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Monday, March 5, 2012

How Much is Too Much? Can We Be "All That"?

How Much is Too Much?  Can We Be “All That”?

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

Last week, Dr. Steve Gruenert wrote to you about a new opportunity in professional development, a creative one at that. Opportunities for creativity are now knocking at our doors more regularly in education.  Listen carefully ... one may be knocking now.  This week, I want to ask you as leaders, "How far would you go in reframing your school's programs and services to meet the needs (real or professed) of today's students, families, or even the best of staff members?"  If you are asked to “move outside the box” as it is currently constructed, how willing would you be?  How willing is your staff? What would you allow? What wouldn't you? Finally ... how often, and under what conditions, would you strive to be "All That"?

Consider the following:

Student A moved into your district, as his parents have bought a new house.  The reports from his previous district state that he is working far above his classmates' academic levels and needs accommodations in the classroom in order to be challenged appropriately.  However, his social-emotional abilities are below-grade-level to the degree that he would benefit from peer grouping.  Parents request that his instruction be individualized to challenge him, yet as well, that he be included fully in the activities of his classmates.  They want his “enriched” instruction fully integrated into what others are doing, rather than offering such as an add-on or separate program. You have offered to provide independent studies or even on-line learning at his level, such as advanced courses in the school’s computer lab; however instead, parents request of you that in order for their son’s needs to be met, teachers adapt their whole-class lessons so that highly proficient students have their needs met to the same degree as those “in the middle.”  Many members of your student body, including those in his classes, are at-risk and below-grade-level, so “the middle” is quite far below his academic level. Will you ask this of your teachers?  Will you ask that they teach to all … all at the same time? Will you be “All That” to this student and family?

Student B has undergone a traumatic incident and is declared homebound for psychological reasons by her physician and psychiatrist.  This homebound status will last the balance of the school year (now November) and may continue into the next. You work with the family to establish a homebound instructional schedule with a certified teacher visiting the home at prescribed intervals.  However, the parents request instead that she be allowed to attend class via Skype, assigned a desk as would any other student, yet with her attending via a laptop computer sitting atop the desk, compete with microphone and camera.  Parents ask the district to provide the technology, as well as the movement of the laptop among classes during each day.  You wonder about a possible slippery slope of similar requests from other students, as well as their inquiries as to why she gets preferential treatment.  Of course, as in any other case of protected information, you wouldn’t be able to provide answers. Admittedly, your particular version of homebound instruction just isn’t the same as that delivered “in-class.” Will you allow this arrangement and be “All That” to this student and family?

Student C wants an opportunity to demonstrate experientially that he understands the state standards of his core content classes yet does not want complete the more traditional academic work assigned by the teachers.  He wishes to use the school, during the school day, as a college or university student would use higher educational resources, coming and going as he pleases so that he can access the library media center for research, the cafeteria for sustenance, and even the physical education facilities for “battery charges” when he is in need of a little movement to get his creative juices flowing.  Student C is willing to take end-of-course assessments each winter and spring, along with other students, as long as he can design his own learning plans for weekly work, in collaboration with teachers.  He requests to come and go as he pleases.  Parents, highly educated “free spirits,” have asked that you make this avenue for learning available for their son.  They have done their own homework and have unearthed a way to make this arrangement compliant with your state department of education’s accounting requirements for pupil attendance. In fact, they have a letter authorizing such. Will you allow this and be “All That” to this student and family?

Student D is exceptionally bright and capable and is also an Olympic-competitive skier.  For three months each year, she travels to Aspen, Colorado for training.  As an emancipated adult, an astute one at that, she requests that you take 1/3 of the per-pupil dollar allocation given to you by the state for her attendance each year and provide her funds for either on-line learning or a traveling tutor while she trains.  She wishes to select the service provider(s) herself.  You have an on-line option at a much-reduced cost, yet one that she claims does not match her learning style or needs. She provides you a learning styles and multiple intelligences report from a private learning services group that supports her claims. Will you award her a traveling stipend for the learning option of her choice out of the foundation monies you receive for her?  After all, she will not be using your resources during the months of December, January, and February?  Will you be “All That” to this young adult learner?

Students E & F, twins and incredibly gifted “academics,” leave your school prior to their freshman years to attend an area charter school for performing arts.  Frankly, you wouldn’t share this publicly, but aside from the fact that they are truly great kids, you were counting on their standardized test scores and are not pleased that two of your best and brightest have left.  You joke with your secretary that you have your own list of those whom you would love to send down the road; these two are not on that list.  However, you have recently scaled back on your music and performing arts programs because of budgetary cuts, and the twins were hoping to parlay their talents in dance and music into scholarships at select universities after their high school experience.  The charter school offers an incredible fine and performing arts program! It has a solid academic program as well. The twins still live in your geographic district, however, and have made a request to participate in your athletic programs, as the charter school does not offer sports.  You have space in their programs of choice, as these are not programs that “cut” students.  Do you honor their requests and be “All That” to these students, those who have been model students in your school for their nine prior years, yet who have now left for another school?

Now for the staff:

Teacher A is the best mathematics teacher you have ever hired.  He is now nearing the end of his first year. Thankfully, he is now employed in your school building, as you had years of marginal performance from his predecessor, now retired.  Achievement in mathematics is on the upswing.  Students are energized! For the coming school year, however, Teacher A has a request of you.  He is a single father and commutes 20 minutes to work from the neighboring community where he lives, yet his own parents (grandparents to his two daughters) will be moving to Florida and can no longer help with the childrearing arrangements before and after school.  Each morning, he will need to drop off his children (ages 6 and 7) at their own school, which does not provide before-school supervision.  School starts at the same time for his children, as it does for your students, and ends at the same time as well.  His children will also need to be picked-up after school; the school does not offer after-school supervision.  Teacher A has requested that he be released from 1st period Advisory duties each day so that he can get his children off to school and arrive “just a bit late.”  He also asks to leave ½ hour before students are dismissed.  This may involve your giving him a preparation period during the last instructional hour each day, a cumbersome task but one that is “do-able.”  In recognition of the late start each day, Teacher A volunteers to teach Summer School for you, free-of-charge, as long as he can bring his children with him.  Other teachers may or may not have a problem with these arrangements.  You hear from a fellow principal that the school in his own community may have an opening for a math teacher this coming school year and would like to recruit him. Let’s say that there is no carte blanche provision prohibiting his request in your labor agreement.  Would you make this teacher a deal and be “All That” to him?

How many of you have had requests over the years to be “All That” to students, families, or staff?  How much is too much?  What will you do to remain competitive?

  How about your neighbors?


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at  He experienced most of the above as a school leader during his tenure in the K-12 system.  If you were a betting sort, which would you say he honored, and which did he decline?  Your comments and perspectives are welcome.  Please offer a few scenarios of your own.  Thanks for spending time in our Blog!

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