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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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Flipped "Phenom"

The Flipped “Phenom”

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

I’m hearing a lot of “Flip This” and “Flip That” nowadays, and to be quite frank, the more I read, the more I believe we’re on to something extraordinarily elementary.

I’m speaking of the Flipped Classroom and the buzz it’s generating.

Whether we’re hearing success stories from those deserving of accolade, such as “Flipped” Pioneers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Simms, Master Teachers from Woodland Park, Colorado or from Greg Green, Principal of Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan, the message is the same:  Flipping is working: Students are engaged; failure rates are down, and discipline is improving.

Hey … nothing is wrong with that!

I can’t wait until we get some solid research to see for sure.

Most all of you know what Flipped Classrooms are nowadays, but for those who would like a lay definition, here goes:  Flipped instruction has students watching lectures and other forms of direct instruction via the Internet, smart phones, or DVD’s on their own time.  They then return to class where the instructor serves as a coach, a guide, and an all-around “go-to” person to facilitate deeper learning.

It is the opposite of presenting the instruction while students are in class and then asking them to go home to apply and extend upon what they learned.

After “flipping,” Green’s Clinton Township failure rates were down overall, around 33% – down from 52% to 19% in English, from 44% to 13% in Math, from 41% to 19% in Science, and from 28% to 9% in Social Studies (Green [CNN], 2012).  Sweet stats!!

Just Tweet or surf, and you’ll hear positive anecdotal information abound.

Again … I see all of this as elementary.  Why?

-- NOT because flipped instruction requires any less than the deep preparation accorded all other pedagogical techniques in teacher education programs. 

-- NOT because technology has provided a template to make things easier, as quality flipped instruction takes a surgeon’s eye and a therapist’s precision in its development and craft.

-- And NOT because the rest of us have been grossly “upside down” in our understanding of best practice for so many years and in need of enlightenment. 

It’s elementary, in a “foundational” sense, because the notion of the flipped classroom, “done well,” is simply a creative, re-packaging of the qualities of foundational instruction that should be happening – flipped or not – when we take into consideration how students are wired for learning. 

I’ll give it this; flipped instruction is probably on balance, a bit more efficient.

Dave Saltman (2011) in the Harvard Education Letter’s “Tech Talk” presents three necessary components that “beginners” should put into their flipped instructional cycles: (1) exploring, (2) explaining, and (3) applying.

Exploring involves initial teacher/student interaction, where prior knowledge is engaged and concepts of study are relevant and articulated in a way that students can understand.  Explaining involves the more didactic instruction that goes home with students, viewable through the Internet, DVD’s, and/or smartphones.  Finally, Applying involves students and teacher working together on what has been presented toward higher levels of engagement (Saltman, 2011).

Maybe I have flipped, but I see this simply as good-ole’-fashioned teaching, albeit with new technology and a bit more efficiency.  Let’s return to the elementary notion in all of this.

If students learn the WHY behind something (“Why” it’s important), they’ll want better to learn the WHAT.  Further, the WHAT helps them to learn the HOW.  The WHY-WHAT-HOW teaching and learning sequence is simply good teaching.

In the Flipped Classroom, the Exploring phase (“Day 1”) offers WHY instruction is relevant by making schematic connections.  The Explaining phase/evening (“Night 1”) provides the WHAT the content.  Finally, the Applying phase (“Day 2”) reinforces HOW we can extend and apply the learning (Saltman, 2011).  It’s the WHY-WHAT-HOW teaching and learning sequence, again … simply good teaching.

And … with credit to those flipping, I DO agree that of the three, the WHAT portion is learned most efficiently on one’s own.

My traditionalist colleagues, however, may push back, contending that the discourse involved in face-to-face instruction is a requisite component of a quality education.  I cannot disagree.  Having a good teacher (not just any teacher, but a good one) around during the WHAT would be the “Cadillac,” yet admittedly, this ideal of effectiveness would hamper the efficiency demanded by today’s extrinsic factors of “mandate.” 

So let us go ahead and FLIP.  Foundationally, it makes sense.

And while we’re at it (as some of my students are now suggesting), let us try flipping staff meetings, professional development outings, leadership roundtables, and school board meeting work-sessions as well. 

We must be careful, however, that when doing so, we understand the importance of EACH part of the learning equation – the WHY, WHAT, and HOW. 

