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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When the Foot Disappears

When the Foot Disappears

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

My wife and I take our children to the bus stop each morning. 
We do so because it’s nice hanging-out with them before school, and we feel fortunate that our university schedules allow us this time.  Plus, our children are 11 and 10, and it’s still a bit dark in the morning.
Something about each morning stays with me in my mind, and in my heart, as I drive to work. 
It’s when the foot disappears.
That would be Sean or Katelyn’s foot, by the way.
As we sit in my truck, the bus typically arrives perpendicular to our direction from the right, which puts the door of the bus on the opposite side of the road, out of my sight.  After we exchange hugs and kisses, our children will hop from the truck, they’ll look left, right, and left again, and will cross the road as the bus’s lights flash.
All I can then see is a pair of little feet on the far side of the bus’s engine and driver’s seat above, as they stick out ahead of the wheel.
It’s when that last foot ascends upward and disappears each day that I reflect how much I love my children, each morning.
Sometimes I can see a silhouette make its way toward a seat; sometimes not.  When the foot disappears, I know that for a time, someone else is handling the care and feeding.
Someone else will have great influence over what happens, next.

As my children’s feet disappear, I’m blessed not having to fret about how they are treated.  I don't often worry, “Will they feel successful at what they try, and be successful at what they do, during the workday?”  They have a great support system at school.
I never really ponder, “Will they come home feeling worse than when they left?”  Our children teachers and principals are very good, once their feet appear on their end.  That makes all the difference.

What about your teachers?  Your leaders? 

Can you say that when children arrive, they are thought of as fondly as when their feet disappeared from a parent’s view, only a short time prior. 
Do all of your students feel loved, knowing that adults are trying their best to offer a nice day . . .  that they’ll be missed as well, when their feet disappear from your view in the afternoon?

Does each student in your school have a smile when boarding and de-boarding, a warm welcome in every classroom, and a caring adult offering them unconditional positive regard, as they move from one location to another?  Are hallways places of celebration and affirmation?

Does each have an adult looking on, with heartfelt reflection, when each foot disappears?


Dr. Ryan Donlan believes that all of our K-12 feet, large and small, should have guardian angels and open hearts in every school, all the days of the school year.  If your faculty and staffs are not studying the foot traffic, then possibly the opportunity will prioritize itself at the next staff meeting, somewhere amidst talk of pacing guides and performance outcomes.  Always willing to have a nice conversation, Dr. Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

If Students Ruled . . .

If Students Ruled . . .

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

            If students ruled K-12 education, we might find a change or two around here.  I wonder what kids would come-up with, in terms of school redesign, by decree . . .

Hallways would be places to slow down and make friends, rather than places to “move along.”

Teachers would reclaim the ability to spend more time on the units they like, because the fun would rub-off. 

Adults would respond each morning like long-distance grandparents when kids arrive.

Exclamation points would be removed from all signs, unless they’re celebrating something. 

Student handbooks would stop being hammers and “all other things as proscribed.”

Bathroom stalls would have doors attached; soap containers would be full.

Everyone could eat and drink, all day long.

The principal WOULD be a “pal.”

Teachers would smile more and “pace” less.

Adults would stop taking cuts in the lunch line.

Recess would ROCK!  It would be protected.

Librarians would again be allowed to spend their time helping children select good books.

School would start a bit later in the morning.

Each classroom would have a Keurig, refrigerator, and overstuffed couch.

Electronic devices would be encouraged as learning and social media tools.

These ideas aren’t really so radical, are they? 
Many of us are even recognizing our own schools here.

What might we get if kids ruled and wanted to move beyond these basic notions of “school redesign” above, to something bigger, like SCHOOL REIMAGINATION.

Who might they employ? 
Would it be us?


Dr. Ryan Donlan loves envisioning what school would be if we were not addicted to notions of educational manufacture designed years and years ago.  If you would like to offer your own dream for what school could be, from the eyes of a child, or even to ask this very question of a child and relay what you hear, please consider giving him a call at 812-237-8624 or by writing at 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Who Finds Whom in K-12?

Who Finds Whom in K-12?

