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, May 29, 2012

Payne v. Kunjufu: Poverty and the College Attendance Pipeline

Payne v. Kunjufu:
Poverty and the College Attendance Pipeline

Joshua Powers
Professor of Educational Leadership
Special Assistant to the Provost for Academic Initiatives
Indiana State University

I recently attended a screening of the new documentary, First Generation. It is a film about four high school studentsan inner city African-American athlete, a small town White waitress, a Samoan dancer, and a daughter of migrant field workersand their experiences navigating the possibilities of college attendance and breaking the cycle of poverty that grips each of their lives.

Over the course of their junior and senior years, we see these four high-achieving students in archetypical daily struggles, yet most powerfully and fresh, we see the crushing mismatch between college expectations and potential with the barriers to attaining their dreams.  Some examples include:

Little sense for the diversity of institutional types in this country or how to differentiate one from another other than on proximity;

Seeing athletics as the only real opportunity for scholarships since that is what they know from big-time college sports on television;

Clear admissibility to an elite public institution but not applying because they could not pay the $100 application fee;

No sense that there is a college sticker price versus a price they would actually pay at even an “expensive” private institution and that as children of poverty, they had strong potential for attendance for free;

Being wholly dependent on the school guidance counselor for help and the realistic capability or even interest that the counselor has in the intense support of the needs of the student;

A parent(s) that can’t bear the thought of their child “going away” to school or that does not see why college is important; and

Choosing the local community college over a more distant four-year institution with the expectation of ultimately attaining a bachelor’s degree despite the reality that most with this expectation do not.

As I reflect on the power of this documentary, and the daunting challenge we have as a nation to provide a larger proportion of our citizenry with a postsecondary education, I find myself recalling a debate I saw a few years back between Ruby Payne and Jawanza Kunjufu and their competing perspectives on how to think about and respond to children and youth in poverty.  Payne provides a window into what she calls generational poverty and the patterns of behavior that she says pass down through generations that often lock a person in a cycle of poverty.  She also describes social class language differences that America’s teachers from largely middle-class backgrounds find enriching for “understanding” their poor students. 

Hmm, sounds a lot like blaming the victim and a means of helping teachers know “them” better, but does it serve to reinforce assumptions? 

Kunjufu, by contrast, puts forth an argument that America’s largely White, middle-class, and female teachers are ill-prepared to work with the African American students that make up a considerable percentage of poor students in schools and thus develop low expectations for them, perhaps reinforced through low performance sourced in a mismatch between teaching and learning styles. 

Hmm, sounds plausible, but how do we best prepare or mentor teachers to be more effective in the diverse classroom? 

Whatever is going on, insidious forces are at work, that in my view play out in many ways, including in their effect on college attendance patterns [i.e. rich kids disproportionally attending four-year institutions and poor kids community colleges], those that seem to reinforce a class society. 


Dr. Powers welcomes your thoughts and comments and would enjoy further conversation regarding the issues he brings to the Ed. Leadershop.  He can be reached at Indiana State University at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Off-Ramp for the Gifted & Talented?

An Off-Ramp for the Gifted & Talented?

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

Susan Rakow discussed gifted learners in her February 2012 Educational Leadership article, Helping Gifted Learners SOAR. She inspired my thoughts this week.

I posit that if we have a certain percentage of truly gifted students in our schools, then we probably have a certain percentage of truly gifted leaders leading? 

Let’s call them gifted and talented (G&T) leaders, those who are at or above the 95th percentile in their Leadership Quotient (LQ©), competencies illustrated by Service & Arnott (2006).

I am not simply referring to leaders who are “above average,” or even “great” by measurable standards. Gifted and talented (G&T) leaders have profound leadership efficacy; they intuitively know, live, and apply leadership excellence – theory to practice – in schools. They know how to keep the complex, simple. They are way ahead!

G&T leaders may not always have the best standardized test scores (those vary contextually), yet they are those whom we watch and say, “Oh Yeah.” 

They are not necessarily charismatic.

I have known a handful.

Just as Rakow (2012) referred to students who “languish in classrooms, held down by the low ceiling” (p. 35) in a system that fails to challenge them to their fullest, I’m wondering if G&T leaders are stymied similarly by the direction education has taken, and where it will go. 

Can we offer them an off-ramp to standardization?

Research on gifted and talented instruction discusses how we can stoke the intellectual fires of our best and brightest.  The goal is to ensure that those operating at the highest levels are not mired in one-size-fits-all – i.e. what they perceive as minutia (that which may be important, academically or practically, to the rest of us).