Failing to bring incredible “care in production” to the WHAT in this new medium would run the risk of shortchanging those more inter/intrapersonal, tactile, or kinesthetic, as well as those who are averse to didactic instruction or “anything technology.”

If those most prone to frustration end-up as de-facto, 2nd-class citizens in this new, delivery medium, then any notion of the benefits of flipped instruction will most certainly be “flipped-off.”


Green, G. (2012, January 18). My view: Flipped classrooms give every student a chance to succeed [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Saltman, D. (2011, November/December). Flipping for beginners: Inside the new classroom craze. Harvard Education Letter 27(6). Retrieved at


Dr. Ryan Donlan encouraged your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, reflects, as well as any intended actions you have based on his short article in this week’s Ed. Leadershop.  Please consider contacting him if you like for any further conversation at or at (812) 237-8624.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

School Climate: A Non-Critical Variable

School Climate: A Non-Critical Variable
By Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Departmental Chairperson
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

The mood teachers are in should be irrelevant to the quality of teaching they provide.  Any professional should be doing his/her best job every day regardless of the “type” of day he/she may be having. Imagine sitting in the dentist’s chair and overhearing him brooding about all the issues he has had to deal with lately and how he hopes this next patient doesn’t give him trouble. Or, appearing in traffic court and hearing the judge complain about the lack of support she is getting from the prosecuting attorney, stating “We’ll show him something today!” 

How many teachers feel that their personal issues are excuses for a less-than-great classroom performance? How many principals withdraw their classroom observations when they realize the teacher is having a bad day? At what point did research determine that school leaders needed to insure their teachers were of kindred spirits?

Perhaps I have taken a stance too harsh for many educators to digest. After all, people tend to do better when they are happier, right? That is one of the myths driving this (soft) approach to improving schools: worrying about teachers’ attitudes. To disconfirm intuition, The Power of Positive Thinking can destroy things (Ehrenreich, 2009); there is an overrated concern with the likeability of people as the ideal (Cain, 2012), as the search for happiness cannot be provided by others (Gilbert, 2006), and the criteria can change like the wind. In fact, many great inventions, works of art, and breakthroughs have come to people when they have been under stress (Maisel, 2007).

The real question is not what mood teachers are in or how leaders might be able to manufacture happiness, rather: What in the school system is allowing negatives moods to prevail? Further, Why is it teachers are allowed to take negative attitudes into their classrooms? We should not be concerned with the mood they are in (climate) but how being in that mood is rewarding (culture). People tend to sustain behaviors that have rewards. For some teachers, being in a bad mood feels powerful.

The difference between Mondays and Fridays in a school is evidence of school climate. Yet, it is the school’s culture that allows this difference to occur. Cultures give permission to climates to be as they are. The reason most teachers exhibit the mood they are in is because the prevailing culture rewards it. If the faculty is typically cynical toward parents, it is because the culture demands they be so, that is, if they want to maintain status in the group. If teachers stay after school and work with struggling students, it is usually because the culture makes it cool to do so.

Unwritten rules exist in any school. They can be rules that benefit the students, or they can benefit the teachers. Despite any written policies or handbooks, the unwritten rules (norms) will determine how hard the teachers work, how to dress, and what mood to be in given certain circumstances. To walk into a building and declare everyone to be happy, perhaps by bringing donuts or a motivational speaker, will need to meet the approval of the culture, or it will be energy wasted, if not detrimental.

The takeaway from this, with the primary audience being future principals, is not to sweat over the attitudes of the teachers. If you notice a trend toward negativity, then just like taking a child’s temperature, it is but one of many symptoms that reveal a bigger issue: the culture.

Don’t devote resources to make others happier; spend time researching the values and beliefs that support these attitudes.

If you act like the culture is not there, it will act as though you are not there either.


Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.

Ehrenrieich, B. (2009). Bright-sided: How positive thinking is undermining America. New York: Picador Publishers.

Gilbert, D. (2006). Stumbling on happiness. New York: Vintage Books.

Maisel, E. (2007). The Van Gogh blues: The creative person's path through depression. Novato, CA: New World Library.


