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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

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