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, October 30, 2012

A Momentary Stay Against Confusion

A Momentary Stay Against Confusion

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

I was in good company this past weekend.  Good people, good conversation, good scholarship ... good food as well.

At a remote location ideal for a retreat, a group of Midwestern higher education scholars spent the weekend in a military fort, admittedly, in officers’ homes – sharing, collaborating, teaching, learning, investigating, writing, eating, exercising, and at sunset (sunrise, in a few cases), bunking down for a few hours of shut-eye. 

They worked round-the-clock on meaningful research and scholarship. 

As faculty members, we were on hand to support them -- guiding, cooking, critiquing, challenging, motivating, congratulating, and providing whatever cleaning and errand running was needed. 

Completion of doctoral dissertations, or at minimum, furthering them, was a goal.

Yet, I’m wondering if something else was even more important.

As you might guess, most in attendance left families behind – families who undoubtedly missed their mommies, daddies, siblings, and significant others … families who might not have seen too much of their loved ones the week prior, with the vast responsibilities they hold and the busy lives they lead. 

I admired the number of cell phone calls ending with, “I love you’” and “Sweet dreams” during our late-night writing.

As I am an armchair philosopher deeply interested in the human condition and leadership, I couldn’t help but share this inspirational experience in the Ed. Leadershop this week.

Please consider the following take away’s that were meaningful to me, as I got to know this group.

1.     Our best leaders set lofty goals, those that are first and foremost, intrinsically valuable to them on a deeply personal level.  As one example, many pursue doctoral degrees because doing so is a goal that they value, not because of any promised, professional advancement or economic benefit.  It is simply important to them.

2.  This personal goal setting often accompanies one’s valuing deferred gratification and paying forward to oneself and others. It has a strong ethical and moral framework upon which all other actions are suspended.  I saw these attributes in my colleagues and students.

3.     The vicarious learning that takes place, in witness of people such as those mentioned in 1 and 2 above, does well to uplift others; it inspires transformational performance.

4.    Leaving one’s family and professional roles behind for a time should not be seen so much as moving AWAY from the responsibilities and lived experiences one has.  Instead, it should be seen as one’s moving closer into oneself (from Kahler’s, 2008, The Process Therapy Model).

5.  In doing so, those at the retreat provided themselves a “momentary stay against confusion,” a phrase I borrow from Robert Frost (1939, The Figure a Poem Makes).  This “stay” better allowed them to think, to process, to reflect, and then to lead when they emerged at work this week to address the personal and professional responsibilities they assume by way of leadership.

I was in good company this past weekend.


Dr. Ryan Donlan wants to better understand the ways in which people self-actualize and is intrigued by your ideas as they pertain to leadership and education.  Please feel free to comment on his points, observations, and assertions above or contact him at (812) 237-8624 or

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Secret Spice

The Secret Spice

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

            Over the past 20 years, I have been looking for the Secret Spice that fosters heightened academic achievement in students.

I have shopped in many places, launching my career with Instructional Theory Into Practice (ITIP), then Teacher Expectations & Student Achievement (TESA).  A number of years later, I utilized the International Center for Leadership in Education’s Quadrant D Instruction, as well as the 8-Step Process Integrated Systems Model.  I even familiarized myself with Marzano’s Effective Instructional Strategies.  Thinking back, I probably have studied around 10 to 20 other models; not one of them, on balance, is bad for kids.

            What I have not yet found is the Secret Spice, at least in so far as there is a blanket Secret Spice that enhances learning. 

More recently, in exploring research options with a trusted colleague who shares my scholarship interests, I continued to fine-tune what I have believed for some time to be a “footprint” of this very Secret Spice.  It involves self-efficacy (N. Regier, personal communication, October 18, 2012). 

Self-efficacy’s influence on education is not a new concept. Pajares (1996) noted after careful review of numerous research studies, “Although much remains to be done, the empirical connection between self-efficacy and academic performance and achievement has by now been reasonably secured” (p. 563).  Later, Multon, Brown, & Lent (1991) found with a review of over 30 studies that efficacy beliefs accounted for around 14% of the variance in school performance of students.

