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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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Consider This.

Consider This.

By Dr. Steve Gruenert
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

One of your more successful alumni, Jason, is coming to your school to surprise his younger brother with a visit. At first, Jason was one of your most challenging students; he did not want to come to school, and when he did, he either slept or got into trouble. Throughout the years he became more engaged with the school but never really got anyone’s attention with his achievement. He settled in and managed to graduate with a low GPA, pretty much staying under the radar.

Jason then managed to get into a local community college, had success there and moved on to finish at a university, majoring in computer science. His degree and aspirations landed him in the military as an officer.  His work in the United States Air Force has been instrumental in the development of new programs that have made covert operations more effective. He was stationed in Afghanistan for a year and has come home unexpectedly to see his little brother.

The surprise goes well. Jason gets to walk into his little brother’s classroom quietly and gives him a big hug. The cheers could be heard throughout the whole building. Jason spends a few minutes talking to the class about his work, then leaves to wait in the office until school is dismissed. While in the office, a few teachers walk in to conduct daily business. When they recognize Jason, a conversation ensues.  

Each teacher shares how proud he/she is of how successful Jason has become; each teacher also shares how many of them were uncertain of his potential while in school. With each conversation Jason shares those aspects of his high school experience that seemed supportive, along with those aspects that seemed to inhibit his efforts to realize the success he has achieved.

If you were an administrator at this school, would you be interested in what Jason had to say?  Chances are that we all have a few Jason’s out there – and they know what structures and personnel make a difference.

Now imagine you’re Jason standing in front of the faculty at a meeting sharing those thoughts. Would teachers want to know from you what works and what does not work in their school? Chances are that as Jason, you would also glorify those teachers who need it, yet who rarely receive that pat on the back. You might even open-up some new conversations addressing the idiosyncratic nuances of your building that make it what it is.

As a leader, you might consider bringing in three Jason’s over the course of the school year. This could be the ultimate teacher professional development activity that didn’t cost a thing.


Steve Gruenert would like your comments.  Would you be open to this type of professional development?  Would your staff?  Would Jason’s perspective make a difference?  Please reply to this post or e-mail him at

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Powder Kegs in Schools

Powder Kegs in Schools

By Dr. Steve Gruenert
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Theory postulates that riots form when certain preconditions exist, those being deprivation and frustration (Perry & Pugh, 1978). “The deprivation-frustration-aggression (DFA) hypothesis suggests that social deprivation leads to frustration, which in turn leads to aggression” (p. 146). Thus, the authors call this the “powder-keg” hypothesis. All it takes is a critical incident for the keg to blow up.
Two things come to mind from the perspective of educational leadership: (1) Could this explain why some students are prone to misbehavior? and (2) Can we manufacture these conditions to incite teachers into aggressive professional development?

No doubt I caught you by surprise with the second idea more than the first. I’ll explain what I mean with the first idea now then try to build an argument for the second one later.
To deprive and frustrate anyone over an extended period of time will take its toll. This frustration will silently accumulate until an event transpires that gives it a release. The release can be cathartic in nature for an individual, or it might cue many others in the same situation to make a stand. In schools, we find the same students’ having referrals, usually for the same offenses. Tardy students can be predicted to be tardy again. Violent students are prone to future violence. A question that school leaders might ask is, “What is the degree to which we might be creating the conditions for these students to behave as they do?”
We cannot be responsible for the deprivation our students experience away from school. Few schools are aware of the frustrations their students experience outside of school, and even fewer try to compensate for these issues.
However, is it possible that we create conditions at school that “deprive” students - that we create conditions substandard to what they desire? This is called “relative deprivation.” It occurs when a group experiences a gap between the conditions they are experiencing -- as current experiences are perceived more unattractively than those they feel are necessary to conduct a quality way of life.
About now, you may be ready to either read about my second idea or quit reading altogether. 

Hang on.

