Thank you for visiting the ISU Ed. Leadershop. Our intent over the past few years has been to field-test community-engaged writings for PK-20 practitioner conversation -- quick, 5-minute "read's" that help put into perspective the challenges and opportunities in our profession. Some of the writings have remained here solely; others have been developed further for other outlets. Our space has been a delightful "sketch board" for some very creative minds in leadership, indeed.

We believe that by kicking around an idea or two and not getting too worked-up over it, the thinking and writing involved have even greater potential to make a difference on behalf of those we serve. In such, please give us a read; share with others. We encourage your thoughts, opinions, feelings, and reactions to our work and thank you for taking your time. You keep us relevant.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays from the Sycamores!!

On behalf of the Department of Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education at Indiana State University, we send to you our well-wishes for the happiest and safest of holiday seasons, with much time for family, friends, and personal & professional rejuvenation.  We thank you for the support of our Blog in 2011 and look forward to many meaningful conversations in 2012 and beyond.  Please consider offering commentary on our postings in the New Year, as your thoughts, opinions, feelings, and reactions to our posts are most-welcome, indeed.  We will be offering our next post, for your information and review, after the New Year.  Happy Holidays and Best Wishes in the New Year from ISU!  Go Trees!!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Assessing Common Sense: An Overview of Intelligent Opinions

Assessing Common Sense: An Overview of Intelligent Opinions
Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor & Departmental Chairperson
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Blogmaster’s Note: Educational practitioners speak at times of the notion of COMMON SENSE.  Yet, what is “common sense,” really?  How is it defined?  Doctoral students from Evansville, Indiana, recently offered Associate Professor & Departmental Chairperson Dr. Steve Gruenert, at his suggestion, their thoughts and opinions on this oft-quoted concept.  Dr. Gruenert has compiled their definitions, streamlining for readership interest and scholarly learning.  Some are quotes students have cited, thus apologies to those original authors for not citing as such. Many of you are enjoying a reprieve from your professional building responsibilities this week and can, thus, take a bit more time for a “deeper read.”  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

“…if you have ever purchased a self-help book on making common sense decisions, you lack common sense.”  -- Evansville Doctoral Student

Considerations for Common Sense Assessment via Continuum
Assessment is a term that determines a current position in relation to a desired position. Whereas the term evaluation simply gives something a value, assessment tells us how far we are from where we hope to be. To assess common sense, there needs to be an ideal established, and from that point all other possible positions need to be identified. We shall assume the ideal to be theoretical, that is, not truly to exist within any one person. Given this approach, no real definition of common sense is necessary as we simply find a way to measure the distance between where we are and where we hope to be. We’ll try to avoid defining the phrase, because of its lack of precision.
To assess common sense, we also need someone to do something. A type of observable action – which implies a decision was made to inform that action – will serve as that which is measured.  It cannot be a thought, a preference, an opinion, an idea, or emotion. While these concepts may influence a decision, we are assessing actual decisions, not the factors that impact those decisions, despite the belief that emotions plus logic create common sense.  Common sense guides the individual to use reason, driven by reason, regardless of the emotion that may be attempting to drive intuition. 
Here is one way to assess common sense: By comparing the initial reaction to the reaction you would have had, had you been given time to think things through, then determining the relationship between the two reactions.  We can assess the “distance” between what we did and (in retrospect) what we should have done. Perhaps we could devise a scale or continuum upon which to plot this distance, ultimately providing a sense of how much is necessary to maintain status within the window of common sense.

Uncommon(ineffective)                      Common                                            Uncommon(effective)
-5            -4           -3          -2          -1         0          1          2           3          4           5

As found in the above figure, we might be able to create a window of common sense, perhaps most might situate this window between -1 and +1.

There is strong argument for the notion that common sense is not defined by the user but by the consumer of the actions of the common sense. Thus, this distance should be assessed by an observer, not the actor -- which puts us in the dilemma of one person accusing another of not having “enough common sense to come in out of the rain,” while another may respond life is about taking opportunities to “dance in the rain.”

This forces us to recognize common sense not as a tangible entity held by a person; it seems to be an attribute that members of a community project on one another; a collection of traditions that a community has developed; a way of behaving which is reinforced through a recurring pattern of reactions to statements and events -- in essence, to act in ways that make sense to the relevant community. A person’s common sense standard is related to the area in which the person uses the common sense. Thus, a bit of knowledge in that area may be necessary.
The areas that may inform common sense could include, but not be limited to: (a) safety, (b) courtesy, (c) logistics, (d) behavior, (e) discipline, (f) communication, (g) social skills, (h) personnel management, (i) leadership, (j) finance, (k) relationships, (l) situational awareness, (m) optimizing, and (o)flexibility.  Additional notions include thinking sensibly while (p) remaining calm; the (q) ability to survey the social and professional scene and carefully decide on next steps that preserve important relationships but insure that important actions are taken.  Each area might be scored on the same continuum.