The Secret Spice related to self-efficacy is, in actuality, context-dependent, which is probably no surprise to any of us.  Intriguingly, however …  each context-dependent footprint related to self-efficacy – no matter the size, shape, or depth – seems to have similar patterns of treadwear. 

This treadwear presents itself as measurable. 

It is comprised of the qualities of Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence, whether these are found in adults or children (Karpman, 2010; Next Element Consulting, LLC, 2010).  “[Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence] exist as a cycle, or core point of balance, within each person … [they] are skill sets, social emotional competencies, and approaches to life that both coincide with our natural character strengths and can be developed” (Next Element Consulting, LLC, 2012).

If we accept that Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence on any given task or challenge represent, or even help to build the self-efficacy critical for heightened achievement, we can better unearth examples of how the Secret Spice may work to enhance learning.

In one context, the Secret Spice could very well be one’s love of content.  Some children just LOVE math, and I’ll bet that their resultant levels of Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence in math would be measurably higher than those who do not.  These characteristics would represent and even enhance Self-Efficacy, the belief that one could attain success through hard work and effort.
Another example of the Secret Spice could be the relationship that students experience through the time and attention of a caring adult.  Some children do not have positive role models at home.  I’ll bet that when those students are in the classrooms of those whom they believe care about them; these children are in turn more Open, Resourceful, and Persistent.  The resultant, positive effect on Self-Efficacy would generate “that belief,” as discussed above.

            Where am I going with this? 

            In the last few years, we in education have been putting time, talent, and treasure into measuring EVERYTHING BUT -- everything BUT unearthing and measuring the Secret Spice.  We have been too busy with programs and standardization of instruction and assessment instead.

How often have we included on our faculty meeting agendas an activity where we take a list of student names and brainstorm how we could enhance Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence – INDIVIDUALLY – for each of them?  Frankly, we’re probably under so much pressure to target and measure other things, that we have not had time.   

Wouldn’t it be exciting to try-out a new leadership or teaching strategy and measure whether or not it resulted in more Openness, Resourcefulness, or Persistence in those who are affected by it?  Going beyond … wouldn’t it be interesting to correlate these levels with academic achievement outcomes?
And … wouldn’t it be unique to do this in specific contexts, such as, “What effect does my instructional leadership 'in X setting' have on teachers’ abilities to be Open, Resourceful, and Persistent in co-teaching?” or “What effect does thematic instruction have on students’ abilities to be Open, Resourceful, and Persistent in algebra?”

            Currently, we measure whether students score well. 

We measure the result of a process far removed from the footprints of the Secret Spice that allow children or their teachers the capacities to become more efficacious in their learning in the first place.  At the same time, we experience increased difficulty meeting the needs of at-risk youth who are not achieving, while minimizing the potential impact of Bandura’s point made 15 years ago that a low sense of efficacy in the cognitive domain works against positive peer relations; it also brings about socially alienating, aggressive and transgressive behavior (1997).

I guess I’m making a new case for clinically astute, educational action research as something that may better inform the policy decisions of those well intentioned in ensuring student achievement.

            Why not let it start on your end with a list of students and a conversation in a faculty meeting on what each needs to develop Openness, Resourcefulness, and Persistence.  As a leadership team, you might do the same for your faculty and staff. 

Look for the footprints.  Sharper measurements for smarter schools are within our reach. 


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control.  New York, NY: W. Hl Freeman and Company.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2). 191-215.

Karpman, S. (2010). The Redecision Triangle. Retrieved from

Multon, K. D., Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (1991). Relation of self-efficacy beliefs to academic outcomes: A meta-analytic investigation.  Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 30-38.

Next Element Consulting, LLC. (2012). NEOS® user certification manual. Newton, KS: Next Element Consulting, LLC.

Next Element Consulting, LLC. (2010). NEOS: The first context sensitive outcomes system. (2010).  Newton, KS: Next Element Consulting, LLC.  Retrieved from

Pajares, F. (1996). Self-efficacy beliefs in academic settings.  Review of Educational Research, 66(4). 543-578.


