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.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Three-Headed Principal

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The Three-Headed Principal

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

Standing arm-and-arm, connected figuratively at the hip with Jerome Lefeuvre from France and Rainer Musselmann from Germany, I was a Three-Headed Principal.

If you have my sense of humor and share my taste in network television, you probably remember Drew Carey’s show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?  This presentation was similar to one of Carey’s skits, yet based on a serious topic addressing worldwide communication issues in education.   It wasn’t comedy, as that was not the intent, yet it was fun.

Our Improvisational Presentation:  A building principal’s new school orientation speech for a group of incoming high school students.

Our Purpose: To demonstrate the need for shifting our communication styles to better connect with students who are diverse learners.

In the early 1970’s, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Taibi Kahler theorized that human beings are comprised of six, distinct personalities that influence our perceptions, communication, psychological needs, environmental preferences, and distress patterns (Kahler, 2008). These theories have since been applied to education. Educators who understand Kahler’s theories report they are better able to connect with students, keep them out of distress, and enhance instruction (Bradley, Pauley, & Pauley, 2006; Pauley, Bradley, & Pauley, 2002).

The individual personalities or personality energies that comprise Kahler’s overall personality structure, are as follows:

The Believer – This personality processes the world through its beliefs and has the qualities of being dedicated, conscientious, and observant.
The Thinker – This personality processes the world through its thoughts and has the qualities of being logical, responsible, and organized.
The Harmonizer – This personality processes the world through its emotions and has the qualities of being compassionate, sensitive, and warm.
The Funster – This personality processes the world through its reactions and has the qualities of being spontaneous, creative, and playful.
The Promoter – This personality processes the world through its actions and has the qualities of being charming, persuasive, and adaptable.
The Imaginer – This personality processes the world through its inactions and has the qualities of being calm, reflective, and imaginative. (Kahler, 2008)

Research in the 1970’s demonstrated that all six of these personality energies reside within us and are measurable with the Personality Pattern Inventory (Kahler, 2008). Current research has supported the validity of this instrument (Ampaw, Gilbert, & Donlan, 2012).

Each of the six personalities has unique words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions that it uses often in communication. The six blend together to make each of us who we are in our entirety.  Yet we DO predominate in one or two of these energies and can more readily process information from certain, corresponding perceptual frames. 

This is where a mismatch exists between teachers and their students, or even between leaders and their staffs.

Back to the Three-Headed Principal:

Professor of educational leadership and author Michael Gilbert would show us a card depicting one of the six personalities in Kahler’s model.  We would then access the particularized language of that personality energy through our words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions.  In short, it was research-informed “IMPROV.”

While in the first personality, I communicated using the English language. Within seconds, Michael rang a bell and Jerome continued presenting where I left off, but in French.  Seconds later, another bell rang, and Rainer continued in German.  Even in speaking the different languages of national origin, the three of us maintained the common language of personality (which was comprised of our word choices, as well as our tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions).

Thus, we spoke the same language, while we spoke different languages.  It was challenging, but fascinating.

Michael then held-up another card, depicting another personality. I continued in English, yet used the words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions of the new personality energy depicted.  We continued in our respective native tongues, yet while sharing the same language of personality, as a Three-Headed Principal speaking to his or her students while moving for personality to personality in the school orientation.

Experts and trainers in Kahler’s model from around the world, as well as Kahler, himself, were on hand, intrigued at our application of theory in practice.

We attempted to demonstrate that the six personalities within each of us, if used to communicate to persons who do not understand them, are as indiscernible as the words of different spoken languages among persons who are not multi-lingual. In short, we proposed through demonstration that the overall language of personality (words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions) may be as important, or even more important, than the words of one's native language alone.

Said a different way, if we communicate in a personality language that our students do not understand, it will create communication barriers and over time … distress.

As leaders and educators, we must shift our communication styles to the personality energies predominant in our students, so that they are better able to connect with what we are saying.  This does not mean using their slang terms, of course; it is more sophisticated and subtle, as we initiate this “shift.”  Doing so over time better allows students to build efficacy in their less-developed personality energies, especially those that connect more effectively to the adults teaching them and the academic tasks expected of them.

Next week, I’ll build on these points as I share Bradley’s, A Unique Tool for Closing the Gap (2007).  I’ll address our nation’s achievement gap in a way that is often not discussed.

Until then, ask yourself, “When I talk with colleagues or students, am I using a different personality language than the one they understand?”

If so, ask next, “How’s it working for me?”