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

A very perceptive veterinarian said to me recently, “Did you find the kitten, or did the kitten find you?”
Sitting atop the vet’s silver slab of a chest-high table wriggled a skinny, sneezing, calico kitten with worms and a respiratory infection, found the night before as we sat on our family’s back deck.
I heard a faint meow at dusk.  Then responded with a meow of my own.  Another response – from a small voice, possibly below the deck or near our backyard’s woods line, as my family gathered. 
After about a half hour of conversation (kitty and me) from a distance, a pensive, hungry-looking kitten approached cautiously, and eventually found its way to my lap.  After some petting, purring, people food, and some water, we offered it a soft corner in our second garage, and after a night’s sleep, my wife and I made a trip to the grocery store for some essentials. 

So, “Did we find the kitten, or did the kitten find us?”

Our finding the kitten might imply that we were the ones doing the rescuing.
The kitten finding us might imply the opposite.

In thinking through this, I reflected that we were almost two years into accepting the passing of our aging Weimaraner, Zachary, our “dog-son” that pre-dated the births of our two children. 
Had we been avoiding another attachment?
Were we now the busy family machine and, not-as-much, a family?
Did we need something to slow us down and re-focus?

If so, then the kitten might have found us.

As educators, when we see those malnourished (at times, snarly) little kittens [Eddie, Haley, or whomever comes to mind] in our schools and classrooms, coming to us with all of their figurative sneezes, worms, and hunger, do we take the time to notice?
Do we speak to them in their own language, first? 
Do we spend enough time so that they trust? 
Do we offer what we have, even if a leftover?
Do we shop for suitable supplies, even if busy?
Do we accommodate their needs? 
Do we seek-out additional treatment from someone more knowledgeable? 
If no one is willing to step-up and parent, do we adopt?

And in the midst of whatever we provide, large or small, do we pause and ask the question, “Did we find these little [kittens], or did they find us?” 
And for what reasons were they sent?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is wondering who finds whom in our schools and classrooms, and further, whether or not our intended K-12 caretakers receive more each day that we recognize.  Not all resources are finite, he would argue, and would love to discuss this further at 812-237-8624 or

Friday, October 16, 2015

Workload Management

Workload Management

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

I was particularly excited when asked to speak on a panel at the Indiana State University New Faculty Orientation series on the topic, Workload Management.  Must be that I’m perceived as fairly productive, as there’s typically an implicit prerequisite for such in panel selection. 
It also doesn’t probably hurt that my daily smile is authentic. 
I do admit to having a lot of fun at work, which has a lot to do with sound management principles that I believe are a part of my life. 
So, in preparing my remarks, I pondered, What advice would I give to new faculty? I then realized that much of what assists in my current workload management, helped when I was a K-12 educator as well.   
Workload management is not something that we should do in response to the demands placed upon us; it is more what we can provide ourselves proactively, regardless of the demands or situation.
It’s really a method of “rolling life and work” similarly, authentically, and smartly. 
Any of us can thrive in workload management, if we consider doing the following . . .

Measure twice and cut once before accepting professional positions or newfound responsibilities.  If we study the people making offers for us to work with them, we’ll better be able to ascertain whether or not they will enhance or inhibit our professional qualities of life. 

Ensure that we are very much “a fit” for what we do, as the nature of workload management (in terms of clock-hours) is, at times, not-at-all one of work-life balance.  In ensuring “a fit,” we will find that our professional roles and expectations match our needs and personalities.

Consider “confluence” as one method of accomplishing workload management, which might for example, call for our laptops to be with us while barbecuing in the evenings, yet with intermittent bursts of “compartmentalization,” such as keeping away from e-mails (and workload) during our children’s sporting events or activities.

Know the relative importance of things on our plate, in terms of our supervisors’ thoughts on “where” we allocate our time and talent.  The “classic” challenge while I was in K-12 was focusing on classroom instruction, when so many people wanted a piece of my time, typically for their own urgencies.  The same holds true now in protecting time for scholarship, with ongoing demands for the other parts of “me.”  We must also recognize where we tend to spend our time and should avoid gravitating disproportionally to those areas that are our favorites, as we’ll find that our less-favorites become harder to accomplish when we’re pressured to catch-up on them.

