping their bottles on the cards; they just put them back after drinking, very naturally.

The knowledge that this was the right place for one’s cup was built through habit!

This reflection let me think more openly, as one would look at a kitchen. The island board, the dishwasher, the thoughtfully divided drawer for silverware, and so on; all that lends itself to a fine division of clear responsibilities.

That is the answer!

I remembered a point of confusion that always hung around me upon arrival in the United States. When I went different offices, most American offices were clean and well-organized. And when I would arrive at someone’s door, I would be greeted by a very pleasant response. As a visitor, this quick and kind treatment was a surprise.  It also showed me that Americans loved their jobs and held a positive attitude! BUT, how can they develop the positive attitude about their jobs, I thought? That question confused me a lot.

I even asked the local school leaders whom I was job shadowing, but they looked like I just confused them with my question!  It appeared that my American friends and colleagues have been used to enjoying their jobs with the same manner as they put drinks upon cards.  It is such a routine perspective that they don’t even realize the uniqueness of their doing it.  But for me, it was a miracle!  That is a good deal of why I tried to find out the answer.

Now, back to the card in the meeting. The card symbolically gives me the answer!

If we think of ourselves as the bottle, and the card, our direct responsibilities in our jobs that we place ourselves upon, with items on the table being other aspects of our jobs, or as Americans say, the many hats we wear, the metaphor seems to make more sense.  If we always do the job we’re supposed to be doing, just like having our cups rest upon a coaster in the right place, it reduces the chaos in our work.  This focus allows us to use our own jobs to bring out the best in other people, resulting in its own positive feelings about what we are doing. 

I am better understanding that if we concentrate on the human element of doing our jobs – the person-to-person relationships – and always keep in mind that people are our most important responsibility when entering our offices, we’ll in turn will get used to it, and we will find even more amusement in what we are doing professionally. 

Further, if everyone can easily come to this point, office work can be easygoing, and organized as well!


Dr. Fenfen Zhou from Shanxi Normal University is spending a year in the United States to collaborate with Dr. Ryan Donlan in the Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University. She is actively involved in scholarship regarding schools and teacher preparation and is keenly interested in furthering her understanding of western culture and its implications for teaching and learning.  Dr. Zhou can be contacted at 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Out-of-the-Park" Summertime P.D.

“Out-of-the-Park” Summertime P.D.

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

Educational leaders across the country are fine-tuning and implementing their summertime professional development for K-12 faculties and staffs.  As I am asked from time to time to comment on leadership and staff development, I would like to share some “must have’s” that I would use, myself, for the most impact and best outcomes. 

My ideas are not necessarily out-of-this-world; however, at minimum, they’re out-of-the-park. 

I’m betting they’ll make a positive difference in outlook, perspective, and even the professional efficacy of faculty and staff as we move from one school year to another, mindful again of what conversations we have … and how.

In hosting summertime P.D., I would encourage you as school leaders to employ the following TOP TEN:

#10 – Provide as much for the needs of adults attending the events as you provide for the need to have information disseminated.  Focus on relationships over tasks, as the more important goal should be to develop people.

#9 – Teach faculty and staff on how to become better teachers of students, more so than how to become better teachers of content.  Students who are at-risk of failure at times will learn more for the people they admire and the feelings they have about themselves, than they will for extrinsic rewards (or threats) or love of content.

#8 – Avoid mentioning “the state” (state or national government), unless you are speaking about positively (and then, use their agency’s actual name).  Saying “the state [this or that]” foments an “us” versus “them” mentality, through verbal inflection alone.  It then trickles down into teachers’ lounge conversations and eventually to classrooms.  It really doesn't do anyone, any good, and speaks ill of your leadership and management.

#7 – Similarly, try something completely different:  Make no mention of last year’s test scores or the upcoming year’s assessment cycle.  Avoiding the term “data-driven” would be a good first step, as those who are driven by numbers oftentimes fail to learn from those who are “data-informed.”  Would a conversation on teaching and learning be more appropriate?

#6 – Ensure that all on your leadership team listen to faculty and staff, much more than they talk.  As my friend and colleague, Dr. Linda Marrs-Morford, mentioned this week in a meeting she was facilitating, “That’s why we have two ears and one mouth.”

#5 – Use theories of andragogy and heutagogy, when discussing pedagogy.

#4 – Hold the event somewhere else than your school or the school district (speaking of “out-of-the-park,” what about a park?).   Ensure a festive atmosphere, with music, food, and comfort.

#3 – Provide child care and children’s activities during the event, so that the attention of parents can be fully on the event.  Wouldn’t something fun and educational for the kids be really cool?

#2 – Incorporate stories that inspire.  If you do not tell the story of what you’re all about, someone else will be assuredly telling theirs.

#1 – Thank folks for what they do and especially for whom they are.


Dr. Ryan Donlan believes he has this all figured out.  If you would like to join the conversation, please feel free to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at at anytime.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Do Schools Need Leadership?

Do Schools Need Leadership?

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Department Chairperson

Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

On a sign in our town: Are you a leader? Hiring managers for new business.  

