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Friday, March 27, 2015

On Co-Teaching

On Co-Teaching

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

Students need co-teachers.  We, as teachers, need co-teaching. 

This is true at the K-12 level, or even at the University. 

While in K-12, I co-taught with my mentor teachers.  It was an outstanding experience; we were quite different, and although my probationary status operated in a fishbowl, it was a wonderful way to learn my craft.  I would like to think that those much more seasoned learned a few things from me as well.

For a number of years, I have co-taught classes at the college and university as well, most often with colleagues in the Department of Educational Leadership, and even one with my Dean.  Sometimes, the choreography is serious; at other times a bit more on-the-fly.

This semester, I have had both the fun and privilege of co-teaching with two of my good friends and colleagues, Dr. Steve Gruenert and Dr. Todd Whitaker.  We’re co-teaching a graduate-level principalship class, where the three of us get together each Thursday evening in a teaching studio at Indiana State University.  A handful of our students, mostly professional educators, meet with us in the studio – others join from a distance via the Internet with a software that allows for video and audio capabilities, as well as the creation of breakout rooms for small group interaction.

It’s a great time.

This week, for example, Steve took the lead on “school culture,” Todd shared “three types of teachers,” and next week, I’ll start the evening with “instructional leadership.”  Although it may sound segmented, it’s really not; rather, it’s like someone is “singing melody”; while others “sing harmony,” the lead alternating depending upon the content, topic, or circumstance.  It can change on a dime, depending on the teachable moment.

Co-teaching requires a few things in order to be successful.  I can’t say that I’m a master of it, but I can be propped-up pretty darn well with Steve and Todd in the room. 

Here are a few thoughts with you, off the top of my head – those that I hope you will consider discussing with friends and colleagues – that contribute to co-teaching success.

Co-teaching is significantly enhanced through:

Communication in the co-planning – yet not over-communication, as we might consider allowing for a bit of extemporaneous performance as well.

Playing to each other’s strengths. 

Admitting when something’s not in your wheelhouse.

Discussion and reflection of how things went afterward.

An honest talk.

An ability to affirm each other or at times, to disagree, and to be OK with the fact that multiple perspectives exist.

A willingness to watch closely to see if students are “getting it,” when your colleagues are talking, and their willingness to do so as well, when you are presenting.

The latitude to extend on another’s explanation, clarify your colleague’s directions, and provide another way of articulating that simply cannot be accomplished with one voice.

A division of tasks (technology, etc.), so that someone can “always” be all-about relationships.

A healthy dose of self-confidence, yet not overconfidence, so that everyone is more about “effectiveness” than “justification.”

A willingness to “put oneself out there” with a perspective that can be debated, and restraint, when you’ve been “bettered” on a point. 

Excitement, when the students disagree, and to feel comfortable sharing.

Impeccable content knowledge.

A willingness to shut up, and learn.

A desire to protect and preserve the moments where learning happens, and not rushing through a lesson plan.

Laughing at ourselves.

Please feel free to add to my list.  Particularly, would you agree that we as educators need co-teaching as much as the students?  It would be great hearing from you, as I’m sure many of you have much more experience and a perspective that will help keep me relevant.


Ryan Donlan loves augmenting his teaching, scholarship, and service through collaborative work with others.  If you would like to partner with him on anything, please reach-out to him and say “Hi,” at 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Drama: Kings, Queens, and Productivity

Drama: Kings, Queens, and Productivity

By Sonia R. Walker
Adjunct College Professor/Department Chair/Business Instructor
Maryville University - St Louis, MO & Clinton Prairie Jr./Sr. High School–Frankfort, IN
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