Manage what we do intentionally and make investments that count in multiple arenas.  In higher education, this would mean that when we invest in our teaching, our workload in terms of scholarship and service is positively impacted as well.  In K-12, this might be envisioned in terms of instructional leadership, building management, and social capital.  In business, it might include products, profits, and people.  Does each investment of time and talent reap triple dividends across our areas of expected performance?

Know what we need to recharge our batteries each evening, as this will help us better manage the next day.  This is typically accomplished through recognition of whether we are extroverted, and thus need to be around people to energize, or introverted, and thus need a bit of solitude. 

Prioritize relationships over tasks, and in terms of the relationships we have at work, make many more “deposits” than “withdrawals” with those around us.  Expecting more of ourselves toward the positive output of others is the way to go.

Have “good friends” at work.  Life’s too short to think that we have to separate business and pleasure, all the time.

Take something off our bosses’ plates, as often as we can.  It will allow them to take something off their bosses’ plates as well.  Paying things upward is simply the right thing to do and does not go unnoticed.

Be around.  Be visible.  Be available.  Other people will then be able to connect with us, which may increase our collaborative opportunities that, themselves, manage our workload.


Dr. Ryan Donlan doesn’t as much believe moving toward better workload management means deciding WHAT one does in the limited time available, yet rather HOW one does all that is expected, and desired. He is also interested in learning how you achieve optimal workload management as well, so please be encouraged to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rainy Days in K-12

Rainy Days in K-12

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

Seems as though, at times, some in our profession need an uplift, as if they walk about early in the week thinking to themselves:

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothin’ ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothin’ to do but frown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down
(Williams & Nichols, (1971).

What we can offer them is a kind smile, of course, and for the ones who delight in deeper conversation in the lounge or break room, a way to unleash their minds through an appeal to their right-brained intellect.  Here’s one such way.

This week, for leadership whose staffs are truly seeing less-often “the sun” in K-12 education, I am hoping you’ll have a discussion and look at the rain differently, just as I had the opportunity last Saturday while sitting on my deck amidst all that was cool, wet, and clammy.
In doing so, I jotted down a few things I noticed about rainy days, as I thought of my time in K-12 and even that now in higher education (friends Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker have aptly addressed Mondays).
Those few things follow. 
In reading what I have written, can you make the connections [for each] to your K-12 experience, and would you be willing to share with a friend or colleague?  Please feel free to disagree and note that some may just not fit. 
You might divide them among your PLC groups, or however you like.

A Rainy Day  . . .

Allows us “open-eyed clarity” over the more frequent “squint,” borne of unrepentant glare;

Prevents “sunburn” caused by “overexposure”;

Provides an excuse to get “less done here,” so we can focus “more on there”;

Brings “family” together all under “one roof”;

Provides “balance and sustenance” to an environment lacking such;

Invites “an umbrella,” and an opportunity for the discovery of vulnerability, or vanity;

Provides a natural “facelift” to our pathways, playgrounds, parks, and professional settings;

Offers, in the midst of our hurry and clutter, “ambient soundscapes” that are calming;

Allows for the collection of resources, and thus “energy” that is economically regenerative;

Gives us a deepened appreciation that days often considered regular, whatever the weather, are “a gift.”


This is not so much an activity for those seeking “coffee-mug happy’s” or “bumper-sticker smileys”; rather, ones who wish to stretch their socio-psychological understandings of the larger “permissions” that affect us through rainy days at work, AND the resultant effects upon how our children view the world themselves, through our lead.

Best to you as you turn your minds and make a vicarious difference, while the skies open.


Williams, P., Nichols, R. (1971). (Recorded by The Carpenters). On Carpenters [The Tan Album].  New York, NY: Jack Daugherty Productions, A&M.