Uncommon(ineffective)                      Common                                            Uncommon(effective)
-5            -4           -3          -2          -1         0          1          2           3          4           5
                              (a)   (l)(g)  (c)   (i) (n) (m) (p) (q) (b)(d)     (f)       (e)     (h)(j)  (k)   (g)  (o)

The overall pattern or predominance of indicators could provide a means to determine whether a preponderance of common sense exists, or not. In the above figure, scoring indicates 8 out of 18 criteria in the common sense range. This is 44%. Most might find this person to be lacking common sense. It is important to state that this process does not assess effectiveness.
Once this process has been refined, we might be able to develop a hierarchy of performers. Those possessing the most common sense would be studied further to determine their secrets to success while the rest of us aspire to their abilities. Anyone with uncommon amounts of common sense would be granted special status. They could help us further define common sense as their actions in the future would be regarding as exemplary (see Animal Farm). This may be viewed as an attempt to project one’s own beliefs on the population at-large. A handbook on common sense could be created. Yet how much sense would it make to those who needed it? Perhaps those who do not show adequate yearly progress toward increasing their common sense could experience an intervention from the state?
To digress, many believe common sense is not measurable. To some, common sense is considered the “mean” of the shared culture, which everyone seems to know--yet to which no one can assign a value. Common sense is in the eye of the beholder; therefore, depending upon who is measuring, one might or might not display common sense. 
Yet, others find it measurable by determining when it is not present. The negative space, or lack of data, still tells us something. Lacking common sense can be an action that is assumed to be in opposition to popular opinion, and thus, that action leads to a less than desirable result. If others in the culture respond by labeling those individuals as lacking common sense, then perhaps a predominant score located to the left of common sense (on the continuum) can be defended.
Common Sense as Prelude to Effectiveness
A person has never had to be highly effective in academic performance if they were able to apply common sense. Common sense absolutely comes from learning from our mistakes and those of others.  Experience and common sense can keep you from doing stupid things. Common sense is using practical knowledge with limited, specialized knowledge.  Therefore, we might surmise a correlation between the two concepts, but not causality.
The more common the sense is, the more successful the administrator will be in the eyes of the community. It is literally knowing what to do and when to do it, and that all depends on whom the players are in the arena.  If the goal of a leader is to maintain an acceptable reputation for having common sense, he/she must be in tune to the expectations of the community. The community defines common sense.
Common sense also relies heavily on the experiences of an individual.  Experiences or background knowledge, not necessarily formal education, enables leaders to predict consequences more accurately. The mistakes leaders make when faced with new cultures are often attributed to lacking common sense.  “What were they thinking?” is a frequently asked question. Yet, to improve common sense, one should experience more surprises in life so that those can be used in the future as common sense lessons.
If we don’t think and react as the status quo of “regular-minded” people, then we are lacking common sense.  Some amount of experience is required for common sense.  Therefore, new professionals may make several mistakes and live with the consequences (unless they are pilots) before learning what not to repeat. The bridge between common sense and effectiveness is fun to imagine. Becoming effective could be perceived as a matter of cataloging mistakes – knowing what was outside of the common sense range, yet knowing which of those were okay. Common sense is something to be learned and hopefully increased over the course of on-the-job experiences and extensive human interaction.
If you can keep the common sense label, and therefore your job, you cannot move forward without bringing the understanding of the community with you, a very slow boat. While common sense is not very effective in strategic decision making, it seems to provide a comfort among folks needing to make tough decisions. In the end, the choice to balance common sense with science is made, and the process continues.  Loss aversion and status quo bias serve as two reasons why we can’t rely on common sense. Difficulty can be anticipated when what makes the most sense may not be the “common” sense.  Having experience in knowing the expected decision may be the essence of common sense.
Life Implications

The common sense verdict of the majority of ordinary people throughout history is much more likely to be accurate than the latest fashionably brilliant insight of the ruling elite. Reliance on our past experience alone can lead to predictability and prevent us from exploring new ways of thinking. Common sense is usually the default, but it can be a trap.
As you continue your trek toward the Ph.D., someone wrote: One who becomes more intelligent will begin to display less common sense.  Perhaps the best measure is having enough common sense to know when to keep your mouth shut. Intelligence is teaching others with your mouth shut…well, at least it should not be open as much as the learner.
Dr. Steve Gruenert encourages your thoughts, comments, and reactions, as well as your contributions to these notions of Common Sense, and can be reached at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will I Lose Touch?

Will I Lose Touch?

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

            Healthy reservations were expressed to me in a question asked recently by a future Principal:  “Will I lose touch with students when I move from the classroom to school leadership? I don’t want to lose the one-on-one connections I have.”