As we prepare for sweeping changes to education, are we identifying what could be perceived as “minutia” by our most talented?

Further, are we measuring twice and cutting once? Rakow (2012) noted that without effective pre-assessment, significant programming for the gifted and talented will not exist.  Have we pre-assessed G&T Leadership to see if our anticipated changes are right for them?

Might leaders be allowed to test-out of “mandate” on behalf of their schools if they are efficacious in offering creative solutions we so desperately need? 

It would be interesting, indeed, to untether exceptionality in leadership, research the results, and allow talent to operate unencumbered by broad prescriptions fostered through good intentions.


Rakow, S. (2012, February). Helping gifted learners soar. Educational Leadership, 69(5).  34-40.

Service, B. & Arnott, D. (2006). The leadership quotient: 12 dimensions for measuring and improving leadership. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education at Indiana State University.  He invites your comments in the Ed. Leadershop and encourages you to write with your thoughts,  Or … just give him a call: (812) 237-8624.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Helpful Directions or Forced Starts

Helpful Directions or Forced Starts:
Summertime Student Travel

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

A college student from downstate Michigan, I once took a trip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and got lost.  This was prior to global positioning systems. All I had was a map, not even a detailed atlas.  I was off the beaten path.

Eventually, with the help of some well-meaning locals, I was back on a county highway, on the way to my favorite destination, Lake of the Clouds near the Porcupine Mountains. 

What was interesting about this experience is that in my getting back on track, the locals didn’t require me to start again from my hometown in the Lower Peninsula.  Thank goodness.

You’re probably wondering, “Why would they make me do that?” 

Well, if they are products of American public school system, this is what they have learned.

When students lose their way and find themselves off track, do we require them to start over again, rather than continue? Quite often, as most students who receive 59% in courses (i.e. -- have gone 59% toward their intended destinations) must take them over again.  They must start again in the Lower Peninsula.

It’s not as if they got 0%.  It’s not as if they mastered none of the content.  This all takes place in an America where batting averages of 50% are considered “OK” … where elections at 51% are won (some through a plurality, even less).

Why then in education do results lower than 60% oftentimes require a forced start, rather than a continued journey? For those reading who are saying, “Not in our neighborhood,” thank you. 

It’s early-to-mid May.  The school year is not yet over.  We probably can identify those students who are going to end-up scoring less than 60% in our classes. My request is that we offer continued journeys for these students, rather than forced starts.   How about 2 – 3 week extensions of the school year for students who are willing to shore-up some of the competencies that are holding them back (or for those who at minimum, begrudgingly comply)?

Let us envision this year’s summer season, not as a credit-recovery clearinghouse, but as a targeted, skill-development laboratory -- certainly, not as a “vacation” when some are lost.

Can we individualize our students’ summer journeys toward their intended destinations, based on where they veered from their paths, rather than through a blanketed approach?  Can we be the well-meaning locals?

This year, if students are headed to the Porcupine Mountains, let’s not require that they return to the Lower Peninsula to find their way.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages your comments and hopes that you will let him know the relevance of this blog by offering thoughts, opinions, feelings, and reactions on this site or by contact him at (812) 237-8624 or by writing to

Monday, May 7, 2012

ISU Ed. Leadershop

 ISU Ed. Leadershop

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

As we near the end of our first school year of Community-Engaged Scholarship, I wanted to thank you for the over-3000 visits to our site. 

It is obvious that our topics have been of interest.  Your work has inspired our writing, as we get most of our ideas from our conversations with students, as well as our professional learning network.

In looking closely at the impact of our blog through feedback received, we are excited to see the development of our identity as a reflection of your needs and our content.  With your help, our site has become a marketplace of deep thinking for educational leaders.  It has practitioner appeal.

I like to think of our site nowadays as the ISU ED LEADERSHOP.  What is a leadershop?

A destination where we, as consumers of leadership, can select from an array of products, in the form of ideas, research, and best practice;

A destination where we can meet for conversation regarding the events of the day and those assuredly of tomorrow;

A destination where we can take something that we are doing and get advice on how to improve it.

I ran the name, ISU Ed. Leadershop, by faculty over the last week or so, as well as graduate students attending Commencement. 