This is an example of the typical confusion that exists in the general public between two very different terms, leader and manager.  For those who know the difference, the sign might imply that leaders need not apply, as they are not being recruited.  We doubt this was the business’s intent, as most businesses want leadership.  Leadership is the reason an organization succeeds or fails, so people think.  

One question on our minds amidst the Death and Life of the great American School System and the subsequent Reigns of Error (Ravitch), as well as our attempts at Catching Up or Leading the Way (Zhao), in an era with perplexing Focus (Schmoker), would be, “Do schools need leadership?” 

Consider what takes place within …

Learning is a transactional process.

Students listen to teachers and then determine which part of that stuff they will believe, and thus which stuff will be useful in their lives. The useful stuff is kept in their minds for future reference; the other stuff is dumped. Yet, heaven forbid that some of the discard might be on “The Test,” so what can a teacher do to help students keep the useless, yet prescriptively pertinent stuff in mind at least until the test is over?

Answer:  The teacher needs to find a way to motivate the students to drag around a few bricks: Quid pro quo.  Is leading a part of this?

Again, learning is a transactional process.

Educators need students to produce outcomes that at times, have little value to students, and at times, even teachers.  It’s a microcosm of the larger scene of national pressure upon educators to produce test-do’ers, the contemporary definition of good students.  Like with certain forms of grunt work, most people don’t like to dig holes, but many will do it for money, or in response to a force greater than themselves. Students will produce irrelevant outcomes if they are bribed enough, or threatened … teachers as well. 

If this is true, that is, if doing school the way it must be done today necessitates extrinsic bribery and bullying, then success in school requires a more transactional approach, person-to-person.  This is a bit more complicated than allowing for intrinsic motivation to flourish in terms of interests, aptitudes, and abilities.  Forced fits take more finesse, requiring someone in positional authority to serve as a concierge, a steward of interaction, a savvy sentry, one who wields both the carrots and sticks toward a prescribed outcome.  In the classroom, the teacher is one such steward, managing relationships toward content outcomes of another’s bidding. 

In the school, the principal manages similarly.

School the way it is currently defined today, from without, might have no place for leadership.

One could contend that with our current situation, leadership impedes stewardship.  It certainly might impede regimentation.  True leadership might get in the way of management’s careful negotiation of relationships between teachers and students. With the current outcomes expected of American schools and students, management is the more efficient means for ensuring a predictable and expected product – test-passers – than asking some conceptual visionary to take us forward, somewhere.

After all, our metaphorical plane’s route is already programmed.  We’re on automatic pilot and at a prescribed cruising altitude, scheduled to land somewhere around testing time.  Certainly not Finland.  Or even China, as they are busy moving away from what we have become.

Leaders are people who are paid to think of tomorrow and build new structures to get us there, not necessarily what is expected currently in our K-12 schools.  Better employed with the demands of today, leaders might be subcontracted like interior designers for the organization’s structure when a facelift is needed to produce better widgets, or like travel agents working to book our tickets when the next set of rules moves the target destination. Leadership’s outsourcing would be convenient, in that they can be asked to leave when their thinking gets too crazy. Nobody would feel obligated to laugh at their jokes, nor would anyone feel obligated to pay them outrageous salaries while they lead the maniacal race for someone’s dangled dollars.  More then could be spent on teaching to the next test. 

Leaders live in the future. We need people who can help other people manage the present, as that is what is expected of us.

We need stewards.  Managers are the stewards.

If we claim that schools are not places for leaders – that they are places for managers – we should not be ashamed of it.  Management is just as challenging as leadership.  We shouldn’t believe all those publications, pundits, and pontificators that glorify leadership as the top of the executive food chain, those that decry management as a lesser life form.  These folks make a repeated mistake of equating leadership with positive organizational change and management with the maintenance of status quo.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  After all, not all leaders could be managers; that would take a deep understanding of people and the putting of their needs first. Many strong managers could do leadership if they were allowed to look outward or move forward creatively.  

Think of the irony involved with leaders in education today, those who are out front with all of their hyper-vigilant visioning, championing, and charting in order to increase performance on tests, all the while their people are imploding because they know it is the wrong thing to do. We call that leading.

How often does America legislate for doctors “what” defines a healthy patient?  How often do we mandate the “how” of a nurse’s care?  Leadership still exists in that profession, at all levels.

Yet, what about in education? To deny that K-12 administrators must spend their days counting beans, looking at the bottom line, and hoping to show a profit rather than leading, is a bit naïve.  Equally naïve is the notion that the folks forced to play this game, teachers and students, do not need much time and attention, care and feeding.  If test-doing is the game we are in, then we need to get good at it.  Getting better at it involves stewardship of our people as we are forcing an extrinsic system upon many who are hard wired for intrinsic need fulfillment. 

Our current system, if we were being quite honest, is afraid of leaders.

In education, if we are to maintain what we have become, let’s allow building administrators to unapologetically be what they need to be – managers – in systems that require stewardship to keep everyone on the same page, in a book that non-educators are writing.


Please be encouraged to join the discussion with Dr. Donlan and Dr. Gruenert by writing them at or at  They would be happy to talk leadership and management, at any time.