Ampaw, F. D., Gilbert, M. B., & Donlan, R. A. (2012, August). Verifying the validity and reliability of the Personality Pattern Inventory. Paper presented at the 4th International Congress on Process Communication, Vienna, Austria.

Bradley, D., Pauley, J., & Pauley, J. (2006). Effective classroom management: Six keys to success. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates.

Pauley, J., Bradley, D., & Pauley, J. (2002). Here’s how to reach me: Matching instruction to personality types in your classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co, Inc.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages you to SHIFT when you communicate with others and find out more about the Three-Headed Principal or Whose PHASE Is It Anyway? by contacting him at (812) 237-8624 or at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Knight Moves

Knight Moves

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

The Knight is my favorite chess piece. 

With elegance, power, and precision, it advances itself with a quick side step before moving forward and can also move to the side after furthering an advance. 

The Knight is clever.  Yet, it does not necessarily employ a bag of tricks, as it is authentic and simple in its moves, smartly selecting any of a number of paths of least resistance.

Knight Moves are critical in school leadership. 

When working to enact change that we know is best for children, we oftentimes encounter resistance, or someone’s differing agenda.  We’ll find this even more when the stakes are higher or when job security and compensation are tied to student learning and positive evaluation outcomes.

As a wise school leader at a Principals’ Association dinner mentioned last week, “The bullets are coming back at us, very fast.  We need to be ready for them.” 

Someone is always trying to capture “Our King,” it seems.  Yet, our win is a win for the children.  Let us keep that in mind, as we consider the value in moving as a Knight.

Knight Moves are not tricks. They do not demonstrate deception or sleight-of-hand, yet they are admittedly clever. Instead of using a heavily guarded “front doors” in addressing issues, Knight Moves use “side doors.”  Their chosen paths are smarter, not necessarily clandestine (but can be at times). They are shrewd.

When might we need them?  Certainly, when the going is a bit rough, such as when resistant subcultures in our schools have influence with our local school boards or when those above us are more good-ole’ boys than champions of children.  Situations that call for Knight Moves are typically political in nature.

Examples of Knight Moves would include:

Focusing on the needs of adults in school change initiatives, as one can do so and still be “student-centered.” An adult-first focus with principle-centered leadership brings about a positive effect on children.  It is a path that I have found works.  Why are we always told first to fasten an airliner’s oxygen mask to ourselves first, then to our children?  Why are couples encouraged to focus on their marriage as a way toward better relationships with their children? Because adults need to be healthy in order to help others dependent upon them. Oftentimes, leaders profess to their staffs, “It’s not about ‘the adults’ in schools.” I disagree. Many leaders with rightful, student-centered convictions move through the front door in championing quality education for children, when a Knight Move may work more effectively.

Advancing school improvement in a manner in which good ideas come from the faculty, rather than from leadership.  This brings about ownership and enhanced legitimacy. A leader’s patience in planting seeds and tending to them through germination is key.  Overwatering hurts, as does neglect. This takes a bit of time and positioning, as many Knight Moves do.

Taking responsibility for everything negative that happens in our buildings and giving away credit for everything that is positive. This is not feigned humility. It is a focused, attentiveness on the positive contributions of others, while demonstrating that we know where the buck stops. It is a Knight Move that necessitates we forego at times the need to take credit for the positive outgrowths of our leadership.

Knight moves in school leadership are smart.

With elegance, power, and precision, they advance what is good for children with a quick side step before moving forward. They also allow leaders to move gracefully to the side after furthering an advance. 

They get the job done.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages your thoughts on advancing positive change in schools and hopes that you will comment on this blog or write him at  Telephone conversations are also welcomed at (812) 237-8624. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sharper Measurements for Smarter Schools

Sharper Measurements for Smarter Schools

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

Some of our most capable educational innovators are worried about their jobs.  Others are looking for other careers in which to exercise their ingenuity.  A few are quite content, of course, yet I wonder for how long.

As K-12 folks go, I’m relatively supportive of recent changes coming by way of legislatures and state departments across the country (“on-balance” … not necessarily “carte-blanche”).

What concerns me, however, is that many of our most creative have found their efforts devalued by narrow and restrictive methods of educational assessment. This is particularly true in the overuse of student high-stakes test scores in judging the programmatic quality of our schools. 

Consider what seems en-vogue to most everyone but our folks in the trenches:

Good Test Scores = Good Programs.
Bad Test Scores = Bad Programs. 
Bad Programs = Incompetent Adults Who Need to Be Fired.

At least, this is the way things seem to be trending.