What types of deprivations do schools create or foster that work to frustrate students? See if these conditions might support a small group becoming frustrated:

·      Assuming students have been fed before coming to school
·      Assuming students have had plenty of sleep
·   Making public a student’s inability to have sufficient materials (pencil, paper, access to the Internet at home)
·      Allowing second-class treatment of students due to intellectual challenges
·      Requiring students to be still who have the inability to sit in a chair and listen to a boring adult for 20 minutes or more
·  Restricting students who are overly creative, forcing them to work within a prescribed framework that seems lacking in purpose

Just to name a few.

Is it possible that the stuff we may think of as silly is quite important to a teenager?

And if you get enough teenagers in the same group, experiencing the same deprivations, becoming exponentially frustrated over time, is it no surprise that the “powder keg” can be ignited with a very minor event? I’m not suggesting we walk around on eggshells trying not to expose these poor children to any stress. However, we might take a closer look at the negative patterns that emerge as students respond to their environments. How much of their frustration is simply an adult being insensitive?

Now to the second idea: Manufacturing conditions that cause teachers to aggressively seek out professional development.

Given the new approach our state has taken toward teacher professional development – that it will not be conducted during school time – current circumstance suggests that teachers need to seek out their own opportunities. It will be no surprise that most will choose not to participate in these opportunities given the new constraints. Thus, how do we get teachers to choose to seek new knowledge about their craft?

Well,…deprive them to a point of frustration.

Deprivation is a state of mind. It is an imbalance between what is hoped for and what is experienced. Satisfied teachers will do little to nothing to improve, especially if they do not experience the frustration of deprivation. Is it possible to sell teachers on the notion that they are nowhere near where they could/should be on the continuum of effectiveness - that they have settled for mediocrity?  
People tend to be happy with what they have until they learn that the other guys have it better. What happens if a school leader proclaims how much better the other guys are?

I wanted to stop there.

Is it difficult to imagine that most violent events were predictable as some group was deprived over a long enough period of time, such that their capacity to deal with stress was taxed to a point of combustion.  And it only took a spark, a spark that may have had no relationship to the actual bigger picture of frustration, but was sufficient enough to open the seal.
Perhaps teachers will sense that they are being deprived of professional development opportunities, and over time begin to create their own situations, either positive (book clubs), or negative (spreading rumors), to alleviate the frustration. Maybe the school leader can accelerate this process.
What might a principal do to incite a mini-riot within his/her school faculty that seeks to attack the lack of professional development? How can we “deprive and frustrate” teachers to the point of aggressive action?  Should the principal join the mob, feed the powder keg, and at the right moment trigger a precipitating incident?

I’ll stop there.


Perry, J. & Pugh, M. (1978). Collective behavior. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing.


Dr. Steve Gruenert is Department Chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education.  He encourages your comments and is available for conversation at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Leadership for You? Let's Explore ...

Is Leadership for You?  Let’s Explore …

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

Who among your staff members has potential leadership energy, waiting to turn kinetic? 

I am not necessarily referring to those in leadership training programs; I know a good many of these folks, and they are already “kinetic.” With respect to the question above, I am referring to the teachers in your schools who have not yet been given “permissions” by trusted elders or colleagues such as yourself to consider what you and I know as more of a calling than a job … more of a mission than a position – a true labor of love:  School Leadership.

I met just such a person the other day while taking a tour of the Vigo County Public Schools.  This teacher happened to be quite young, but youth isn’t a prerequisite for leadership potential.  “Incredible-ness” is.  When finding such persons as I’m strolling through schools, I am often quite pleased in finding the following:

1.  How much they remind me of you and I years ago (shamelessly noted, yet humbly tempered) with all of our good qualities, yet none of our bad.
2. How much our profession excites them, despite the challenges we face or the uncertainties ahead, with an adorable naiveté only outdistanced by their incredible talent and love of children.
3.  How fortunate I would feel if they were leading my children’s school someday, after serving, of course, as their classroom teacher.
4.     How much they exude positive energy and transformational affect.
5.     How incredibly content they feel in their current position.

The latter almost makes one hesitant in sharing the following information with them, but our schools and tomorrow’s children demand that we have a conversation.

