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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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Invisible Time

Invisible Time

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

            I’m thankful my old colleagues in K-12 would put up with me when scheduled to make presentations at conferences, as I wanted to arrive long-before our sessions would start.  Sometimes, arriving the day before, I would ask conference-center or hotel staff to open our assigned breakout rooms, so that I could see the functionality of the rooms, the placement of the equipment (laptops, LCD’s, plug-in’s etc.), and even the arrangement of furniture.
            In doing so, I would try to “fix” pretty much, everything that wasn’t conducive to our presentation.
            I called this my “Invisible Time.”
            Invisible Time allowed me to do whatever I needed to do in preparation for any given event, so that when folks arrived, I would be ready to focus on THEM, not necessarily on the tasks needed to get things going. 
Nearing show time, I’d even go so far as to ensure that background music was playing, lapel mics were affixed, and beverages were refilled, before the doors would open.  Conference logistics would often make this more difficult, with back-to-back concurrent sessions, so I was known to request that my sessions were held after lunch or after the morning keynote, so that nothing occurred directly in my room prior.
            As much as this spoke to my affliction of “overthink,” it gave me peace of mind as I would watch fellow presenters arrive on-time (which is “late”), with the oft-predicted technology’s needing triage, resulting in a clunky start and a general disconnect with participants.
            Now that I’m presenting more often, I don’t always have the luxury of an early arrival, so I have adapted my shtick to one requiring shorter amounts of Invisible Time. 
            Still, I use it.
            My presentation experiences have informed my perspectives on school leadership, as well. 
I strongly believe that K-12 leaders are “on-stage,” most every moment of the day.  Inescapably, school leaders are the breakout presenters, if not the keynotes of their schools, as they have a ready-made audience watching their every move, hanging on every word, and never going away.
            I often teach K-12 school leaders that they can never be seen focusing entirely on “setting up” for any given exchange, as they are “delivering” from the moment their vehicles hit the parking lots, or in some cases, leave the house.   This is where it becomes imperative that school leaders intentionally schedule Invisible Time,”so that they can be all about “Showtime.”
            As a K-12 leader, where is your Invisible Time?
            Is it in the office before others arrive?
            In the school library, in a quiet corner?
            In your favorite teacher’s classroom?
            After school, once everyone leaves the building?
            If during the day, it demands a #2 who can handle any given situation as good as you (or hopefully better), which will keep people satisfied when they don’t have your ear.
            Wherever and however this Invisible Time takes place, two components regarding its use are critical:  (1) That you take time to DO something (handling tasks so that you can be all about relationships when again visible), and (2) That you take time to THINK and unleash your mind. 
The latter is where principals often shortchange themselves.
            A principal with who uses Invisible Time is more creative, more at peace in relationships, and thus, more effective.
            Consider how many actors are successful when they neglect to THINK about their lines, as well as how they’ll come across to an audience once “Action!” is called.
            K-12 leaders are such actors.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is keenly interested in not only the WHAT of K-12 leadership, but also the HOW. Toward this end, he encourages school leaders to use Invisible Time to hone and craft their academy-award performances.  If you would like to share a script that you have studied in a starring role, please don’t hesitate to call him at (812) 237-8624 or write him at

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is "Data-Driven," Drivel?

Is “Data-Driven,” Drivel?