Please join Ryan Donlan in opening-up to the world around us and making a connection that we can share in the ISU Ed. Leadershop.  We would love to give credit to your good thoughts, while putting together relevant pieces for K-12 to share.  Just give Dr. Donlan a call at (812) 237-8624 or write at

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"From the Wabash," PCM Revisited

“From the Wabash,” PCM Revisited

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

In September of 2012, I shared one of our first ISU Ed. Leadershop articles highlighting Taibi Kahler’s Process Communication Model® (PCM) entitled, “From the Wabash, Now Worldwide.”  As I think ahead to an upcoming report I’ll deliver in Hot Springs, Arkansas, this October regarding the model’s research worldwide (and not knowing who had the chance to log-in prior), I thought a Leadershop update would be timely.
What follows is the original article, updated with additional information for consideration.
In 1969, a Purdue University Ph.D. student in psychology, Taibi Kahler, was interning at a mental health facility in Northern Indiana.  While there, he became interested in the psychological theories of Transactional Analysis (Kahler, 2008).
Shortly thereafter, Kahler created an inventory to collect data for his dissertation on predicting academic underachievement.  While performing an analysis to study his instrument’s validity, he noticed data falling into six mutually exclusive clusters that later served as the basis for a theory on personality structure (Kahler Communications, Inc., n.d.; Kahler, 2008).   
The uniqueness of Dr. Kahler’s discovery was that human behavior could be identified, second-by-second, as being productive (communication) or non-productive (miscommunication) with both patterns sequential, measurable, and predictable.  
For this discovery, Dr. Kahler was later awarded the 1977 Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award and honored by more than 10,000 of his clinical peers from 52 countries as having provided the MOST SIGNIFICANT SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY IN THE FIELD OF PSYCHOLOGY (Kahler, 2008).             
Dr. Kahler’s discoveries in the field of communication assisted NASA for decades in the selection of astronauts and have enhanced the business of global corporations. His discoveries have assisted practitioners in the fields of therapy, health care, and education.  Because of the power and relevance of his theories, Dr. Kahler served as communication advisor to President William Jefferson Clinton and provided psycho-demographic polling analysis for his campaigns.     
In 2012, two colleagues and I conducted a formal validity study on Kahler’s Personality Pattern Inventory (PPI), an instrument that analyzes one’s personality structure.  We performed a statistical factor analysis on data from over 53,000 persons.  This research affirmed PPI’s validity and reliability (Ampaw, Gilbert, & Donlan, 2012), as we first reported in Vienna, Austria, with experts from Europe and Oceania, as well as Dr. Kahler, in attendance.             
This week, I’ll present some information on Dr. Kahler’s model at a transnational conference for an international group.  It is all quite sophisticated theoretically, yet can be unpacked nicely in its leadership applications.  It seems as though PCM is garnering even more relevance worldwide, as we now live, play, and work, both locally and globally.         
What is ironic is that Kahler current enjoys a relatively low-profile status in education: Known throughout the world for his contributions in bringing people together … having changed the lives of millions through his books and seminars … a member of four international high-IQ societies … and delightfully humble in spite of all this – Dr. Kahler, is currently “not” on most American educators’ “Who’s Whom” lists.        
Yet, he should be.      
The Process Communication Model’s impact on professional and personal experiences of persons from around the world is most certainly one that bears a closer look, as for one thing, it is “a catalyst” for better student achievement in our schools (Donlan, 2013).        
Items possibly of interest:     
PCM is a subtle, yet sophisticated method of differentiated communication that can minimize drama and maximize togetherness;            
PCM is a model that allows for deeper understanding of other people, within seconds of meeting them, from diverse backgrounds or cultures; 
PCM allows us to communicate more effectively, so that others can understand our good intentions.         
If you decide to study the model further, a number of open-source articles exist, and I can direct you to them.  I’d love to get your thoughts, feelings, and opinions, as we share reactions, reflections, and even some actions that we can take toward better understanding of local, and global, relationships.

Ampaw, F. D., Gilbert, M. B., & Donlan, R. A. (2012, August). Verifying the validity and reliability of the Personality Pattern Inventory. Paper presented at the 4th International Congress on Process Communication, Vienna, Austria.

Donlan, R. (2013). The Process Education Model (PEM): A catalyst for school improvement.  Journal of Process Communication, 1(1), 45-67.

Kahler Communications, Inc. (n. d.). Personality Pattern Inventory validation procedures. Little Rock, AR: Author.

Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates.
Dr. Ryan Donlan is involved in research and training in the Process Communication Model (PCM) and the Process Education Model (PEM) and wishes to partner with corporate groups or with K-12, college, and university educators who are interested in research on professional development and learning outcomes in their organizations.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Speth-Factor

The Speth-Factor

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

I have been searching over two decades for the secret ingredient to enhance student achievement in our nation’s schools, and I was excited recently to have come across a viable candidate.
The Speth-Factor.
Let me explain.
As parents, my wife Wendy and I have experienced slight trepidation at times when milestones in our children’s K-12 experiences would arrive, such as enrollment in Kindergarten, our family’s move to Indiana, and even our son’s recent ascension from elementary school to middle school. 
Sean’s a smart kid yet not particularly fond of academics (the book-work type).  He does well, in part, because he aims to please, and it will allow for less intrusion from his parents upon his personal and social time.  He’s the kid who would rather be playing a game outside, over that of sitting in a classroom. 
Thus, the thought of middle school academics worried us, as this is where I have seen too many students derail in struggle and begin making shortsighted decisions.  My final 11 years in K-12 leadership revolved around helping at-risk high-school students.

When I started seeing first-hand, the Speth-Factor and its influence on Sean, I began to understand the power of what needs to be part of every student’s K-12 life.

The Speth-Factor is my own “new” term, borne of an actual person – Mr. Dustin Speth, teacher and advisor at Honey Creek Middle School in the Vigo County Schools of Terre Haute, Indiana.  In a recent conversation with Mr. Speth’s Superintendent, Mr. Daniel “Danny” Tanoos, we concurred that one teacher can have an overall, positive effect upon a student.
Here’s how it works.
On any given day, when any school’s Speth-Factor is in play, students put forth much of their efforts in academics because they are inspired by a certain teacher.  It’s not so much for the content or for thoughts of future earnings potential.  It’s for a person, an adult, who serves as a role model.
In Sean’s case, it’s Mr. Speth. 
The Speth-Factor is not something bureaucrats can manufacture or parents can guarantee for their children through harping and helicoptering.  It’s something more authentic, probably encouraged by a great principal’s vision for instructional excellence and leadership support, much like Mr. Speth is provided at Honey Creek. 
My son’s Speth-Factor includes among many other things, warm welcomes each day, daily advice during advisory, vignettes about a teacher’s past pets, the occasional ad-hoc commentary on a local festival making headlines, and from what I hear, even a weekly teacher’s joke.  
Did I mention high standards as well? 
That’s an important part.
Those high standards include, from what I have heard recently from Sean, Mr. Speth’s sharing his own incredible record of attendance at work, much-the-model for his students.  A nice touch.
This inspiration is evidenced even more so by the fact that after Cross Country practice most evenings, Sean’s love-of-coach-and-sport has another contender for rounds in the dinner-table conversation – “Something that happened earlier that day in Mr. Speth’s class.”  When anything can be on par with Sean’s running through the woods, that something is really making an impact.
It all boils down to a teacher’s ability to connect with kids, making a difference while doing it.
It’s totally authentic.
It’s appreciated.
It’s the Speth-Factor.
And it works.
Thankfully, the Speth-Factor is bridging a gap and providing parents like us something that’s really cool in terms of school conversations with our son, at an age that is critical. 
I’m pretty sure that Mr. Speth has only a modest understanding of how much he makes an impact on Sean, and his other students, as the best teachers seem the most humble and unassuming.  They are their toughest critics.  I find that “The BEST” do what they do because of something intrinsic that drives them, and the fact that they care.
In my current role, most of my students are principals and superintendents, working on their Ph.D.’s.  In class and while providing schools professional development, I’m often asked about what schools can do to close achievement gaps.  I’m now offering the additional conclusion that if every student had the Speth-Factor, we might be in a lot better shape. 
With it, students feel connected, and student achievement is the natural byproduct.

Who is delivering the Speth-Factor in your school?
Who is achieving because of it? 

More importantly, who is slipping through the cracks in its absence, and is anyone holding up the mirror to ask, “Why?”


Dr. Ryan Donlan would like to thank those who helped him review and edit his article regarding The Speth-Factor, as it pertains to the student experience in K-12 education, including Vigo County School Corporation Superintendent Danny Tanoos, Honey Creek Middle School Principal Michael Cox, and of course, Sean Donlan.  If you would like to offer your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at