Will you help us to expand the horizons of tomorrow’s greats, possibly before they even begin doing so of their own volition?  I ask you to consider suggesting that they take a closer look inside themselves by attending a two-day School Leadership Summer Series and exploring a question that we all once asked, “Do I have what it takes?”

Please share this Blog with at least one person in your school who epitomizes #1 - #5 above, as all that follows in our post this week is written directly to them.  Thanks for sharing. You’re “Paying It Forward,” as the saying goes, by doing so.

Banks of the Wabash: Leaders In Learning Series
Is Leadership for You?  Let’s Explore …

The Educational Leadership Department at Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education invites “you” -- K-12’s BEST and BRIGHTEST -- to a relevant and engaging two-day summer series tailored to those who have the potential to look ahead at a possible career in Educational Leadership. This workshop will help you make that decision, with relevant and intriguing information and an opportunity to network with those who are “in the know.”  New mandates demand that all educators find their “best fit” in a way that positively impacts student learning.  This workshop will provide you an opportunity to “do just that” and will give you a clear perspective on your leadership potential, given the issues leaders handle and the quality of professional lives they lead.

The Seminar series will include the following:

Reflections on a Career Well-Spent:  With contributions to K-12 education spanning nearly the past four decades, Dr. Terry McDaniel shares the impact that a career of leadership has had on him both personally and professionally.  Oftentimes, educators on the cusp of making life-decisions wonder, “Am I on the right track?”  “Do I really want to leave the classroom?” and “When looking back, will this all be worthwhile?”  A stroll with Dr. McDaniel through “many years of service through ascension and impact of leadership positions” will allow for reflection of one’s possible “best fit” as a leader and the resultant benefits that can accrue as you assume some of the most important responsibilities in public education today.

Leading from the Inside-Out:  In the seminar’s launch, you and fellow participants will work with Dr. Ryan Donlan to examine strengths of personality as they inform leadership potential.  An understanding of human performance, as well as communication competencies and professional needs, delivered in a model of interpersonal communication and behavioral analysis that has been applied for those leading businesses, education, and governmental agencies for well-over three decades, will serve as a foundation for this experience. Also included will be immediately practical information on work/life balance and launching leadership effectively.

New Definitions of Instructional Leadership:  You have heard about “Instructional Leadership” – Yet “What is it, really?”  With experiences as a K-12 school leader, educational curriculum consultant, and principal preparation faculty member, Bobbie Jo Monahan will work with you to understand the realities of a school leader’s role in maintaining the quality of an instructional program.  School leaders are the champions of children, yet they also must transcend their former roles in the classroom.  Bobbie Jo Monahan will share the details of this experience and the developmental stages one goes through in this transition to the more panoramic focus of leadership.

What You May Not Know about Culture:  What do you know about School Culture? Our best leaders have deep appreciation of the power and influence of School Culture and how it can impact student achievement.  Dr. Steve Gruenert will share critical insights into the role of leadership in understanding the behaviors, beliefs, values, and assumptions that help forge organizational identity and the effectiveness of everything schools purport they are doing on behalf of children and community.  Your “take away” will be organizational acuity and an ability to see your school through a lens that“ sees education 20/20.”

Dialogue on Diversity and Universal Education:  A deepened understanding of today’s students and staff members is inextricably linked with successful leadership in tomorrow’s schools.  With this in mind, Dr. Lilia Santiague will share with you her keen understanding of the powerful and growing diversity that exists among stakeholders in education, reflective of the need for leaders to be quite comprehensive in cherishing diversity’s value and impact as a vibrant force in human relations and organizational performance. Dr. Santiague’s presentation will invite you to examine your own paradigms and perspectives in how you can provide a vibrant, inclusive community for all in schools and communities. 

Legal and Legislative Update:  With cutting-edge information and a play-by-play on the issues in Indianapolis and throughout affecting schools, Dr. Todd Bess, Associate Director of the Indiana Association of School Principals will offer you deft insight into what school leaders need to know in order to perform their jobs successfully.  Quite simply, Dr. Bess will offer you “the playbook,” inarguably the most current news and views on the minds of school leaders that are affecting schools, now and into the not-so-distant future -- very helpful information to consider in determining whether a career in leadership is one you wish to navigate.