Among the positive feedback received, one doctoral grad said that the name made sense.  Her favorite post was Common Sense, December 19, 2011.  Others liked the name’s similarity to the term, “Ed Leadership,” and felt that it had practitioner appeal, part of our ongoing mission as a Department of keeping our feet on the ground.

Colleague Dr. Will Barratt and I discussed whether a change of website address to reflect the new name would be prudent.  Both options, “to do” or “not to do” have merit, from my perspective. 

Weller (2012), in writing about higher-ed. blogs, noted that “good online impact” helps garner the interest of groups that support the work done in universities.  He added that quality on-line reputation also helps establish a global peer network, which helps writers through increased research collaboration.  Thanks to my colleague, Dr. Mary Howard-Hamilton, for passing along that article to me.

I’m thinking that an important part of one’s impact and reputation is a “known” URL.  Currently, we are getting visited far more often via “links” from other sources than via our URL.  I’ll think more on this.

As you move ahead with an exciting end of a successful school year with staff and students, please share with colleagues who may not know about us that the Indiana State University Department of Educational Leadership has an ISU Ed. Leadershop, an on-line destination with an array of topics for practitioner conversation -- quick, 5-minute "read's" that help put into perspective the challenges and opportunities in our profession. 

We offer a Twitter link to our articles each week and have a link as well on our Department Website.

Give us a read; talk with others.   We believe we’re helping our profession, because you have told us “just that.”


You keep us relevant.


Weller, M. (2012, May 4).  The virtues of blogging as scholarly activity. The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. 27-28.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages your thoughts and perspective at any time.  He can be reached at or at 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Leadership = Combustion Amidst Elegance

Leadership = Combustion Amidst Elegance

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

While talking to a friend about issues with my golf swing, our conversation segued into discussion of his interest in televised golf. An incredible golfer who plays the game each week, he noted a small handful of professional golfers who demonstrate incredibly smooth golf swings, while at the same time, getting more distance and accuracy than others who try to smash the ball into oblivion.  I was trying to smash the ball.

In their effectiveness, the best golf swings are quite elegant – and intriguingly, embedded within that elegance exists a moment of combustion when club strikes ball, that which gets the job done, yet that which is invisible for the most part to the naked eye.

Thoughts then drew me to leadership, to metaphor.  Leaders, as well, must benefit from discreet moments of combustion within elegance, to be truly effective.

Metaphorically I equate combustion with the exercise of power and authority to target and achieve a desired end, that which cannot be easily undone – the moment when leaders “take action.”

A few examples:

Firing someone.
Asking your Board for its vote.
Suspending a student.
Hiring a teacher.
Offering a quote to the local newspaper.
Going where no one has gone.

The notion of leadership elegance as part of the golfing metaphor has to do as much with others’ perceptions as it does reality.  Here’s how it applies.

When readying for moments of opportunity to initiate combustion, leaders rarely should be seen locking and loading. Pondering thoughtfully but privately works; posturing and telegraphing are inelegant. Decisions should not appear overly effortful or contorted.

Part of your expected role as a leader is at times, to ensure elegance when readying the next hit of your club.

It could be said that in order for leadership to be perceived as relevant and strong, a few hits of your club need to occur [a few rounds played] from time to time, so that all in your care are satisfied that you are capable of doing what leaders should be capable of doing … playing golf, metaphorically – taking swings.

Like golf, your game of leadership includes suiting up, practicing and preparing, making your tee times, collaborating, competing, sharing in fellowship, taking long walks, as well as the game-specific components of driving down the fairway, laying up, getting out of tough spots, going for the pin, and knowing when to settle for par.  It also doesn’t hurt to celebrate birdies and eagles, to accept a bogey or two, and every once in a while, to make a hole in one.   

For your consideration, I offer these thoughts from my friend, colleague, and golfer:

Perhaps leadership and golf also share the notion that both are not 24/7 stretches of intense focus. In fact, to play better one needs only to focus for about 20 seconds for each shot; maybe adding a minute prior to each shot for contemplation, with the rest of the time as simply, informal chatter - a pleasant distraction. And it pays to have a bad memory so the bad shots do not creep into good decisions made later. As leaders, it would seem one might last longer if he/she spent less time in intense focus, and found more of the pleasant distractions in between the brief intense moments (personal communication, April 30, 2012).

Taking your swing, however, is non-negotiable. 

The positive perception of elegance during the swing is directly proportional to how others may come to define your leadership game.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be found in the Bayh College of Education 326A or on Twitter at  Feel free to e-mail your commentary to or give him a call at (812) 237-8624.