As Dr. Nate Regier and the good folks at Next Element Consulting remind us – “Drama:  Good for Ratings; Bad for Business.”
Yet, drama is something that we experience as a part of our everyday lives.  Some people seemingly love drama.  They either manufacture it, or feed into it, while others work steadfastly to minimize its existence and impact … it’s lure.
In K-12 schools, not a day goes by it seems, that we can avoid experiencing or teaching a student who is involved in drama.  The same could hold true for fellow staff.
Drama can manifest itself as one seeks or wants attention.  “Drama sucks all of the energy out of your life,” as noted in Beyond Drama – Transcending Energy Vampires (Regier & King, 2013, p. 1). “Drama is an energy vampire, sucking the lifeblood out of everyone and everything around it.”
The authors told the story of a company where administrators ran a business with constant drama.  Employees wanted something different, so even in the midst of an economically dangerous national recession, they took it upon themselves to start their own business to coach and provide consulting to employees worldwide in how to understand, minimize, and avoid drama in their workplaces and lives.  They then went on to live this professional lifestyle in their own organization.
Those who have worked in education and in corporate America can see the parallels in drama at work and at school.  Many of us have been raised with drama modeled at home, with either parents or siblings adopting roles as drama kings or queens. Without a conscientious decision to step out and beyond those roles, we have run the risk following drama in its footsteps, as it comes more naturally than its converse, which Regier and King (2013) described as “Compassion” (or “to struggle with”). 
Some more predisposed to distress and drama appear quickly to don a king’s or queen’s crown, as a learned reaction to difficult experiences they face.  Some retort that it’s a defense mechanism, taught and modeled by parents.  We know it, as well, from a different standpoint – that of any human being’s potential to wear of a mask while in distress, one that cover up the real person underneath – the OK “me.”

Children Students & Drama

Many time students who are leaders in drama are students who are not getting their needs met.  Kahler (2008) described them as those who on their better days are persuasive, adaptable, and charming, yet have a psychological need for incidence (a bit of risk and the potential of a payoff – a “rush”).  When a situation in school is presented to them, whether academic, social or otherwise, they “take action” and DO something with it, even if fraught with repercussions. 
Many educators do not understand this need, or the actions of these students, and thus, require those with such energy to sit in rows and be silent.  What happens instead is that in the absence of positive fulfillment of their needs, children seek their negative fulfillment.  They manipulate the situation until drama torques-up.  They get their rush, and so do many others around them, in a negative way.  This involves a ripple effect upon others in the classroom, eventually culminating with children and adults, alike, assuming the classic roles of persecutors, victims, and rescuers – Karpman’s (1968) classic triangle of drama. 

Managing Kings and Queens

In studying the book, First Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, we pose that good managers and good teachers have a lot in common.  Teachers who can “relate” are those who can re-direct those who tend toward drama.  They invite the drama king or queen to “dial-down” by changing their own approaches as adults to intervention and teaching, while allowing students to connect with them and learn as they learn best. 
Our better teachers are stewards who avoid a one-size-fits-all approach (last year’s lesson plans or last scenario’s tool kit) and recognize that various personalities and their needs predominate in “today’s” classroom, as yesterday’s drama kings and queens might have abdicated their thrones.  This is not limited to K-12 schools.  Drama occurs in colleges and universities as well, as it is not outgrown when psychological needs are not met. 
Haven’t we all seen, at times, our co-workers’ acting as persecutors, victims, and rescuers? Take for instance the teachers’ lounge of Anytown’s high school, or periodically the commons area of a local college – with educators’ “holding court,” complaining about the student who wants too much attention or the higher-up who just doesn’t have a clue? 
Same crowns, different neighborhoods.  
What is particularly interesting in teacher/student drama is the context of who is playing persecutor, rescuer, or victim.  Even more fascinating are situations in which they switch roles. 
Yet “people-watching aside” – The fact remains as follows -- Drama:  Good for ratings; bad for business.
It’s even worse for teaching and learning.
A wonderful opportunity exists for us to learn about the rudimentary elements of drama, and more so, to learn that drama does not represent the true identities of those involved; rather, it represents masks they are wearing that with the right approach, can be “invited” off so that productive communication can occur. 

Once these folks are OK/OK, drama will learn to check itself at the schoolhouse door.


Buckingham, M., & Coffman, K. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world's
greatest managers do differently. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model: Six different personality types and
            adaptations. Hot Springs, AR: Taibi Kahler & Associates.
Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: Transcending energy Vampires. Newton,
Kansas: Next Element Consulting.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cabin Fever (Revisited)

This week's weather in many parts of our nation has encouraged us at the ISU Ed. Leadershop to revisit this piece written in February of 2013.  

Cabin Fever

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

Have you noticed that some people are sad this time of year?  Quite SAD, actually.  Yet given their condition, they still come to school each day and depend on our leadership.

Physicians and pharmaceutical companies call this condition, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also referred to as the mid-winter blues or another name we used when I was principal-ing in the U.P. of Michigan: Cabin Fever.  Cabin fever kicks in around this time each year – when a chill’s in the air, the sun’s not shining, and when things just aren’t quite green enough.