Dr. Ryan Donlan hopes to partner with practitioners in researching the effectiveness of their efforts in school wellness and school reimagination.  If you would like to explore opportunities to measure the results of what you are doing with respect to the openness, resourcefulness, or persistence of those you are doing it with, please don’t hesitate to contact him at or (812) 23708624.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teaching is Not an Art

Teaching is Not an Art

Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Department Chair
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

It seems there are many writers who like to characterize teaching as an art form. As an artist and lover of art, I have always had a difficult time with that analogy.
Then it hit me…
As I recently sat through a music concert, I was cast into a mental oasis, listening to the music as it took me back into my past. Combined with the music was a sense of aesthetic relaxation. “These guys are good – true artists,” I thought.  
That’s when it hit me; they have no idea I am out here.
Sure, they know there is an audience, but the nature of that audience, our knowledge of the music, our ability to follow the music, even our appreciation of the music, did not influence their playing. This particular band will play well whether or not we pay attention, clap, or sing along. They are artists.
Effective teachers, conversely, are very aware of their audience.
They come prepared to bring information to a group, usually knowing who that group is, what the people in that group know and what they need. When members of the teacher’s audience (students) have questions, seem lost, disinterested, or inspired, this tends to influence what teachers will do next. They will adjust what they are doing so the students will walk away with something new they have learned; they may even work with some students one-on-one.
Artists don’t care.
When artists are painting, dancing, or writing, they are unaware of any audience. They typically get into a zone (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it flow) and proceed to express themselves.
Artists do not stop during their performances to ensure the audience is following along, nor do they care if the audience understands or learns anything. Creating art is not based upon pleasing others. Artists do not think about who will be looking at their work, who will be judging it, who will buy it.
Those who do care about these particulars are not artists; they are salesmen.
Some may claim that teaching is a craft, like pottery or woodworking. When a potter is working on the wheel, he does not let the environment influence what he makes. He does not look up to see if the group is following him – most of the time artists work in solitude because reaction from others during the process can be debilitating. Even at the completion, when all is finished, fired, glazed, and ready for display, he does not let the criticisms, or praise, from the audience determine his next work. Those who seek to please the audience (again) are simply salesmen.
Are salesmen good teachers?
Artists do not let the reaction of the crowd determine their next performance. They do not cater to the masses; they are constantly trying to capture the essence of humanity, reality, emotion, or imagination in an abstract form.
Sometimes artists cannot create that which they intend. Sometimes they just walk away from their work for a few minutes or a few months. Sometimes materials don’t cooperate, yet something aesthetic happens. We call those happy accidents when the work turns out to be something inspiring yet obtuse from the original vision. Where does anything like this occur in the act of teaching?
And, just because teaching is not an art, this does not mean it is a science.
The idea that anything as complex as teaching could be reduced into discrete, measurable behaviors is just silly.
Watch an artist perform, try to identify the “effective” behaviors, or try to identify common behaviors among a group of artists. Whatever recipe seems best to predict successful art will soon be proven wrong by the personality of the next person trying it and/or his or her life situation.
If teaching is not an art, then leading is not an art either – same reasons noted above will apply.
So, if teaching is not an art, nor a science, just “what” is it?
The question seems to require an answer from those who do not understand teaching. Those who do it well do not need a definition, rubric, or explanation. They just know it exists and enjoy the opportunities they have to do it. It may be more like parenting. There is a flexible knowledge of what is to be taught; teachers can identify with the situations in life their students are experiencing, and they care for them. There is a patience for those with reasons for not understanding something quickly and a passion for those who can take the information and apply it to life, perhaps building upon it more.
Teachers are not artists.
Teachers are more like athletes, or soldiers, coming in with a plan but adapting as the situation changes. Effective teachers, and leaders, will adapt to their environments, changing them as needed so they are better able to meet their goals. The only environment an artist has to endure is his or her own mind. Situations and other people may serve as inspiration, but they do not engage the artist. Artists have no moral obligation to ensure the next generation has a better life.
One thing artists may have in common with teachers is sensing the intrinsic reward that comes from knowing they have planted a new idea that may inspire new thinking, but even this elusive outcome is impossible to measure and rarely part of any lesson plan objective.
Take learning, now that is an art.


Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial.


Dr. Steve Gruenert encourages your comments, extensions, and even refutations of his perspectives.  Please comment on his article above or write him at

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Time's Right for Your Principalship!

The Time’s Right for Your Principalship!