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

It’s fashionable for us in K-12 education today to be “data-driven.” 
High-priced, drive-by consultants tout its sexiness; bureaucrats at times encourage our pledge to its cause, and even the occasional principal proudly proclaims it when interviewing for jobs or speaking at the local civic-group luncheon.
What’s up with that?
My question is, “If K-12 leaders are data-driven, who or what is doing the leading?”  [i.e. the driving]
Answer:  Might be the data, not the leader. 
That’s not good.
We, at Indiana State University, have the privilege of sponsoring Ph.D.-level dissertation research, chairing many dissertations, probably numbering in the 20’s or 30’s for each of us who serve in this role. 
So we know data.
We like data. 
Data isn’t the enemy here.
Yet, our K-12 perspective on “What data DOES,” as well as “What WE DO with data” (in terms of our leadership and instructional planning), might very well be.
Data are incredibly important in finding answers to our profession’s important questions.  Yet, alone, data are incomplete.
Data position us not necessarily to find answers to all of our questions, yet instead to ask better questions.
Our use of data needs a complement – something additionally to inform what we do –  so that we can make sense of our numbers toward improving our schools. 
It needs “story.”
Consider this:  Do we spend as much time forming plans of action to address the stories behind our data in K-12, as we do devising battle plans to attack our numbers?  How fashionable is it to ask “Why?” or “Are we sure?” in our grade-level or content-area meetings? 
How sexy is it to say, “So what?”
If those questions are encouraged, that’s great.  But if we are hearing, “The numbers speak for themselves,” that’s simply an inaccurate statement.
At best, shortsighted.
Closer to home we might ask ourselves, “Are PLC’s data-driven?”  
Are they as well, “story-driven” or even “student-driven”? 
I hope the latter two, more of the time. 
As we collaborate in schools, might a qualitative approach, turning story into code into themes into findings, be more effective in terms of school improvement, than disaggregating the next batch of formative assessment scores? 
Don’t get me wrong: Data walls are not the enemy, but if they “drive” what we do rather than “inform,” they’ll most assuredly generate output, in terms of teachers’ triaging whatever’s urgent at the moment, yet they’ll do little to affect longer-term input to the equation of student outcomes, such as organizational wellness, school and family partnerships, teacher efficacy, student readiness for learning, or overall school culture.
Again, rather than data-driven; how ‘bout data-informed.
Let’s change the term.
Let’s change the bumper sticker.
Is our drivel regarding “data-driven,” in actuality, some well-intentioned eye candy that places undue pressure upon everyone in two academic areas, at the expense of other developmental experiences that would better allow teachers to teach, and students more often, to be children?
Moreover, what is this saying about leadership at all levels in K-12, when a responsibility such as driving is relegated.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is not really on a soapbox, as much as he is on a mission to reframe the good work of educators in a way that our public, our policymakers, and even those in our profession, can understand.  He questions that if we don’t own our narrative, and the terms we use, then who does?  If you would like to contact him, please be encouraged to call (812) 237-8624 or write at  He would love to hang-out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First-Exchange Theory

First-Exchange Theory

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

Upon receiving my doctoral degree in education, I made the mistake of answering my cell phone, “Hello, Dr. Donlan,” while traveling with my mentor and Dissertation Chairperson. 
He tactfully reminded me that I shouldn’t do that. 
Upon joining the faculty, I used “Dr.” in introductions for a short time, until reminded by a faculty friend that it was turning-people off.
Since then, “Ryan Donlan” has promoted better relationships, a small discovery that I am using in theory and practice to see how it applies in K-12.
First-Exchange Theory, I might call it.
I have noticed that over time, our students, even those at the doctoral level, most often use the term “Dr.” when referring to faculty, even when we use both of our first and last names in introduction. 
It’s nice that they understand the benefits of a right-sized bit of formality.
How does this play out in the K-12?
Similarly, yet with a bit of a twist, when we factor-in introductions between parents and teachers.
My wife and I use “Mr., Ms., or Mrs. So & So,” when referring to our children’s teachers (no “Dr’s” to date), even when teachers use both their first and last names in introduction.  I just can’t envision myself calling my children’s teachers by their first names, as I want to establish a certain degree of decorum.
After all, they’re TEACHERS.
As one who studies schools, I have the privilege of visiting K-12 schools across Indiana and beyond, so I notice things.
Here’s what happens in a greeting, from time to time:
 “Hi, I’m Ryan Donlan; very nice to meet you.”  Hand extends and is received . . .
“Hello, I’m Mr., Ms., or Mrs. So & So.” 
Handshake concluded.