Maintaining staff and student enthusiasm for teaching and learning is a bit cumbersome during this season.  We find that our short days sometimes seem lengthier than our longer nights: staff fuses get short, office referrals get long, and students don’t seem to be buying what we’re selling.

What do we do?

As leaders, we try our best to play “Doctor Mom” or “Doctor Dad.” We make quick, prudent diagnoses of those who are SAD, offering prescriptions to “fix ‘em up.” 

Easy as that … Right?

Well, as a leader, I didn’t always think so. 

I tried all sorts of these motivational promotions from companies all-too-willing to flood my desk with catalogues of mailbox stuffers, happy-land posters, and workday-well wishes for the staff announcements.  Atta-boy’s and Rah Rah’s can last a quarter or two on a game clock, but typically not a quarter or two on a school calendar.  They didn’t work for me all too well.

Wanting to involve greater minds than mine for ideas as I composed this short-read, I reached out to friends in the Twitter universe and found that they offered more creative ideas for keeping high the energy level in schools.  A leader’s meaningful, genuine efforts to recognize, to reward, and to accentuate the positive were first on our colleagues’ lists.  They suggested that by finding those magic moments, making the most of “the present,” and asking staff what they, themselves, needed to get through this mid-winter stretch, leaders would make headway.  The key, my colleagues felt, was in listening to others and of course, smiling … authentically smiling.  I would agree wholeheartedly.  I certainly smiled when I heard the ideas for staff snowball fights and morning floor hockey. 

Through these and other conversations, along with the pleasure of reading a few excellent books, I think I have uncovered the most important part of what we as leaders must do in our schools to help others get through through this season’s Cabin Fever …

We must diagnose and cure our own. 

Yes, we must take care of ourselves first, yet, we often do not. 

We’re often in denial. 

Just like parents, sometimes when we have a fever (Cabin Fever, or otherwise), we stoically plow forward, not under any circumstances letting anyone else know we’re not well.   Yet, is this really doing anyone, any good? 

This week, I received a request to write a conference abstract for one of my upcoming presentations.  As I put some thought into what I wanted to say, I thought of our Tweets this week, and the Leadershop as well, and entitled it, When the masks drop, put YOURS on first. 

Here is what I wrote:

[Our] role is more of a calling than a job … more a mission than a position … in fact, a true labor of love.  As human service professionals, we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy operating altruistically, thinking of others before we think of ourselves, don’t we?  Yet, are we truly “helping” those who depend upon us to the degree that we can, when we do just that?!?  Airline personnel would remind us that if turbulence is present and the oxygen masks drop, we should affix OUR OWN, before fastening those of our children.  This is based upon the premise that unless we are first fully capable of helping others through a clear body and mind, then we are “no help at all.”  [There exists] the unapologetic necessity of focusing first on meeting our own needs while working in the helping professions, in that by doing so, we will be more effectively positioned to help others with theirs.  Being self-ful is the key that pays itself forward.

The cure for Cabin Fever? 

Ironically, might I suggest that in the midst of moving forward with the many good ideas that our colleagues on Twitter suggest, we should first ensure we are operating on all cylinders. Putting on our own oxygen masks first is not selfish; it is self-ful.

We can then navigate more effectively through our cabins, until we can open the windows and let-in a little fresh air, whereupon spring fever will bring about the exciting need for an entirely different prescription regimen.


Dr. Ryan Donlan studies school wellness and would hope that you should share ideas on how you apply your own oxygen masks with the intent of being self-ful.  If you would like to share, will you please contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at  Thanks for visiting the Leadershop!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Personalized Leadership: Breaking the Golden Rule

