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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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leadership through Restraint

Leadership through Restraint

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

Over breakfast quite some time ago, a colleague shared with me that true leadership is an ability to recognize that one has power to do something, and then selectively, choosing not to use it (Chadwick, personal communication, August 14, 2001).  Upon trying out that advice, I learned of its merit.

As educational leaders, I’m encouraging you to consider trying one or more of the following by the close of this school year – Leadership through Restraint.

A few options would be as follows:

Consider choosing not to suspend a student whom you bring into your office when you typically would do so.  Ensure that this is not a case of safety or order.  If prudent, perform restraint. Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to focus on an otherwise-good teacher’s bad day in the classroom if you are evaluating or performing a walk-through. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to debate with an angry parent in your office, yet instead listen intently without speaking, offering him/her a sincere affirmation that you want to learn how better to partner with parents. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to react when a student becomes very disrespectful toward you in front of others. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

Consider choosing not to respond publicly to negativity bestowed upon your school building or corporation from the press or media. If prudent, perform restraint.  Evaluate the consequences.

This sounds a bit like an argument for inaction, in an arena demanding that educational leaders continually take action.  Maybe it is.

How do you handle of Leadership through Restraint? 

Better question, “Do you?”

If so, will you please let me know how it works for you?


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at  Please exercise no restraint and let him know what you think of his perspectives.

Monday, April 16, 2012

From the Lab and the Field, They Launch

From the Lab and the Field, They Launch

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

Last week, I had the privilege of helping a handful of my colleagues conduct our own version of graduate-school Pomp and Circumstance for a group of 34 Principal Interns taking launch from their ISU classroom laboratories and the fields of Internship beyond, to become the next generation of American school leaders. 

With the sharing of their capstone experiences and bidding a fair adieu, our Interns are now finishing their 2011-2012 school years, many in teaching positions, some as counselors, and a few in leadership positions that they have enjoyed concurrent to their final coursework. 

So what’s to become of them?

One or two have confided in us that although they are prepared effectively for service, building leadership is not yet where they see next year’s calling. They would like to stay a while longer in classrooms with "unfinished business," they mention, and a few more students to save. A few have increased their interest in reviewing website postings for leadership opportunity.  Many, however, are ambitious, indeed, with resumes primed, relocation's mapped, and interviews scheduled.  We are getting calls for references.  What an exciting time!

No matter how our graduating Interns differ with respect to their career pathways or immediate “next steps,” they all share commonalities that I have found to be refreshing indicators of the substantive screening, rigorous coursework, and relevant community engagement offered by Indiana State University’s Department of Educational Leadership in our Bayh College of Education. 

These indicators are as follows:

1.    Our students know leadership and stand comfortably in two domains, one of practitioners and the other, theorists. They have intellectual horsepower, a power-of-mind, as well as a healthy turn-of-mind, the ability to handle complexity amidst ambiguity.
2.   Our students know themselves; they are comfortable in their own skin and can clearly articulate what they think, feel, and believe about themselves and their professional arenas.  They with voice and are deepening their wisdom.
3.    Our students thrive on the changes in education in Indiana and the Midwest and embrace the whirlwind of redesign presenting itself to the K-12 system.  They are nimble, flexible, and open … grounded in positive values with a belief that they are only as good as their next day’s best work.
4.   Our students want to commit and do not wish to define themselves part of any revolving door of the American Principalship (or eventually the QVC of the American Superintendency). They are not to be traded, bought, or sold and wish to advance in their careers with open communication, loyalty, and transformational opportunity.
5. Our students embody the National Policy Board for Educational Administration’s Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) Standards. They have honed their abilities as leaders through experiences with the concepts embedded in that great body of work.
6.   Our students thrive on lifelong learning and partner with those who teach them.  They expect excellence from themselves and others and “step-up” when handling the most challenging of responsibilities.
7.  Our students value the skills they are receiving through higher education as diagnosticians of learning, transcending any notions of quick credentialing in a competitive career arena. They desired advanced degrees for the sake of knowledge and efficacy.
8.   Our students serve as ambassadors of leadership through deeds and determination, not simply through the authority of decrees or directives. 
9.    Our students see the good in people, even in those who have given us reason to doubt.  As humanists, they are genuine.
10. Our students live in a way that demonstrates they are good to the core and kind of the soul, people whom I would wish upon my own children’s as their school leaders.