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

Talking with colleagues last week, we shared a few reasons why if we had to do it all over again, we would definitely still go into the principalship.  No better time in education exists than RIGHT NOW to be an educational building leader. 

Admittedly, some considering principal preparation programs are concerned with recent trends in legislation or prescriptive mandates regarding aspects of a principal’s job, and they have questioned whether or not a principalship would be right for them.

Thus, we feel we should share what is being discussed as we travel -- The reasons why the principalship is still one of the best careers on the planet … and why it will be long into the future.  These points – some our own … some gleaned from K-12 leaders – are listed below in no particular order.  Please give them a read and offer your own if you have time.

Managerial rights are increasing.  The trend toward scaling back on the power of such items as unionism and tenure protection of teachers allows principals to incentivize those who are great for children and to dis-incentivize those who are not.

No one is in a better position to positively enact change and influence a school’s short-term climate and long-term, organizational culture than a principal.  Better than anyone, principals can make school a positive place for children.

To extend on the prior point … perhaps with the new changes at the state and federal levels, although they may seem frustrating, they have actually unfrozen many school cultures, thus, positioning them better to receive any new changes, ideas, or innovations. In these times of stress, teachers are looking for some kind of relief.  The principal can be the hero.

As principal, your workplace becomes more a reflection of your values the longer you stay in the role.  It resembles your personality.  What a great way to spend a full time career than in a place that is a “fit” for you!

Although some decisions need to be made lickety-split, in most cases as compared to classroom teaching, principals can take a bit of time to deliberate on the more important things that come across their desks.  I found that I had much more time to “measure twice and cut once” on items that affected my professional present and future.

Related to the above, principals are privy to more information and context with which to make decisions.  As principal, your lens is wider, and you are entrusted with more pertinent information.

Having a “choice spot” from which to watch all sporting events and extra-curricular activities is a bonus, if you’re resourceful enough to hire others to chase around children under the bleachers.

Whether it’s through your State Principals’ Association or via the collegiality on your administrative team, as principal, you will have a great cohort of folks through which to garner support in challenging times.  These friendships and support networks can last a lifetime.

As principal you can create your own level of fun on the job, as within your shop, you set the tone.  You serve-up the building’s personality each day.

Imagine how well you will be positioned, as principal, to know the children whom your own children should befriend, and whom they should not (a side benefit … but worth mentioning). 

If things are going well, your superintendent has no desire to replace you, as breaking in a new principal is a variable that most superintendents do not want to deal with … too much of a gamble.  Too expensive.  Too political.

You typically have job security through multi-year contracts, as a variety of employment arrangements are available and most are negotiable upon employment.  Some contracts even roll over automatically, so that each year, principals are on the first year of another multi-year employment package.

Unlike most faculty members in advanced stages of their careers, if things do not go well and layoffs occur, a principal’s position is one of the most highly sought after in education.  As principal, you are much in demand professionally, and the job market is a seller’s market (for your skills).

The skills you acquire, hone, and refine in the principalship command worthy consulting fees in retirement – OR even during employment, if they can be arranged outside school hours.

The principalship serves as a platform, or better yet, as a direct path of skill sets and experiences to getting one’s PhD. The further transformation of professional efficacy that would occur in the doctoral program, along with the relationships within the cohort in which you would study, will last forever.

There’s never a dull moment in the principalship.  As principal, you’ll certainly have lots of great dinner table conversation for those things you can discuss.

As principal, you are best positioned in a career in education to protect kids and save lives!


Dr. Ryan Donlan and Dr. Steve Gruenert travel the state of Indiana meeting principals and seeing, first-hand, the processes and products they have put in place on behalf of children and community.  Please let them know your thoughts on a career as a principal by e-mailing them at or

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Unique Tool for Achievement

A Unique Tool for Achievement

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

After years of “reform-this” and “redesign that,” we’re left with the sobering reality that a gap continues to exist between the educational performance of students in our nation’s schools.
This week, I build upon last week’s article, in which I wrote that if we are to be effective in our classrooms and schools, we must shift our personality energies while communicating with students, by introducing you to Dianne F. Bradley’s, A Unique Tool for Closing the Gap (2007), published in the Spring/Summer edition of the Journal of the Alliance of Black School Educators.  The article is fairly easy to find with a quick, on-line search.
As I just shared with a great group of educators at a conference in Indianapolis earlier today, Bradley (2007) builds on Kahler’s work regarding the six personality energies that reside in students and are important in children’s academic readiness and potential for learning in school. 