This paradigm on program evaluation creates a systemic disincentive for educators to serve our most needy, as some of my graduate students shared with a State Official recently.  It certainly inhibits enthusiasm in risk-taking.

As a profession, have we ceded program evaluation (and thus our futures) to those who are limiting not only the ends through which quality is determined (i.e. via test scores), but also the means (i.e. prescribing how principals spend their time)?

I believe that we are remiss in not reframing what proper measurement should be.  Because of this, the public and their elected officials are not seeing the true quality that is present in our schools.

Instead, we’re using too much energy defending the status quo within the context of a limited, test-score discussion, and in doing so, we’re using too many terms that common folks do not understand (“formative” this, “summative” that … and my goodness … the ACRONYMS).  If Andy Rooney were still with us, he probably would have something to say.

We need to have a clear and frank discussion on how we are leveraging learning, given the needs of current students and families.  We need to be more authentic in how we conduct business.

Let’s start by discussing better targets for measuring schools.  Any principal starting a new program might want to take note, as what you do at the outset will follow you through to evaluation and quality determination.

Two critical components of any quality program evaluation model are actually quite simple: (1) STARTING SHARP and (2) MEASURING SMARTER.  School leaders may find in paying attention to these, student achievement takes better care of itself and a clearer message can be communicated to those watching closely.


Before schools decide what is quality and what is not, they must sharpen their pencils and draft an overall program evaluation plan.   

Yes, a plan.  It must be written and shared.

A program evaluation plan ensures that a school’s evaluation strategies align with its stages of program implementation.  Reforms in their early stages need certain approaches to measurement; reforms later on need others – a variety of options exist, but careful selection among options is the only way to avoid measuring something inaccurately (Chen, 2005).  One wouldn’t use a ruler to weigh a textbook; same principle applies – get the right tool.

How often do we see new programs evaluated with student test scores, knowing full and darned well that increased achievement will take time?  Other indicators need measurement before the degree of academic learning kicks-in. Yet, test scores are often the only commodity shared with board meetings or the media.

The main issue not discussed currently in school innovation is the unavoidable fact that when reforms occur, we must for a time, cast away the old, wrong thing done well and replace it with a new, right thing done not-so-well (Black & Gregersen, 2003).  This point is often missed.  It is unflattering and inconvenient.  We’d rather measure test scores from our captive audience, even if it is no more useful than weighing a book with a ruler.


Smarter means simpler!  Only the most direct influences on school quality should be measured in order to make decisions.

Academic achievement is one. It cannot be ignored.  Yet in targeting achievement, schools must ensure that they are measuring more than test scores. This whole notion of Academic Growth is a nice start, if it means what it is represented to mean, holding rich schools and poor schools, as well as high-achieving schools and low-achieving schools accountable, equitably.

Other critical, yet often-overlooked influences include:

1.     School Culture: School culture gives permission for certain things to be valued and others not to be valued.  It is a pattern of shared basic assumptions about how we perceive, think, feel, and act [in our classrooms, lounges, and hallways] (Schein, 2004). Cultures range from the toxic to the collaborative. Looking honestly at school culture is like holding up a mirror. It is a powerful indicator of an organization’s potential, as it will remain steadfast even if leadership changes (Gruenert, 2012), calling in question the current “oust-the-captain” mindset in school turn-around circles. We need to measure it and be evaluated upon it.

2.     Self-Efficacy: Self-efficacy in schools is our ability to be resourceful, persistent, and open in teaching and learning. It can be measured with precision, even in such specific contexts as mathematics or athletics. Self-efficacy determines the degree to which people believe that they can make a positive difference in their circumstances through hard work and effort.  Self-efficacy relates to academic success. We need to measure it and be evaluated upon it.

3.     Process Indicators: Process indicators, or what I call “look-for’s,” include details of what adults and children are actually doing that facilitate or enhance the process of teaching, learning, and school improvement. Observable communication, pedagogical proficiency, faculty collaboration, metacognition strategies, curricular alignment, and social capital acquisition are among them.  Process indicators speak loudly; they give leaders insight into the skillsets, habits, and needs of their staffs and students. This diagnostic ability and the resultant leadership interventions are in need of measurement and evaluation.

4.     Local Relevance: Innovation creates something special and unique about each program … something defined and measured that makes school a very unique place, reflective of and relevant to its community.  Whatever this is, we should respect it, value it, measure it, and evaluate it.  

Designing better measures for program quality in education is not overly complicated.  It simply involves starting sharp and measuring smarter.

It would be nice to get back on track.