        Natural apprehensions are to be expected in this transfer of professional responsibilities; after all, no prescribed class rosters or officially scheduled students will fill a leader’s playbook each day through which to foster and maintain positive relationships.  Plus, the fact that one’s locus of responsibility expands from 30 to 150 students all the way to 300 or 3000, as well as dealing with faculty and staff issues, is enough to get anyone’s attention.
        Well, I can say, without hesitation, that “all is good.”  I have found through many years of building leadership that a principalship was even more satisfying than a position as classroom teacher to forge one-on-one relationships with students and to make a positive difference.  This has to do with three variables:  (1) A principal’s paternal/maternal identification as a leader, (2) Autonomy for targeted/assisted intervention, and (3) Authority through which to make life-changing decisions.
          First, as principal, students often identify with you either paternally or maternally, influenced in part by the “in-loco parentis” factors of school cultural symbolism, those that occur visibly through a leader’s participation in school-day presentations, greetings, events, rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations of school life and identity.  As principal, you not only become the living logo of the building, through which school mission and vision are embodied, you also become a father or mother, a “dad” or “mom,” to students. 
Your role is such as the building’s premiere parent, and because of such, students will do what they typically do to maximize their desires for parental “permissions.”  They’ll attempt to please you, of course, and even look up to you at times, yet they’ll predictably also play “parent versus older siblings” and seek YOUR help in trumping what another in authority has demanded of them.  What this amounts to is much traffic to your office, as well as many attempts to get your ear, from all in the school community. 
To say that these experiences with you are anything less than impressionable for students would be an understatement.  Through your interactions, students hang on your every word, carrying your messages to others willingly, serving up the knowledge gleaned as most worthy of family (school family) discussion.  Your presence and symbolism have great power and impact; please realize this humbly and responsibly.
            Second, as principal, despite all that confronts you from “without” – such as the increasing responsibilities in dealing with the market forces of school competition, standardized testing pressures, classroom observation logistics, data analysis responsibilities, and curricular mandates -- the lion’s share of your time each day is spent interacting one-on-one, or in groups, “with people.”  You spend much time communicating with those who work each and every day to help your school reach its goals, thus allowing you opportunities to build, what Sergiovanni (2009) would call, relational trust with your followers.  I would suggest that with this in mind, much of your time, energy, and focus is rightfully placed upon the needs of students.
Powerful to note is that as principal, for the most part you are not required by assignment to attend to specific tasks during externally prescribed periods of time.  You set your own schedule to the degree that emergency circumstances and your Superintendent will allow. In such, you decide upon whom or what to focus.   Imagine the opportunity to focus on children each morning in the manner in which you choose -- to foster relationships with students, as each and every day provides the need for positive adult-to-child intervention. 
Before school begins each day, as Principal you can watch closely and identify those kids who are coming to school in need of most help and attention.  You then have the opportunity for a kind word, some unencumbered moments of your time, an invitation to your office, and even some personal effort to make things a bit better for them.  Imagine from the standpoint of a struggling student, the meaningfulness and memorability of a school leader’s taking the time to provide a helping hand … just because the principal cares enough to do so. I would argue that there is not a better anvil and hammer to forge relationships than your ability as a principal to “care.”   
Tough (2008) noted the importance of an educator’s caring, stating:
It was the X factor, the magic ingredient that could outweigh all the careful calculations behind [a school’s] strategy for success … what made a difference in many students’ lives was a personal connection that was impossible to measure and difficult to replicate.  If the kids didn’t get that, all the tutoring in the world might not help them. (p. 186)
Educators’ demonstrating “care” in the most arduous of circumstances was Tough’s (2008) example, through which heroes made a positive difference.  So can you.
To those who believe that school guidance counselors have this as part of their job descriptions – Absolutely; they most certainly do, as schools are not limited in the number of heroes they employ. Yet, there’s no substitute for a principal’s taking time as well to individualize and act on behalf of students, within the framework of his/her expertise, authority, interest, and compassion.  There’s enough “need” to go around in today’s schools, as children come to us more broken all of the time, in need of heroes.
            Finally, as Principal, you have the greatest authority within your building to use your panoramic perspective to “do what’s right” and make a positive difference.  You see the entire picture and can act upon it. Students and staff will seek you out for redress of  “wrongs.” 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. People will know more about you than you realize; they will identify closely with “the you” that your office, your beliefs, and your deeds represent.  You will create bonds with others simply because they respect and admire what you have accomplished.  You are a living logo with visible authority to wield great power on behalf of the underdog.
Thinking back to one of my most meaningful experiences as a K-12 leader, I was tending to paperwork in my office in the half hour or so after I announced to students in a school-wide meeting my retirement-of-sorts from the K-12 public schools.  As most students and staff were back in class, a small group of students filed in and sat with me, some with smiles and well-wishes; others in tears.  What surprised me the most was the fact that a few of the students who were crying were not those whom I was even aware of close feelings on their part.  Humbling. The authority through which principals make life-changing decisions brings us closer to students than we may ever realize.

            Our relationship with students, upon taking a position as a building leader, may not be exactly the same as it was while a faculty or staff member, yet it will most certainly be “as close” and “as powerful,” if not more so.  We don’t lose touch.  All is good!  Yet, I caution that with this realization of potential for strong connections, we also understand that a direct result of factors (1), (2), and  (3) above, can be as much negative as positive, if we are not acting with virtue, mission-mindfulness, and student-centeredness.  Amidst the challenges that school leadership brings to those of us willing to accept the invitation come the greatest possible rewards through relationships with students and stakeholders lasting a lifetime.


Sergiovanni, T. (2009). The principalship: A reflective practice perspective (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Tough, P. (2008). Whatever it takes: Geoffrey Canada’s quest to change Harlem and America. Boston, MA: Mariner Books.

Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at Indiana State University at or at (812) 237-8624.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Is Your Investment Strategy?

What Is Your Investment Strategy?