Personalized Leadership: Breaking the Golden Rule

By Chase Huotari
Franklin Township Middle School East
Franklin Township Community School Corporation
Ph.D. Student
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
A new, young principal, Freddie Firstyear, began school in the fall with high aspirations.  From the bottom of his heart, he knew that he was going to be a collaborative leader that people absolutely adored.  Folks will love working with me, he thought, as he laid out a plan to celebrate the successes of his people and to encourage growth, through praise. This would be key to his leadership’s success, as he envisioned, Everything is going to be great.
When the first staff meeting rolled around, Freddie began the staff meeting with celebrations.  It made sense, as every other leader he had worked for had done it.   In this particular meeting, even though the more extraverted staff members spoke up over those introverted, things went well. 
Note to self, Freddie thought:  Find a way to involve more of my folks next time, especially those who didn’t say anything.  After all they are some of my best teachers!
The following week Freddie attended a district meeting where the discussions revolved around building morale.  The speaker emphasized the need to celebrate our teachers even more.  Freddie then returned to his building and hashed out a plan based on Dr. Todd Whitaker’s Friday Focus. He would send out a weekly email that would include pertinent information of interest to staff, as well as examples of staff members doing great things as a way to continue to motivate and celebrate his folks. The first email went out that Friday, and the response was extremely positive.
As the weeks rolled by, the emails continued every Friday, yet the impact was not what it once was.  In fact, there appeared to be some negative reactions occurring at times.  In one situation, a teacher did not want to appear in the notes, while others faced ridicule for being featured. 
The end of the semester was fast approaching; Freddie sat down to figure out what went wrong.

The Golden Rule

The situation above resulted from a simple oversight, an oversight that occurred very naturally, albeit invisibly, because of unintentional adherence to a rule that many of us have been taught for as long as we have been able to understand the spoken word. 
The Golden Rule.
The golden rule simply states that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated.  And this is what Freddie was doing in his Friday e-mail.  However, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (1999) suggested that great managers break the golden rule every day.  Why?  Because the golden rule, “presupposes that everyone breathes the same psychological oxygen as [us]” (p. 151).  This is a mistake, as even with good intentions, the golden rule, when applied, requires others to make a shift toward what we prefer, rather than the other way around.
In the example above, the leader assumed that everyone would appreciate being praised publicly when, in fact, some did not.  Adding to that a certain level of expected toxicity that most new principals have to contend, it can complicate things as messages are received in a way unintended by the sender.
Darn the luck, Freddie thought.
The problem wasn’t the Friday e-mails, as articulating a weekly message from the desk of a principal has many more upsides than down; the problem rather was how the Friday e-mails were being handled by virtue of what was included.  The e-mails were launched from the principal’s paradigm, yet were received by some completely different.
The result was not motivation and boost in morale that Freddie sought; rather instead, pocketed resentment and a move away from building-wide collaboration. The answer, according to Buckingham and Coffman (1999), lies in unearthing our employees likes and dislikes – their preferences, needs, and expectations for communication. 
We might ask how they like to be praised. We might ask about their goals for their current positions.  We certainly could ask how often would they like to have conversations about their progress (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999), and if so, privately or publicly. 
All this information can be used to develop a profile for each employee, a profile that will allow for a move to personalized leadership.
Might this turn our golden rule into something more platinum? 
At minimum, it would be more personalized.

Personalized Leadership

We can think about personalized leadership like our own, online Nike store.  In the online Nike store, one can literally design a shoe from the ground up -- from tongue color, to swoosh color, to specific initials, we can make the shoe our own.
No limitations!
Personalized leadership takes this online store to the classroom door. 
As school principals, we have the opportunity to serve as the research and development, marketing, design, and sales team all wrapped into one.  Our intended demographic is very diverse and ever changing.  This provides us opportunity to connect others where they are.
When we look at leadership in a personalized way, we see, that each employee has a personalized filter, his or her own way of interpreting the world, thereby each demanding different things from supervisors” (Buckingham and Coffman, 1999). Our task as building leaders is to identify those demands and use them to motivate, excite, and inspire our employees to be great and reach beyond their levels of comfort, to heightened degrees of current and future success. 
Are we up to it?


Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently.  New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Chase Huotari and Ryan Donlan are continuously looking for creative and meaningful ways of applying the Platinum Rule to school leadership.  If you have any ideas for them that you would like to share, please feel free to contact them at or at 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tune Out the Noise

Tune Out the Noise

By Dustin LeMay
Avon Intermediate West
Doctoral Student of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            The profession of education has a lot of noise right now -- Politicians expounding on the failures of our education system; school systems reacting to changes in funding structures and referendum failures; even new laws regulating teacher evaluation and the re-structuring of compensation models.  All this is occurring while teachers are unfairly characterized in the media, not accorded the respect of years past. 
Even more troubling is the fact that schools and teachers are held accountable for standardized test scores and academic growth using a complicated mathematical formula that creates winners and losers in a competition, borne potentially of a manufactured crisis, decades prior. 
 With distractions abound, we believe that those of us who wish to thrive in education today have two clear choices:
1.     Complain about the changes and negativity, thus making ourselves miserable and unmotivated (and a part of the larger problem) or …
2.     Challenge ourselves to make a new reality by tuning out the noise. 