 Black, J., & Gregersen, H. (2003). Leading strategic change: Breaking through the brain barrier. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Chen, H. (2005). Practical program evaluation: Assessing and improving planning, implementation, and effectiveness. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Gruenert, S. (2012, September). Organizational climate and culture: They are not the same thing. Presentation for Indiana State University Principal Interns in the Bayh College of Education, Terre Haute, Indiana.

Schein, E. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Dr. Ryan Donlan would like you to add to this conversation or share new and innovative ways that you are empowering yourselves to determine quality program evaluation for your school or program by making comment on this blog, or by contacting him at (812) 237-8624 or at  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

From the Wabash, Now Worldwide

From the Wabash, Now Worldwide

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

In 1969, a graduate student in psychology by the name of Taibi Kahler was doing an internship at the Wabash Valley Mental Hospital near West Lafayette, Indiana. While there, he became interested in the psychological theories of Transactional Analysis (Kahler, 2008).

Shortly thereafter, Kahler created an inventory to collect data for his dissertation on predicting academic underachievement.  While performing factor analysis to study his instrument’s validity, he noticed data falling into 6 mutually exclusive clusters that later served as the basis for a theory on personality structure (Kahler Communications, Inc., n.d.; Kahler, 2008). 

The uniqueness of Dr. Kahler’s discovery was that human behavior could be identified, second-by-second, as being productive (communication) or non-productive (miscommunication) with both patterns sequential, measurable, and predictable.
For this discovery, Dr. Kahler was later awarded the 1977 Eric Berne Memorial Scientific Award and was honored by more than 10,000 of his clinical peers from 52 countries as having provided the MOST SIGNIFICANT SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY IN THE FIELD OF PSYCHOLOGY (Kahler, 2008). 
Fast-forward a few decades. 
Dr. Kahler’s discoveries in the field of communication have assisted NASA in the selection of astronauts and enhanced the business of global corporations. His discoveries have assisted practitioners in the fields of therapy, health care, and education.  Because of the power and relevance of his theories, Dr. Kahler served as communication advisor to President William Jefferson Clinton and provided psycho-demographic polling information for his campaigns.
Last week, Dr. Kahler sat in a conference room in Vienna, Austria, watching me closely as I demonstrated the practical aspects of his Process Education Model (PEM) to a group of teachers from Europe. 
In this demo, six certified trainers in the model took on the roles of students, demonstrating what Dr. Kahler refers to as “distressed behavior” while I attempted to teach.  My job was to shift my communication style (the “Process” of Communication) by using selected words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions in the students’ perceptual frames to meet their psychological needs, engage their minds, and of course … teach academic content.  It is all quite sophisticated, yet can be deftly delivered with deep practice in its leadership and classroom applications. 
I used this model while in K-12 and still do so today.
Later in the conference, I co-presented results from a recent study on Kahler’s Personality Pattern Inventory, in which we performed a current factor analysis on data from over 53,000 persons, evaluating its validity (Ampaw, Gilbert, & Donlan, 2012).  As I discussed our findings and shared insights with experts from France, Germany, and New Zealand, I thought of Dr. Kahler sitting nearby, and his ideas born in Indiana. 
From the Wabash … Now Worldwide.
Known throughout the world for his contributions … having changed the lives of millions through his books and seminars … a member of 4 international high-IQ societies … and delightfully humble in spite of all this – Dr. Kahler, ironically, is not on most American educators’ “Who’s Who” lists of those we quote or those whose conferences we attend.
Yet, the Process Education Model is most certainly one to study.
Dr. Kahler encourages further research.
As you’re working this school year to write grants for professional development, will you please ask yourself? …
Would staff benefit from a most subtle, yet sophisticated method of differentiated communication that could minimize distress in classrooms for both students and themselves? 
Would leaders find useful a model that allows for deep understanding of students, parents, and stakeholders within seconds of meeting them for the first time? 
Would practitioners find beneficial a model that may enhance and extend the efficacy of any current school improvement initiative in which they are currently involved? 
If so, please consider partnering. 
You learn and implement; we’ll measure.

Ampaw, F. D., Gilbert, M. B., & Donlan, R. A. (2012, August). Verifying the validity and
            reliability of the Personality Pattern Inventory. Paper presented at the 4th
            International Congress on Process Communication, Vienna, Austria.

Kahler Communications, Inc. (n. d.). Personality Pattern Inventory validation procedures. Little Rock, AR: Author.

Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates. 

Dr. Ryan Donlan is involved in research and training in the Process Education Model (PEM) and wishes to partner with K-12, college, and university educators who are writing grants to fund research on professional development and learning outcomes in their schools.