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

During challenging financial times, school leaders must be careful, indeed, in how investments are made in Human Capital.  Most discretionary spending is gone.  Cuts are being made across the board. Times are tight.
Some have reacted by pulling in the reins on professional development funding, curtailing trips to conferences and redlining fees for in-house trainings.  Others have narrowed the focus to “needs,” not “wants, “ oft-times defining needs as training in only those content areas that will help in securing the biggest bang for the school achievement buck.  Understandable, it seems, with finite resources.
Again, these are tough times.
Although we in ISU’s Bayh College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership have sound knowledge of school finance, we can’t – and wouldn’t – tell you how to spend your money.  You are best positioned to make those decisions with knowledge of your local circumstances. 
We can, however, offer some food for thought on how to think about a new “Investment Strategy” in your greatest asset – “your people” – the star performers who make a difference on behalf of children and community each and every day.  Please let us know if this advice is helpful.
First, only invest in Human Capital that will result in Social Capital.  The days of sending teachers to trainings, only to have them return to the buildings to shut their doors and teach in isolation, are over.  Unless you will reap five-fold the investment with those involved in professional development opportunities, spend elsewhere.  Social Capital involves not only teachers within buildings networking to share their newfound expertise; it also involves those with new skills seeking community partnerships that can augment the in-class experiences for students.  As a possible rule of thumb -- “two inside partners and at least one outside partner” should be secured for each professional development opportunity leadership provides to staff.  That responsibility for securing the partnerships is the person’s attending the training.
Second, invest selectively in staff opportunity when it comes to attendance at soft-skills trainings (as I differentiate those from content-area or academic skills trainings).  Soft skills trainings, as I define these experiences, are those that help staff more effectively “reach” students through socio-emotional channels. Study the content of such to ensure that the dividends will  positively affect student “self-efficacy.”  None can argue the benefits of students’ feeling good about themselves, but I would argue that an unintentional byproduct of an overemphasis on self-esteem, as opposed to self-efficacy, in students has been the fostering of an unintentional, yet overindulgent hyper-consumerism, as opposed to an increase of individual responsibility. Staff members have a point if they say, “If kids feel awful, they can’t learn.” I agree. However, I would also pose that the path toward feeling good about oneself is through success borne of hard work and personal effort, as well as the first-hand knowledge that one is empowered to make a positive difference in his/her life as a student and as a person.  We must empower students, not enable them. Professional development should train educators to do just that.
Finally, at Indiana State University, we offer graduate students ongoing relationships and lifelong learning & professional development, not simply in-class experiences.  Consultants and trainers should do the same.  While opening your school’s checkbook -- pay heed only to outside consultants who are going to offer ongoing relationships, as opposed to one-shot drive by’s.  Some of the very good ones do this by offering ongoing coaching to organizations at reasonable prices or instructional materials for reasonable purchase after events; others do it by maintaining an active, vibrant, and professionally enriching on-line presence, one through which clients can continue learning after trainings are complete.  Still others allow for continued communication through Blogs, Twitter, Skype, and other Professional Learning Community portals.  Whatever medium exists … make sure it is one that will allow continued “learning” after the day of training is complete, in whatever form that works best for your staff.  Time and money are too precious to expect otherwise.
What is your investment strategy?  Have you examined it recently?


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at and can be found with his own on-line personality on Twitter at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ISU's 2011 Award Winning School Leaders

 ISU Students are WINNERS!!!

"CONGRATULATIONS" to current and former Indiana State University Bayh College of Education Department of Educational Leadership students for their SCHOOL LEADER OF THE YEAR AWARDS, selected recently be the Indiana Association of School Principals.

They are:


Mary Beth Harris, Fuqua Elementary School, Terre Haute, IN.  STATEWIDE WINNER!!!!

Jane Rogers, Milan Elementary School, Milan, IN.

Judith Stegemann, Stout Field Elementary School, Indianapolis, IN.


Michael Sowers, Southmont Jr. High School, Crawfordsville, IN.

Timothy Vislosky, West Vigo Middle School, West Terre Haute, IN.


Bryan Emmert, East Noble Middle School, Kendallville, IN.

Andrew Hartley, Plymouth High School, Plymouth, IN.

W. Tom Russell, Mt. Vernon Senior High School, Mt. Vernon, IN.

Greg Walker, Brownstown Central Middle School, Brownstown, IN.


Roger Benson, Waldo J. Wood Memorial High School, Oakland City, IN.

Gregory Briles, Oregon-David Jr./Sr. High School, Hamlet, IN.

Destin Haas, Benton Community School Corporation, Fowler, IN.

Derek Marshall, Attica Consolidated School Corporation, Attica, IN.

Lezlie Winter, Mississinewa Community Schools, Gas City, IN  STATEWIDE WINNER!!!!



Department of Educational Leadership

Monday, November 28, 2011

Unintentionally, yet Most Excellently

Unintentionally, yet Most Excellently
A Way for “Doing Partnerships”

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

Any Given Affidavit in a Principal’s Career --



Dear [_________________] Police Department Officials:

Early Tuesday morning, at approximately 9:00 a.m., office staff members received a report from two credible and reliable students that [Student X] was attempting to sell marijuana in the upstairs boys’ restroom.  As we heard the student was still in the restroom area, [Assistant Principal Y] & and I proceeded to the location immediately and initiated questioning of the student. 

As we spoke with [Student X], who did not have permission to be in that area of the school building without a hall pass, we noted a distinct odor of what we thought was marijuana emanating from his breath and clothing; his eyes were also quite bloodshot. [Student X] was relatively inarticulate as he spoke with us and seemed unable to take things seriously.

Based upon both reasonable suspicion and a preponderance of evidence that the student could be under the influence or in possession of marijuana, a danger to himself and others and in violation of our school’s safe and drug-free schools policies, we initiated a pocket and personal item search and found approximately ½ ounce of a substance that appeared to be marijuana in his book bag.  A pipe with resin was also found, as were rolling papers and a lighter.  All artifacts and substances found were clearly delineated in our Student Handbook as contraband in violation of school rules, some of which necessitated a call to law enforcement.