Indiana State University graduates are entering a competitive arena where only the best deserve an opportunity to lead or nation's schools.  Given that responsibility and reality, we anticipate a summer in which a large number of school corporations, statewide and beyond, will be as fortunate to have these fine men and women on board as new leaders, as we in the Department of Educational leadership were to have them as students.

From the proving ground of the lab and the field, let us offer “congratulations” to those hiring our Class of 2012!  We offer our most heartfelt well-wishes, likewise, to our students, for finding such outstanding new communities in which they can truly make a difference.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at or at (812) 237-8624.  You can also follow him on or via his Twitter name @RyanDonlan.  He encourages your feedback and commentary on his articles on this Blog.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hosting Colleagues from Abroad

Hosting Colleagues from Abroad
Conversations on School Reform

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

I’m thinking ahead to what I will share with a group of overseas educators visiting Indiana State University this week and next.  My talk will be on the subject of school reform in Indiana and America. 
Thanks to my colleague Dr. Will Barratt for this opportunity.
As former Chairperson for a State Department of Education’s high school reform team prior to joining the ISU faculty, I have some perspectives “at-the-ready,” yet I’m very much hoping that in your reading of my points below, you will involve yourself in this week’s conversation by sending me an e-mail with some additional points to mention, based on your expertise and what you are experiencing, first-hand, in our K-12 schools.  

I will even quote you and identify your position and school if you like.  Please consider!

A few items finding their way into my PowerPoint slides are as follows:


That a soft bigotry of low expectations has existed, at times and places, in America.

That federal reforms are oftentimes, great moral and ethical initiatives, yet can be prescribed to the point of ineffectiveness.

That lists of failing schools sometimes align more with the socioeconomic status of students and families, than with the quality of education in classrooms.

That so much time and energy is spent comparing test scores of charter schools to those of traditional schools that little energy is spent comparing (and learning from) the innovative educational practices in both.

That America continues to have the Revolving Door of the Principalship and the QVC of the Superintendency. This hurts schools.

That the American high school is oftentimes more culturally rooted in its athletic reputation, than in its academic identity.

That school wellness is oftentimes overlooked, and further … misunderstood.


            One of my areas of scholarship interest is school reimagination.  School reform is part of that larger arena of possibility.  Please take a look at my categories of reform below, gleaned from my reading and experiences.  Will you let me know if I’m missing anything or am off-the-mark in the descriptions presented?

Pedagogically Mindful Reform has touted the necessity of fostering rigor, relevance, and relationships in the teaching/learning experience.  Of the three, relationships seem the most difficult to assess as to their strengths and utilitarian value.

Coalition-Generated Reform has championed the need for equity and efficiency in K-12 preparation of schoolchildren.  Much of this has resulted in the proliferation of charter schools.

Market-Based Reform has touted the benefits that may come about to the larger educational arena with choice and competition accorded to consumers of educational solutions.  This has done more to “get our attention” than it has to bring about true reform, as even legislative autonomy has not guaranteed creativity.

Politically Positioned Reform has demanded higher levels of competence from those entrusted to work in a system in need of reinvention and requires that schools be more accountable.  This has resulted in improved systems in part, yet it has also unintentionally created disincentives to work with our most needy students. It has driven both “good” and “bad” from our profession.

Competition-Driven Reform has reframed the notion of what we consider to be the definition of a student, from that of client and customer, to that of product in a global marketplace.  Originally seen as a callous perspective (“What do you mean, students are products!?!”), the “end game” of enhanced qualities of lives resulting from a focus on robust skill development in students has caused us to re-think what we value and how we define a student’s role in the educational equation.


As the week moves forward toward my Friday presentation, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reflections, and even reactions to what I have written and what I plan to share. 

I’m hoping that you will help keep me grounded as I strive for an accurate representation of this American phenomenon called SCHOOL REFORM for those visiting from overseas.  

Thanks, as always, for your help!


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at or at (812) 237-8624.  Please consider offering him some perspectives for presentation and scholarship.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In the Midst of Change


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