So…You Have What it Takes?  What are schools and communities looking for in principals?  What are central office personnel hoping for as they staff their buildings with the best leaders in Indiana?  Dr. Karen Goeller, K-12 Deputy Superintendent and previous building level administrator, will share information about being an effective instructional leader in a climate of new initiatives, accountability, and rapid change.   How does a principal survive amid the ever-changing landscape?   As part of this, Dr. Goeller will invite you to join in a professional conversation about daily survival and engaged leadership as principals confront:   What’s Really Worth Fighting For Out There? 

“Shifting the Monkey” & What Great Principals Do Differently:  Internationally renowned author, presenter, and Professor of Education, Dr. Todd Whitaker, concludes our series with some personal time with you all, offering an energizing conversation on  different ways of addressing the challenges that confront us today and make a difference through leadership.  We’ll call this “Time with Todd,” after which, you will leave with a better appreciation for what leaders do, how they make a difference, and what special people they are as they work to make our world a better place.  This is your time to learn from an internationally renowned presenter what you can accomplish throughout the rest of your career.

Banks of the Wabash Leaders in Learning Series
Is Leadership for You:  Let’s Explore …

Wednesday and Thursday
July 25-26, 2012
University Hall
Bayh College of Education
Room 110G
Indiana State University

Cost Includes Professional Development Certificate of Completion
Graduate Credit Available through ISU At Extra Cost

For questions about this workshop, please contact Rhonda Beecroft at
812-237-2895 or e-mail her at


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at He encourages leaders to identify someone meeting the five criteria above, tap him/her on the shoulder, and suggest two days of powerful summer learning on campus at Indiana State University.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"[Insert Name] ... Who Can I Turn To?"

“[Insert Name] … Who Can I Turn To?”