Upon confiscation, we secured chain of custody of the contraband by sealing it in an envelope, labeling and signing it as to its contents, and locking the envelope in a secure location until the arrival of police.  We also performed a search of the student’s locker and found nothing inside and made three separate attempts to contact the students’ parents using the telephone numbers provided to the front office. When those attempts proved unsuccessful, we appointed a school official not involved in the investigation, in-loco parentis, to represent the student during law enforcement conversation until parents arrived. 

Police Department Officials took possession of the contraband and asked that we follow-up with an affidavit.  The student was sent home with his parent and was cited for possession of a controlled substance on school property.  The school initiated disciplinary action, as per the terms and conditions of the Student Handbook.

If you have further questions, please feel free to stop by or call at anytime.  Thank you for your help and assistance.


[School Principal]


A few weeks ago, while providing some professional development in my home state, I took some time to visit a local police station for a talk with an old friend, Dan, now Police Chief in a community in which I served formerly as a Superintendent.  We shared stories, caught up a bit, and reminisced of a time he was on patrol and I was a school leader. 
One thing he said caught me by surprise -- “You know, Ryan … we really enjoyed how you made our job easier, each and every time we had to take a report from an incident at your school.”
I was taken aback.  “What do you mean, Dan, making your job easier?”  I thought he was kidding. You see, I always felt that it reflected upon my leadership each time an officer needed to be called to my school.  I never thought it made anyone’s job easier.
He responded, “Well, it was the way you used to write statements.  After any given call to your building, we would simply come back to the station, go to our fax, pull your statement, and celebrate the fact that you really did such a nice job in report writing for all of us." 
He continued, “The day shift loved your reports. So did the prosecutors and judges.  They were airtight.  Thanks for that!  We didn’t mind coming to your school at all.”
In the many years we had worked together, I never realized this.  I didn’t think anything of it; I only wrote reports as I knew how – carefully, thoroughly, and expeditiously – then went on to the other 100 items in my “in-box” for that day.

Since our talk, I now realize that one of the reasons my reports went over so well was that I paid attention to my graduate classes in school law.  I studied hard, read deeply, and knew the law. I found it important. Without even much thought, my reports included such things as the credibility and reliability of information upon which action was taken, standards of evidenced used for questioning of suspects, the scope and sequence of searches & seizures, due diligence in maintaining sanctity of evidence once collected, demarcation between law enforcement and civilian jurisdiction and responsibility, steps taken to secure the rights of those accused, especially with children under the age of 18, and the statutory privileges we have as school officials to conduct investigations to maintain safe schools, which in many states exceed the power and authority of our friends in law enforcement.  My reports evidenced the fact that everyone was on the same page and we all had our act together. We were a good team.
In short, my efforts in report-writing (something to which I never gave 2 seconds thought over an entire career until my talk with Dan) unthinkingly gift-wrapped most all that a police officer could want – as they included a tight and tidy presentation of all that one could potentially be grilled over by constituents or supervisors if things had gone sloppily.  Further, my reports allowed police officers to use the content as easy reference pieces in writing their own. 
I now better understand that every time I asked my friends in law enforcement to help us do our jobs, I ensured without even thinking, two things:  (1) That their desires for a job-made-less-complicated were met as best as they could, and (2) That their constituents would be pleased by their assisting us on behalf of students and community. 
This now has me thinking whether or not I did so as well for the Chamber of Commerce president, our Local and State Politicians, Philanthropists, and a plethora of other friends that I kept close at hand and requested assistance from over many years in school leadership.

Recently, if you have seen me at a speaking engagement, you have probably heard me promoting a School Principal’s need TO THINK during the school week – at least two hours per week on average.  Consider (1) and (2) above as “topics next” if you are taking time to do just that. 

If we as School Principals are asking community partners – whether police officers, business leaders, butchers, bakers, or candle stick makers – to invest their time, talent, and treasure in schools, then we should probably take time to think, “What’s in it for them?” and “Are their needs being met?”
In short, if trusted partners and friends make investments in our schools, are we helping to ensure that they better off than before they made such?  Ideally, the world would be full of intrinsically motivated people who simply help us for the love of children, and maybe this is the case in your local community.  I hope so, as I have encountered this to an impressive degree in mine.
Yet let’s not be naïve – In order to best serve the working professionals who are motivated, from time to time, by incentives enticing them to add value to what we are doing with children, we can fashion our efforts to make it “even more worth it,” each and every time they step up to the plate.  It starts by our doing our job better than most.
You’ll probably find that in most cases of “doing partnerships,” it’s simply our serving “unintentionally, yet most excellently” in leadership that makes the difference.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached for comment at and encourages ideas and suggestions for Blog content helpful to K-12 school leaders making a difference!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LODGED in K-12 Education

LODGED in K-12 Education

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

By Robert Frost, 1928
The rain to the wind said,
“You push and I’ll pelt.”
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged – though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
(In Latham & Thompson, 1972)

… So says today’s K-12 educator.
            In this national race toward psychometric measurability of everything “education,” are we considering how the educators are feeling? You know … the “good folks.”