Our choice is clear.
We would encourage yours similarly – We must to find a way to tune out the noise. 
Yet, what exactly does that mean?   Have a positive attitude?  Don’t worry, this too shall pass?  Ignore your job and move to a tropical island?   None of these bits of advice hits the mark exactly. 

Tuning out the noise means instead, absorbing the new facts, regulations, and circumstances that are rolling downhill continually, using them to carefully construct a new reality within the profession of each school building and each classroom.  
Yes, tuning out the noise involves harnessing the energy directed AT us, toward something meaningful that we have an ability to influence. 
Sounds good, right? 
Well, it can be, if accomplished without the over-reactions and complaints (the noise) that can quickly de-moralize a school staff … it can be, if accomplished through leadership that doesn’t look for internal cohesion by identifying an external enemy.
Most of all, we can tune-out the noise in education, or at least turn-it-down to “tolerable,” levels through school-wide, staff-wide commitment to five simple actions that can pave the way to success.  To tune-out the noise, we can:

1.     Focus on What Can Be Controlled: We can control our attitudes, our effort, and how we work together.  Problems can’t always be controlled, but focusing on the solutions helps get us there.  Sometimes it may be necessary to vent a little -- after all, we are human. However, it is not ok to constantly perpetuate a culture of complaint. Consider that amidst the mandates and political banter, we CAN control, for example, how teachers are involved in the evaluation process, what we do with our data, how we listen to and support our stakeholder needs, and certainly, creating an environment that lets each of us know that we should have fun and laugh each day.

2.     Work Smarter, Not Harder: Rick DuFour’s (2010) work with PLC’s has been around for a while now -- valuable work that speaks to the need for a continuous, collaborative process of ongoing school improvement.  When teachers work in PLC’s, they define goals and expectations of each other.  New sets of academic standards may feel, at times, like a load of work to teachers, but with the shared load that a true PLC process allows, teachers are able to break down the walls of isolation and establish an environment of shared leadership.  These collective efforts reap even greater dividends than the sum of their parts.

3.     Hold Ourselves Accountable for Best Practices, OVER Test Scores:  We know we are accountable for standardized testing results.  We may not like putting children in front of computer-screened assessments for hours on end, but these requirements do not appear to be going away any time soon.  As we establish a culture of high expectations that maximizes instructional time, might we consider that in the long run, test results will take care of themselves – That is, if we address the needs of the whole-child-as-learner, as opposed to considering them as test-taker’s?  As leaders we must empower teachers to focus on each child’s academic and social needs, as well as their own.  We need to trust our teachers to be learners and leaders, and at times, to get out of their way.  We need to be courageous enough to allow those closest to the teaching and learning to implement what is best for children, not what is best for individual employees or test scores.

4.     Focus First on People:  Educators who are on the firing line make personal sacrifices each day to uplift student performance.  Oftentimes, this is at the expense of our loved ones and family, as we take far less time for ourselves than we took years ago. Sometimes, it is at the expense of our own health, as continuing education requirements, year-round calendars, performance pressures, and technology demand that we “Never turn it off,” subordinating wellness to program, process, and performance expectation.  In light of such, can we keep in mind each and every day to consider our colleagues first as people, then as co-workers? Can we strive to treat others equitably, not equally? In such, we may be a bit more energized in spite of the noise, and better able to serve students.

5.     Commit to Two-Way Communication: That includes administrators’ listening to and trusting teachers’ and staffs’ professional input. On the flip side, it means teachers’ and staffs’ respecting administrative decisions and following through with them. A true team focuses on working together toward a common vision. At minimum, this means that on our most challenging days, we don’t point fingers and blame.  In our most arduous hours, we come together for support.  When circumstances collide, we put in the work that let’s each of us know that tomorrow will be a better day.  We talk to each other, and play to our strengths, winning battles and saving lives.

By establishing and sticking to our five key actions, we can lay a foundation of success that empowers each of us to tune out the noise and build successful school environments for our students, teachers, and families. 


DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for Professional learning communities at work (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dustin LeMay and Ryan Donlan work each day to tune-out their own noise so that they can listen to folks’ charting courses for improvement of our K-12 educational system, toward a better tomorrow.  If you wish to dial up your own volume and be part of the conversation, please be encouraged to write to them at [] or at  These two wish to learn from others that have workable actions of their own.