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.

[Technical Note: If you find that your particular web browser does not allow you to view our articles for a full-text read, please simply select another browser and enjoy.]

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why K-12 Needs Doctors

Why K-12 Needs Doctors

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

Leadership development is especially powerful when higher-level seeds of thought are planted that germinate “on delay.” When students say three months hence, “Oh yeah … THAT really did help me with [situation X],” then I know I’ve done my job.

One approach in planting deep seeds involves the tough work of developing special skills in students who are en route to terminal degrees – their ability to use turn of mind to solve problems while employing doctoral-level thinking (DLT) (conceptual credit to R. Estabrook, personal communication, 2005).

K-12 needs more doctors.

Let me begin by clarifying a few definitions, noting that neither turn of mind nor DLT requires one to have a doctoral degree (PhD, EdD, PsyD, etc.) … or even, for that matter … to be enrolled in a terminal degree program. 

DLT = Power of Mind + Turn of Mind

DLT makes for incredibly theoretical thought … thought that is powerfully practical, as well.  Let me explain its components:

Power of mind allows us to do well in schools, seek advanced degrees, and solve many of the professional problems we face.  Power of mind is what good-to-great leaders possess, borne of years of effortful study and life-experience. 

Power of mind, however, is not turn of mind, yet is a foundational component

Turn of mind begins where power of mind ends.  I don’t see this as a completely separate ability, determined by learning style or personality trait, such as the linearity of power of mind or the abstract nature of turn of mind. One is not scientific, with the other, artistic. One is not logical, while the other, intuitive.

Turn of mind is one’s ability to use all of the cognitive faculties that power of mind allows, yet then to “go beyond” … viewing and acting upon world through a different lens of efficacious cognition – finding commonalities in the seemingly disparate and certainly the innocuous – greeting complex problems that confront us while enjoying the ambiguity – forecasting what tomorrow’s needs will be, despite counter-prevailing indicators to the contrary. 

Turn of mind is rare and I contend critical for those who seek the title of “Doctor,” as once this designation occurs, society tends to look for us to cure things, for better or for worse.

Again, one need not have a doctorate to exercise DLT. 

Yet leaders should be able to employ DLT before being hooded in ceremony; otherwise, how would they prescribe ... or prevent what isn’t yet showing symptoms?

A few reasons why K-12 needs doctors, or at minimum … DLT:

1.     Complex problems need leaders who can articulate them simply.  DLT (and in particular, its component, turn of mind) allows for this through metaphor, analogy, and story.  DLT allows our best leaders to make the unfathomable, understandable, and at the same time, to discern and describe to others the depth in simplicity.

2.     For some time, we have been comfortable in the way we have been trained -- attending classes, writing papers, collecting credits, and enjoying the enhanced quality of life that graduate degrees provide.  We’re doing very well in a system that was set-up long ago, yet society is asking this same system to adapt to meet the challenges of tomorrow.  Adaptation is difficult, as it requires us to learn a “new right thing” (Black & Gregersen, 2003). DLT allows us the intellectual malleability to handle implementation dips with intrigue and wonder.

3.     Power of mind has been good in preparing leaders to meet the demands of today, and most certainly to solve many of tomorrow’s problems.  It certainly helps with the deft implementation of leadership skills, those practical and urgent.  Yet DLT’s turn of mind is needed to address what lies around future corners, before it even positions itself to work against the best interests of children.

4.     Only through turn our mind can we reimagine education.

5.     Comfort with DLT, once achieved, results in a certain degree of intellectual playfulness, where smaller setbacks aren’t limiting, as we see the humor in rigor and things just not working out. It allows us to be more reflective of the human condition, and more immediately of ours.  With DLT, we are able to nurture a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset.  It allows us to move beyond the limitations of bonding social capital, toward that which is binding.

In the argument for K-12’s need of doctors, let us not forget that elephant in the room, which often has its practicality questioned – Just what is the value of a dissertation?

As a culminating experience en-route to one’s becoming a doctor …

1.     The dissertation proves that doctors can forge powerfully a professional identity, contributing new knowledge under prescribed rules that at minimum are incredibly arduous.  Our children need doctors who can do “just that," as other folks’ rules will always challenge us.
2.     The dissertation requires that doctors test empirical or experienced reality with a figurative lab coat, toward better healing in a system that some contend needs a check-up.  Our children need doctors who can make proper and accurate diagnoses, withholding judgment at times until the lab results come in.
3.     The dissertation shows that doctors can perform their work with foremost concern for the protection of those who willingly lend themselves to examination. The dissertation is an indirect manifestation of the Hippocratic oath, through which our doctors prove that they have done and will do no harm.  Our children need leaders to protect them when no one else is able.

I’ll admit at times I ride hard on those who want to become doctors.

It is because when I look into my own children’s eyes, I’m hardwired to work toward for a better future for all of us, and I believe that this will be directly proportional to the amount of DLT we inculcate … and the number of doctors we graduate.


Black, J. S., & Gregersen, H. B. (2003). Leading strategic change: Breaking through the brain barrier.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice-Hall.


Dr. Ryan Donlan continues to experiment with his teaching, sometimes hitting home runs, sometimes doubles and singles, and sometimes striking out.  Yet his own effort in continually developing his DLT (a work-in-progress) allows him to “fail forward” in the latter, always with the best intentions and a willingness to learn, listen, and reflect about how the next opportunity to serve will be better than the last.  He can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at

No comments:

Post a Comment