Dr. Steve Gruenert welcomes your comments, thoughts, opinions, and perspectives; he encourages you to write him if you desire further conversation or wish to debate him about the merits of school climate and its relevance to effective school leadership, at 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Selective Feeding

Selective Feeding

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

While reading at home last week, I saw the arrival of a UPS truck at the end of my driveway.
My package had arrived.
The product I sought was seemingly unavailable in supercenters from Terre Haute, Indiana to Mid-Michigan. I guess someone high in the food chain of the retail bird-feeding establishment has recently deemed upside-down American Goldfinch feeding at best, unfashionable, and at worst, exclusionary. 
Upside down finch-feeders require birds to hang upside down to feed on higher-priced thistle seed through little openings inside.  They’re very selective in whom they allow to dine – only those who have the innate abilities to “invert” are allowed to do so.
As I assembled the feeder, I marveled at how goldfinches were such pretty little birds, much more decorative than others.  More talented they are than the mainstream – “gifted,” in fact, as their feeding styles would indicate.
Goldfinches are eye-candy; they represent one’s home and garden well and are sure to impress neighbors and friends … even omithologists.
What I had been finding in vain while strolling “in-store” were feeders that allowed for upside down feeding for birds properly equipped, yet they provided as well, right-side-up holes for other birds to use. 
That would defeat the purpose, I thought, hanging the feeder.  
Any bird can feed on those double-action feeders: robins, sparrows, and blackbirds, even those marginally equipped little things that often fly into windows.   

     Not on this one.  Not on my deck.
Surveying my work, I proclaimed, “The American Goldfinch, it is!” With regular care and feeding, even more of the special birds would visit. 
I then spied a sparrow, quick to belly-up … pecking haplessly at plastic.
“Not for you, little thing,” I thought.  
He flew away ……  Another landed.


With all of our challenges in today’s era of choice, competition, and heightened accountability, should anyone in education really care about bird feeding – well, aside from educational metaphors of kids’ “spreading their wings” and all that fluffy stuff?
If we looked at education through something as finely calibrated as birdwatchers’ binoculars – peering through lenses of philosophers, sociologists, and historians – what would we see? 
Would we see that our history is one of true opportunity, or would it reflect inequitable offers of academic sustenance based on a child’s outward appearance or the whims of those with resources (as does, admittedly, my bird feeding)?
Further, have ever we sorted children as I now do birds, offering more refined entrees to those with discernable flexibility to contort while consuming, yet with no better ability to digest once doing so
Finally, have we been exclusionary or fluid in our differentiated groupings?  My students remind me that the latter should not be “sold short,” because effective interventions necessitate an appropriately targeted delivery.
They also suggest that if I only surround myself with goldfinches, beauty will begin to wane amidst a flock of homogeneity. 
They may have a point, a smart one at that. 
They’re school leaders, after all, and are ensuring that future history books will reflect “well” today’s present.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can’t remember if he was a bluebird, robin, or even a crow in his elementary school reading group. Now a lifelong learner working for equitable opportunities for all, he encourages you to let him know your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, reflections, or even intended actions, based on what he has offered this week at or (812) 237-8624.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Birthday Celebration

A Birthday Celebration

As our United States of America celebrates its 236th birthday, we in the Bayh College of Education's Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University would like all of you, our friends and colleagues in K-12 education, to understand how much we value all you do to make a difference in our nation’s schools. 

Thank you for the positive differences you are making in the lives of so many!

Consider the following ... realizing that these are only a small part of what you do:

That you take your time, effort, care, and consideration to educate all who walk through your doors, no matter the inequities of life circumstance or preparatory ability;

That you do so mindful of the steep challenges that exist for all in our profession and our continuing mandate to become even more effective than each next day’s, best work;

That you continually improve your skills, invest in your own professional capacity, and reach your goals through targeted professional development and graduate-school enrollment;

That you learn for the sake of learning, intrinsically motivated as are we in the Bayh College of Education, to become complete professionals as experts or mediators of learning, persons, and members of communities;

That no matter the off-putting headline or misinformed editorial, you arise with vigor each morning, knowing with assuredness that without you, no doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, social workers, or postal clerks would exist to serve our state and nation, as you inspired and prepared them all;

That those in our nation’s military, fighting to preserve our cherished freedoms and those around the world, think often of you in the quiet of the evening or in the midst of valor;

And that those who are your own friends, family, and children, will someday in your passing, remember fondly the sacrifices you made while serving in the most humble of professions, putting others before yourself and taking everyone you knew from where they were to a better place, because that is simply the way you lived … it is what you represent.

On behalf of Indiana State University and all who love children, thank you for serving as a role model, most cherished, and for helping make our nation’s birthday, and this time for rest, relaxation, and reflection, one of joy, honor, and heartfelt anticipation of what lies ahead for all of us.

Happy 4th of July!