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

Driving from Mid-Michigan back to Indiana this past weekend, I heard the familiar lyrics, Jenny, Jenny, who can I turn to? as I scanned for classic rock on the radio. I settled for the band Tommy Tutone, pining away about dialing 867-5309 and requesting that a young lady named Jenny give them her time and attention (Call & Keller, 1982).  Smiling, I remembered a similar number that I used frequently when I wanted someone’s time and attention, myself: 893-1661.  
Bill’s number. 
In a different context than Tommy’s above, yet admittedly one of endearment, 893-1661 was a number that had run through my head hundreds of times in my formative years. You see, while I was a school leader, Bill was my school attorney.  We talked often.
            As I often think of factors helping or hindering one’s success in school administration, one’s relationship with a district’s school attorney certainly rises near the top.  How often do we consider school attorneys as champions for kids, as partners in learning, or even (all metaphors of sharks and/or jokes about light bulbs aside), as public servants?   We probably do not do this often enough.
In developing my perspective on how school leaders can enhance their leadership through maximizing the partnerships they enjoy with their school attorneys, I borrowed notions from William G. Ouchi’s (1981) Theory Z, which spoke favorably about the concepts of trust, subtlety, and intimacy in helping organizations achieve productivity.  The same holds true in a school leader’s relationship with a school attorney.  Do we all consider the notions of trust, subtlety, and intimacy as important components of the privilege of having attorney/client privilege?
            How is Trust (Ouchi, 1991) a factor?  Trusting your attorney’s advice is the obvious answer, but not necessarily the most important.  More critical is the trust in the relationship between a building leader and his/her Superintendent or Board.  School leaders must trust that they have the autonomy to contact a school attorney when needed, sometimes without going through layers of procedural permissions that will delay a telephone contact in situations of urgency.  The parent waiting in the reception area with his/her own attorney would be one example – the accident that just took place in the science lab, and the resulting demands for medical attention of students, another.  Allegations of impropriety, whether justified or groundless, against a staff member who is currently teaching his final class of the afternoon and has an overnight field trip planned with a group of students, would present themselves here as well. 
In these situations, a good school attorney brought into a situation when a feeling of angst is tapping you on the shoulder can better assist in considering notions of potential liability so that the next few steps taken are prudent. The notion of trust involves leaders impressing upon their supervisors that they know when and under what conditions to “make the call” and that reasonable and prudent actions of leadership will be taken prior to the meter’s running. A school district should only be paying one Principal to do the job.  Trust provides the “permissions” so that the telephone can be dialed when it needs to be dialed – not before … not after.
            Subtlety (Ouchi, 1981) involves the school leader/school attorney communication dynamic.  It provides a bit of cloak and cover for the telephone calls that are made, as the fewer people who know that a school leader is talking to an attorney, the better.  Knowledge of an attorney’s involvement often raises one’s perception of the potential power and impact of any given situation.  Certainly, this is not helpful when potentially litigious stakeholders become aware that you have spoken to counsel, as they may believe that they should as well. 
School leaders who keep attorney/client conversations subtle may even enjoy more favorable reputations in the eyes of the staff from an intellectual capital standpoint.  There is typically little utility in a leader’s quoting an attorney, unless that level of validation (or referencing) is needed.  School attorneys should model subtlety while attending meetings with leadership at the school; they should arrive and leave without ceremony.  
A final point: Subtlety is best managed when leaders and attorneys are interested more so in the quiet, preventative legal conversations, as opposed to the reactive ones.  Preventative legal conversations call, at times, for a modest monetary investment on the front end of a given issue, before, some would argue, a need to call an attorney even exists.  However, a subtle, formative approach is typically much more inexpensive than the converse, with a resultant, more-subtle impact on an institution’s bottom line.  Subtlety is smart investment.
            Intimacy (Ouchi, 1981) involves a school attorney’s close relationship over time with a school leader (mindful, of course, that the attorney technically works for the Board, in most cases).  How am I defining intimacy? I say with a smile that most Principals would attest to the fact that intimacy can be defined by first mentioning what intimacy is not: It is not an attorney’s billing to the next whole-hour, rather than to the quarter hour.  Five-to-ten-minute conversations, and many of them throughout the course of a given school year – billed fairly – build intimacy. Likewise, when leaders and attorneys appreciate and respect each other’s work over time, mutual admiration grows.  Intimacy is forged.
Some questions for school leaders to ask in gauging intimacy’s depth include the following:

Does my school attorney prioritize my building’s calls or provide direct line access to his/her cell phone? Does my school attorney appreciate the fact that I do my homework prior to calling, so as not to waste anyone’s time?  Do I feel comfortable making calls to my school attorney before situations get too far out of hand to as to not overcomplicate things?  Does my school attorney seem happy to hear from me, because it’s me? Do I actually follow my attorney’s advice?  Do we follow up with the each other to discuss how things worked out? Do I think of my school attorney at holidays and with invitations to events of institutional celebration?  Do you I eat lunch with my school attorney once or twice a year, just to enjoy each other’s company?  Do I try to understand my attorney’s job as much as he/she tries to understand mine? 

I relish the fact that my school was a client of Bill’s for many years – and that I was the point person of contact.  Seeing his smiling face at my farewell reception, with his warm nod, a heartfelt handshake, and a friendly pat on the back, I had mixed emotions, knowing that I would less-often be dialing 893-1661 for the urgencies of the moment, yet more often thinking nostalgically of the impact of his trust, subtlety, and intimacy on my leadership when I was doing right by kids and keeping my school “street legal.” 

            To whom do you turn, and what kind of relationship do you have?


Ouchi, W. (1981). Theory Z: How American business can meet the Japanese challenge.  New York, NY:  Avon Books.

Call, A. & Keller, J. (1982). 867-5309/Jenny. On Tommy Tutone 2 [Album/CD]. New York, NY: Columbia Records.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at  He encourages readers to offer comments on this Blog or perspectives of their own and hopes that his doctoral and graduate students will offer written posts for his consideration as Blogmaster in ISU’s Department of Educational Leadership.