Maybe it’s just me, but something about this type of response is a bit off-putting, almost as if it is a frontloaded strategy to establish a line of demarcation in a food-chain relationship, with me on the lower end.   I wonder how often parents in introductions with K-12 teachers feel near the bottom.
[Or students at universities with their professors]
An educator’s understanding of First-Exchange Theory might improve all of this. 
It’s a simple theory that I’m developing – an effective formula for K-12 educator/parent initial interactions, launched by teachers. It includes educators first being REAL, then being RESPONSIBLE.
Here’s First-Exchange Theory in action: 
Educators that are superstar communicators don’t use “Mr., Ms., or Mrs. So & So” to introduce themselves, unless they are meeting young students, of course. 
I find that those who use “Mr., Ms., or Mrs. So & So” as their names with other adults, are typically the more mediocre and didactic – and celebrate Fridays.
Superstar communicators, rather, are REAL, using both their first and last names in greeting other adults, and in doing so, put people at ease. “Hi, I’m Sandy Starr, 10th Grade English Teacher, so very glad to meet you both.  Thank you for visiting.”  
Continuing my theory on optimal communication, superstar parents would then respond by referring to those same teachers as “Mr., Ms., or Mrs.” even though they know the teachers’ first names.  "It’s so very nice to meet you, Ms. Starr, I’m John Upbeat and this is my wife, Joy, and we look forward to Sunshine having you as a teacher.”  Note parents using both of their own names.
The theory suggests that even mediocre parents can be so inclined to “act superstar” in their responses (as above), if teachers deliver their first greetings appropriately. 
Those not even mediocre, maybe not so much.
The theory then calls for the roles to reverse themselves, as superstar teachers then address parents with RESPECT.  “I do want to say, Mr. and Mrs. Upbeat, that your daughter, Sunshine, is wonderful to have in class, and if I have any questions about how best I can serve you all, would you mind if I give you a call?”
A great relationship is launched.
Well, it works for superstars, anyway, as they seem to understand the natural order of things and what people need in an interaction.
First-Exchange Theory:  Being REAL.  Being RESPECTFUL. 
And in doing so, being humble, open, OK, and transparent.
I know these observations may seem rather small in a world of big issues.  As First-Exchange Theory may not necessarily correlate to better student scores on standardized tests, I’m not holding my breath while waiting to be asked to offer PD on the subject.
Not just yet, anyway.
Over time, I believe it would make a difference.
The fact remains that if the first seven seconds define much of a relationship’s potential among schools and families, this critical time in connecting (or not) might bear a closer look.
It might even merit some research.
In our interactions each day, aren’t we in actuality teaching others, purposefully or incidentally, about the snug fit we have for our own professional skins, or conversely, our need for a power differential to compensate for any social awkwardness that we may be harboring?


Dr. Ryan Donlan makes mental notes as he meets people and finds it very hard to turn-off “leadership” and its implications, at the classroom, school, or district level.  If you can help him refine his thoughts and make meaning of them, please be encouraged to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at  He would love to hear from you.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Mouse in the Hunt