I’m not speaking on behalf of the small number of those in our profession who have placed their own agendas in front of quality education or those who have been ambivalent to such a degree that they have neglected to be mindful of a need for continuous improvement.  Those are the ones, in part, who have given rise to the pushing and pelting.
I’m advocating for good folks, the educational superheroes who are the best possible role models for our nation’s children - those who are now under such extreme pressure to follow a mandated scope and sequence of test-centered curricula that their children can no longer enjoy playtime in elementary schools.  I’m advocating for folks who are no longer in charge of the “how” of what they used to do in their classrooms, and they need to be.
            It used to be that educators had as the final line of their job descriptions, “All other duties as assigned.” That was ok; the good folks accepted that. Today’s replacement: “All other duties that society abrogates,” goes a bit too far.
That, coupled with the fact that children’s potential for educational success is powerfully influenced before they ever reach our nation’s classrooms, makes careers in K-12 education ones in which only miracle workers should apply – ones through which only superheroes should aspire to leadership. 
Please be a miracle worker or superhero, in spite of the rain and the wind.
Consider what many refer to as Miscel's Stanford University Marshmallow Study (Prairie View 2008, crediting as well Miscel, Shoda, and Peake, 1990).  Researchers placed hungry 4-year-olds alone in a room with a single marshmallow each. They mentioned to the children that if they did not eat their marshmallows before the researchers returned, they could each have two marshmallows.  Those who maintained the ability to control their impulses were seen during a follow-up study to have notably higher SAT scores than the children unable to control their impulses (Prairie View, 2008).
Through such studies, one could surmise that a certain degree of emotional intelligence, or even school aptitude, is already present in children before they enroll in school.  Yet, even though parents and guardians are logically implicated as “responsible” for at least some of the disparities in aptitude and efficacy that exist in children upon enrollment in school, educators are still held 100% responsible for student achievement.  Where is parental accountability?  Why not shared accountability?
If politicians wish to sharpen their efforts on true and lasting student achievement, I would like to suggest a few areas through which they can concentrate that would assist in accountability for student achievement.
Legislation declaring that children’s playpens should not be placed in front of televisions as de-facto babysitters for infants and toddlers from birth to age 3 would be a good start. How about local ordinances requiring that all parents, from neglectful deadbeats to two-parent career-aholics, “step-up” and spend more time with their children, so as to provide for their basic needs and language development? What about tighter regulations prohibiting the exposure of our youngest children to indelible messages of "easy money without hard work," as well as suggestions that parents turn away from their social networking sites in order to spend each evening reading to their children?  Sounds far-fetched and a bit too “Big Brother-like,” I realize, yet at minimum, encouraging public conversation of such would at least raise awareness of key variables impacting learning that school officials can’t control.
 A more politically feasible suggestion, perhaps: Through a reallocation of state budgets, support could be given to a statewide early education initiative that would allow all children, from birth to Kindergarten, to receive free books in the mail each month, mailed to them personally, an idea now championed in certain local communities through philanthropic support and trusted partnerships.  One such champion of these efforts with a deep love for children is Mike Dewey, an educational leader and friend of mine – a true superhero – who has advocated that all children have reading materials at home (Bay-Arenac, 2012).  I would encourage those criticizing good educators to think “more like Mike.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if those currently pushing and pelting would exercise their leadership to un-lodge our heroes in K-12?  The “good folks” need to feel a little less like the flowers in Frost’s poem. Conversely, others more responsible for the plight of our nation’s achievement need to feel a bit more of the wind and the rain.


Bay Arenac ISD Imagination Library, a Dolly Parton-Inspired Program. Retrieved from

Latham, E., & Thompson, L. (Eds.). (1972). The Robert Frost reader: Poetry and prose. New York, NY: Owl Books.

Prairie View Process Solutions Group (2008), July. The Capabilities Awareness Profile Informational Guide. Training conducted at Prairie View Process Solutions in Newton, Kansas.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ISU Ed. Leadership Faculty "ON THE ROAD"

Indiana State University’s Department of Educational Leadership will be presenting at the Indiana Association of School Principals State Conference in Indianapolis on Monday, November 21, 2011. 

Join us in session for the following:

Improving Your Culture and Climate

Dr. Steve Gruenert and Dr. Todd Whitaker offer substantive information on school culture and climate. At the end of the session participants will be able to have a more effective communication tool they can use in their own school setting; they will also be more effective at motivating and leading their faculty and staff and will understand how to infuse their personal belief systems throughout their school.

Navigating the “New Normal” – Surviving and Thriving in Education

Dr. Terry McDaniel, Bobbie Jo Monahan, and Dr. Ryan Donlan provide relevant and engaging information regarding recent legislative and legal initiatives in Indiana affecting job requirements of building principals and their staffs, as well as strategies that will help building leaders operate in an increasingly competitive educational environment.  The new “big picture” will have “building-level relevance” in this presentation.

Friday Focus: A Staff Memo That Works

Dr. Todd Whitaker presents the "Friday Focus," a weekly staff memo that motivates, organizes, sensitizes, and can be the impetus for change throughout the school. Principals will learn how to use an existing tool – the staff bulletin or email – to help establish expectations, build belief systems, and provide a tool for continuous school improvement. Samples will be shared, along with specific techniques that will enable all principals to infuse energy and excitement into their buildings and staff on a continual basis.

Dealing with Doorknobs: Motivating Non-Performers to Succeed

Dr. Ryan Donlan shares how school leaders can effectively deal with those in the organization are causing trouble – the critical, suspicious, defiant, manipulative, mistake-prone, and aloof … both students and staff!  Watch how he brings to life the different personalities in your schools and offers a cookbook of connection in how to deal with them.