As I mentioned last week, these personalities 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 fun.
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)

            What is interesting about Bradley’s work is it offers a NEW explanation for our nation’s continuing achievement gap (albeit “2007,” I realize). She noted classroom teaching methodologies in our nation’s schools mostly reflect White/Anglo values, which is a mismatch with the preferred learning pattern for African American students. Bradley addressed the issue from an embedded values standpoint that which is nurtured, celebrated, and reinforced in the home lives of students. 

Her points were as follows:

Oftentimes, the communication barriers that exist between mostly white teachers and African American students (boys, as one example) result in referrals for disciplinary action, rather than using the healthy differences that exist in communication to enhance learning (Bradley, 2007).  As I have shared, teachers sometimes do not “SHIFT” in their styles of communication, and when not doing so, they cause problems for themselves and their students. 
            It is not so much a refusal to shift, I would contend, as it is an unawareness that entirely different communication and cultural patterns exist, those that should be learned, valued, and utilized in classroom instruction.

This is important for both teachers and instructional leaders to understand.

            Preferred learning patterns of Euro-Americans focus on competitiveness and individuality.  Euro-American households encourage their children to learn to sit still from an early age and passively receive information that is being taught.  Conversely, African American households tend to be more group-oriented and less competitive, with more “vocal response, physical movement, and verve” (Bradley, 2007, p. 22). 

Higher energy learning strategies are oftentimes absent from Euro-centric instructional techniques.

            What is particularly interesting about Bradley’s research is that she overlays the preferred learning styles of Euro-Americans with those of Kahler’s personalities of Thinker and Believer. These personalities focus on valuing individuality, time orientation, work and achievement orientation, and competitiveness. Preferred learning styles of African-Americans, conversely, align more with Kahler’s personalities of Funster and Promoter.  These personalities focus on communalism/group orientations, reactions with movement, action/excitement, and relevancy (Bradley, 2007; Kahler, 2008).

            “Although we cannot make sweeping generalizations about the way that students of various races, cultures and personality types learn, certain patterns exist” (Bradley, 2007, p. 29).  The Euro-centered approaches so prevalent in our nation’s schools work just fine for those students who are logical, responsible, and organized, as well as those who are dedicated, conscientious, and observant.  Yet these approaches work not as well for our students who are more spontaneous, creative, and playful, as well as those who are charming, persuasive, and adaptable.
            Bradley encourages the use of more culturally competent instruction, in conjunction to those that are mindful of the theories of Kahler’s Process Education Model (2008), as “employing these practices will help us begin to close the gap that keeps students whose learning patterns differ from their teachers, from achieving in school” (Bradley, 2007, p. 30).
            It all begins with an understanding of those different from us and our willingness and abilities to shift into others’ perceptual and communication frames accordingly.  As educators and leaders, we OWN the responsibility to shift, as well as the understanding that all personality energies are equally “OK.” 
Some students, because of their personality structures, perform better than others in school (within a Euro-centric-structured system), and unless we are willing to reframe how we think of school organization and delivery, we will be working against the natural and beautiful attributes of many other student personalities as we try to promote content competence.

Our responsibility starts with our holding up a mirror to ourselves, realizing that although divergent personalities of every race, color, and ethnicity are currently “OK” as they come into our schools, our teaching and leading, as we serve them up for students, “might not be.”

Dr. Dianne F. Bradley has authored three books:
Effective Classroom Management: Six Keys to Success (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2006), Here’s How to Reach Me: Matching Instruction to Personality Types in Your Classroom (Brookes, 2002), and Teaching Students in Inclusive Settings: From Theory to Practice 
(Allyn and Bacon, 1997).


Bradley, D. (2007, Spring/Summer). A unique tool for closing the gap.  Journal of the Alliance of Black School Educators, 6(2). 20-31.

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


Dr. Donlan share research interests with Dr. Bradley and has spent time talking with her at conferences of mutual interest and would love to extend this conversation at or via (812) 237-8624.