A Mouse in the Hunt

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

I have heard for years about the outstanding service provided by those employed in the Disney organization, yet it wasn’t until this past week that I saw it first-hand. 
Our family went on a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
As I find it hard to turn-off my faculty role, I couldn’t help but noticing things about the Disney experience that apply to K-12 leadership. 
First, the Disney “cast” – everyone from the bus drivers to the Mouse in costume – considered Walt Disney World our family’s home.  “Welcome Home” was a common expression on Magic Kingdom Express shuttles, at our resort hotel, and in the various parks we visited. 
It felt like our home, with most of the good stuff, and more.      
In addition, Disney cast members used every opportunity to celebrate people individually and to invite them to feel special.  My wife and children had never visited Disney, so they got the “First-Time Visitor” buttons, yet even though I mentioned that I had been there as a child, so did I. 
Another example -- my daughter Katelyn’s birthday is in July . . . mine too.  Given the number of weeks hence, we were still given “Happy Birthday” pins.  Must’ve heard a hundred times, “Happy Birthday Katelyn, and to you too Ryan.”  
We were celebrated.
Moreover, the “Disney default” to [what could be considered] shortsighted questions, as I often ask them, was not a weird look or rebuff, yet instead a kind affirmation and an explanation that did not embarrass me in front of my children.
One example was when I asked a counter clerk for a tour of Cinderella’s Castle after the late-night fireworks.  I didn’t realize that Disney really doesn’t give tours of the Castle (a short walkway under an arch is what is available, unless one has reservations for a Princess meal upstairs).  Yet at 11:00 p.m. after a long shift, this cast member’s response was very cordial, even in that this was probably the thousandth time something similar was asked since her shift began. 
Some might say that we in public education could take a page out of the Disney playbook for welcome-home treatment, celebrations, and affirmations.  To a degree, they may have a point, as we can always improve.  Yet, something else was in play that I feel in fairness to those serving in K-12, I should mention.
I call it having a “mouse in the hunt.” 
It has to do with parents.
Probably the more familiar expression would be “having a dog in the hunt” (or some investment in what one is experiencing) yet “mouse” seems appropriate, given last week’s location. 
Having a “mouse in the hunt” seems to influence how parents behave while bringing their children to a place that they hope is going to be life-changing – like Walt Disney World (or I would argue, school).
To explain this “mouse” thing, let me share that I was standing directly in front of Cinderella’s castle at 8:30 p.m. getting positioned among a crowd that would grow to thousands for the Disney parade and fireworks.  I knew it would be a long evening, but Wendy and I were on a mission to provide memories for our family. 
Among us were countless parents much like ourselves – dinner-table-eating, manners-modeling parents, who understood that everything our children noticed us doing that evening would one day serve as a playbook for their own parenting.
What fascinated me, however, is that some others were there as well – ones very familiar yet much different, including those folks that we see treat counter clerks with disdain at our local gas stations . . . those who yell at their children at the county fair, even louder when others are listening . . . and those who expect to be first in line when they arrive late. 
These folks were there too, among thousands crowded tightly.
Yet, amazingly, much more so than usual, these folks were on their better behavior. 
And their kids were watching.  Their kids were learning.
It was cool.
The reality was that the behavior of most of these folks was better than they typically display at home, in our local communities, and most certainly in our schools.
As I pondered this, I hoped it was because they knew the value of Disney as a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for their own children . . . or a byproduct of the way the cast around them was inviting them to feel.
Yet, my pragmatism suggested to me that the better behavior might as well be a result of deeper investment (monetary or otherwise), which resulted in folks stepping beyond old habits and checking themselves?
A result of having a “mouse in the hunt.”
Given this possibility, how does this apply to K-12 education? 
Could we as educators more often encourage (or require), at minimum, a mousely investment on the part of parents and stakeholders, coupled with a bit more that we can do ourselves as K-12 cast members, to garner the cooperation and better behavior from parents that I witnessed in Disney? 
Would this be volunteering?  Paying a fee?  Logging time at home spent in support of their children’s academics?
Not sure.
Maybe over this next school year, we can develop ideas to put more of the “mouse in the hunt” in our partnerships, subtly requiring more of families though investment, while asking even more of our own cast members in terms of welcome-home treatment, celebrations, and affirmations.
Through such, children and parents might, more often, consider our schools and the experiences we provide, destination events, as we know them to be.


Dr. Ryan Donlan considers it an honor to be able to sit-back and think about things that will allow us better to serve children and families in the K-12 experience.  He also strives to find ways parents can invest their talents to make the most out of their children’s learning experience.  Please feel free to contact him at any time at (812) 237-8624 or at