Launching the Principalship: Enhancing and Extending Your Honeymoon

School leaders new to their roles often find that the demands of the positions lend themselves to challenge, as well as the use of extensive personal time juggling the learning curves involved.  Dr. Ryan Donlan offers strategies for fostering "Camelot" to those new to the principalship, interestingly relevant to seasoned principals looking to become superintendents as well.  A detailed, one-page road map will be shared with all session attendees.

                                                              Travel safely to Indy, everyone!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dealing with Doorknobs

Dealing with Doorknobs

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

Pulling from an article regarding “doorknobs” that I will be sharing at an upcoming principals conference, I thought it best to focus this week’s conversation on those who are making life very difficult for others in school.  I call them doorknobs – not in the negativistic sense of a slang term for a buffoon or malcontent – as doorknobs are, in actuality, otherwise good people in distress.  I use the term “doorknob” in a metaphorical sense that envisions our using interactions with distressed people of all ages to “open-up” new doorways for positive communication and productive output.  Who are our doorknobs?
            Those who are critical, suspicious, defiant, manipulative, mistake-prone, and aloof – These are students, as well as staff, and they are causing problems in American schools.  They may be lurking in a teachers’ lounge or waiting among a line of students referred to your office.  Distress is an equal opportunity inflictor.
With the current school accountability demands placed upon us by state and federal officials, just how often can we allow doorknobs to derail school culture and educational achievement? 
Not long. 
Schools must keep the main thing, “the main thing” each and every day – and that main thing is student achievement (Jeffrey, 1997). Children’s lives depend on meaningful instruction with few interruptions; so does the future of our schools and the American way of life.
            The question becomes, “How to we deal with doorknobs, quickly turning them into doorways?” 
Forty years of research suggests that power struggles can be avoided and performance improved if educators learn that all people have specific, positive personality strengths aligned with psychological and environmental needs.  If these needs are met, performance is optimal; if not, then predictable, sequential distress patterns of negative behavior and non-performance can occur (Kahler, 2006, 2008).
            Dr. Taibi Kahler, in 1971, envisioned the way in which people interacted with each other in productive and non-productive ways. The power of this discovery was that interpersonal behavior could be analyzed, to-the-second, as being either “communication” or “miscommunication.” Both patterns, positive and negative, were predictable and measureable (Kahler, 2008).  Kahler has since translated his clinical concepts into a model of for educators entitled The Process Education Model® (PEM).  It is a cookbook rich in theory and brimming with behavioral intervention.
            Educators well-versed in the Process Education Model (PEM) can recognize signs of distress in other staff and students, such as those characteristics of the doorknobs above.  They can then provide targeted communication interventions through the use of words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions in ways that best meets others’ psychological needs (Pauley & Pauley, 2009).  The result: Improved communication, minimized distress, and fewer interruptions to the teaching/learning environment.
            For further information on Kahler’s model, contact us in the Department of Educational Leadership. I particularly recommend as a read, Gilbert’s (2004) Communicating Effectively: Tools for Educational Leaders.  We’re also putting together our 2012 Summer Professional Development Schedule that tentatively includes “Process” in the itinerary.  Keep a read on this blog for further details in the months ahead of us. 
Oh … and if you are a Principal, conferencing in Indy on Monday the 21st, stop by our ISU booth or see us in session, as we will be turning doorknobs into opening doorways.  We would love to talk!


Gilbert, M. (2004). Communicating effectively: Tools for educational leaders. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.

Jeffrey, J. (1997). Superintendent of Schools. Guiding Principles for Leadership in the Public Schools of Petoskey, Michigan.

Kahler, T. (2008). The Process Therapy Model: The six personality types with adaptations. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates, Inc.

Kahler T. (2006). The mastery of management: Or how to solve the mystery of mismanagement (6th ed.). Little Rock, AR: Kahler Communications, Inc.

Pauley, J., & Pauley, J. (2009). Communication: The key to effective leadership. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is a nationally certified trainer in the Process Education Model (PEM) and provides conference presentations, workshops, and service for educators looking to foster enhanced school improvement.  He can be reached at

Monday, November 7, 2011

Climbing the Ladder: Where is Your "Best Fit"?

Climbing the Ladder: Where is Your “Best Fit”?

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

The sun was shining; a warm breeze came from the southwest, as I heard the classic “ping” of a Ping putter, followed shortly thereafter by the rattle of a ball in a cup.  Smiling at his accomplishment, Elementary Principal “Tommy V” as we called him – an even better educator than he was golfer (and he was very good on the course) -- said, “You know, Ryan, one of the things that you will enjoy in leadership is that you will have more time to make thoughtful decisions. You can confer with colleagues and weigh the issues before taking action. You’ll have space.”  He contrasted that from the quick decisions made on an hourly basis in teaching, as I had just accepted my first Assistant Principal’s contract. We were enjoying a day as an administrative team -- our “Community.”

I have thought much about Tom over the past 16 years, as I have ascended from Assistant Principal to Principal to Superintendent.  Now as a University faculty member, I think often, “Which role suited me best and why?”  “How was Tom’s notion of time and space involved?” “What was my ‘best fit’?” In this trip down memory’s lane, one “constant” keeps coming to mind for me– the notion of Community.
I’m one who needs Community, as defined: A close knit of similarly situated professionals with whom to spend time, enjoy each other’s company, trade stories, garner advice regarding the challenges of the day, mourn losses, and celebrate accomplishments.  Those considering climbing the ladder in education may want to keep in mind the fact that the degree to which you get more time, space, and authority to make decisions, the less “Community” you may enjoy. 

Where is your optimal “fit”?  Let us examine four key positions in the educational hierarchy to help with this decision.

Classroom teaching is an incredibly rewarding career. It has action; it has challenges! Teachers are the true determinant of lifelong success for individual students. Consider the fact that teachers have 30 high-energy variables – a.k.a. their students – doing myriad things nearly every hour of the school day.  Teachers must make countless decisions at once; they have little time to do so, little space to work, and they are even land-locked to their classrooms because of their direct, supervisory roles over students.  Teachers today have limited authority over curricular decisions in today’s standards-based arena, and they cannot even use the restroom when they desire.  What they DO have, however, is rich Community.  Duty-free lunches in the lounge with friends and a large group of similarly situated professionals with which to commiserate are part and parcel of their professional lives.  They spend most of their professional lives in that Community.  It is a great place to be!

Moving up the educational hierarchy, one finds Assistant Principals. There is not a better opportunity to help kids reflect on their growth and development and make better decisions than there is as an Assistant Principal!  It is an incredible job. No longer tethered to classrooms, Assistant Principals have more freedom of movement than teachers, yet they oftentimes find that their supervisory roles in commons areas, such as courtyards, cafeterias, and parking lots, slightly limit their true workspace autonomy.  Assistant Principals’ time is often regimented because of these duties as well; however, they have a bit more autonomy than teachers to schedule their days as they see fit.  Disciplinary situations can mire them in activity and require quick decisions, yet for the most part, they have more authority to do what they need to do and more time to do it. Assistant Principals typically have a small group of similarly situated professionals with whom to enjoy Community and even can do so with their Principals at times.  Neighboring school districts and professional associations offer up camaraderie as well.  Yet, these aspects of Community are much more limited than teachers, who have boatloads of Community each day.  Assistant Principals can stay a number of years in their Communities.  There is never a dull moment on the job!

The Principalship is a “choice career” for those who wish to exercise true leadership and take responsibility for an entire institution’s learning and success. Principals experience much more latitude in the time and space needed to make decisions and perform their duties. Oftentimes, they are handling matters more of importance than urgency.  Although Principals have a certain degree of building responsibility, supervisory functions can be delegated to allow time for bigger issues of school vision, mission, instructional leadership, and external facilitation.  Their roles allow for more authority as well, as they have prescribed power over the operations of the school, staff, and students.  Community for Principals shrinks rapidly, as they have supervisory responsibility over all on staff, even their Assistants.  Leadership requires them to make difficult decisions, some of which result in folks’ not desiring the outcomes.  Like squeezing a balloon, every action taken on behalf of one end of the hallway has either a positive or negative affect on the other end.  Lounges get quiet when Principals enter for a reason -- because Principals are doing their jobs.  Doing one’s job can be challenging at times, and Principals must seek out other Principals in other buildings for Community.  Because tenure is much shorter for Principals than teachers, oftentimes Principals may need to change community, as well as Community, a few times during careers. There is no more important person in a school building to the culture of that organization than the Principal.

High-impact visioning, large-scale educational impact, and the championing of systemic improvement are secured most clearly via the Superintendency. For those with a 10,000-foot perspective on what needs to be done to educate for a better tomorrow, there is no better position in education than that of a Superintendent.  The role can be a bit isolating, however, thus limiting Community as we describe such herein, even further. With the highest of authority that a Board of Education can bestow an employee -- with no buildings to run directly and no students to supervise -- Superintendents have great latitude in the time required to make decisions, in how they arrange their days, with whom they meet, on what issues to focus, and where to be on a daily basis.  Yet, the decisions they make and actions they take affect more than one building; they affect an entire school district and community at large.  Imagine hundreds of balloons squeezed with each decision, affecting numerous stakeholder interests, from the schoolteacher to the business leader, from the farmer to the barber … not to mention every single parent or relative of a student in the community.  Restaurants, not just teachers’ lounges, get quiet when Superintendents enter, at times.  Conversely, bars and coffee shops may become louder. Community for a Superintendent, as I define herein, is quite small, even though ironically, community visibility is quite large.  The average tenure of a Superintendent is much shorter than that of a Principal.  Because of this, one’s geographic location may shift every few years, thus requiring the need to rebuild Community wherever one goes. The highest degree of leadership prowess and resiliency is demanded of a Superintendent, which is very fulfilling, indeed, for those with the “best fit.”

Those desiring ascension in educational leadership must think long and hard about “the fit” of the next level, examining their own needs in terms of professional Community, while balancing those needs with respect to their desires for time, space, and authority in their roles.  One’s fit in education is inextricably linked to the life one wants to lead and the Community in which one needs fulfillment as a member.  Be aware that the higher you ascend in education, the more personal effort is required to provide yourselves with the support and balance in your lives to offset the shrinking Community and expanded community visibility that increased responsibilities engender. 

Dr. Ryan Donlan’s perspective is based on 20 years service to K-12 education prior to his faculty role, as well as his experience as an author, trainer, and educational consultant.  Your viewpoints are critical to a healthy discussion of leadership topics such as this and are welcomed by the Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University.  Dr. Donlan can be reached at and can be found on Twitter, @RyanDonlan.  Please offer us suggestions for future topics relevant to you.