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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Opportunities Lost Invisibly

Opportunities Lost Invisibly

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

Last weekend, I walked in and out of a music store with a $500.00 dollar bill in my hand.  I wanted to spend it, yet no one gave me the opportunity.  I lost interest and walked away … invisibly.

Back to my arrival: With classic rock playing through an open window, I parked my fire-engine red pick-up truck directly across from the large display windows of a musical equipment retail outlet, noticing as I hopped curbside, an employee loading a keyboard stand into his vehicle near the entrance.  Might be that he had a gig after the store would close that day, I thought. 

As I walked in, a young lady jammed on a guitar, the only person in the front room.  Employees were nearby, in offices and break rooms, enjoying each other’s company.

I knew just what I wanted: a Peavey KB4 or KB5 keyboard amplifier, one with a 15-inch speaker.  As I had orbited one or two occasions prior, I knew just where they were located. Thoughts raced to a gig I would be playing on a lake in northern Michigan a few weeks hence. I was tempted to treat myself and make the investment.

There I stood, above a few KB5’s, each with two 10-inch speakers and a horn.  None with the “15” I wanted.  Ahh … the “15” must be in the KB4, I thought. I pondered asking if they one in the back, or if not, if they would be able to get one in a week’s time.  After all … I had a 500 dollar bill and a gig approaching.

In the distance, I saw the employee from the parking lot re-enter.  He joined the conversation and laughter in the break rooms and offices.

So I stood … waited … and thought further the purchase.  Then I thought of other things I could buy.  I then walked away from the amps, past the front counter, past the offices and break rooms with employees inside, past the lady still jamming, and out of the front door. 

I lost interest, thinking I should probably hold-off on the investment.  Our house needs a bit of landscaping.

As I drove from the parking lot, I was reminded of similar feelings – feelings of invisibility – five years prior, when my children, Sean and Katelyn, were nearing school age.  My wife, Wendy, and I were worried about the lack of a middle school concept in our local public schools (envisioning what would be part of their education a few years hence), so as parents we went shopping, as good school choice legislation would allow us to do.

One evening, we attended “Open House Night” at a smaller school district, a short distance away, yet much-revered in the marketing mailings we received, which touted quality teachers and a seamless, college-preparatory K-12 instructional program.  This piqued our interest.

As we walked into the school, a number of people were around, yet little intentionality was put into a greeting.  We were encouraged by one Good Samaritan, however, to sign-in, walk the halls, and have a snack. 

Finding the Kindergarten room, we entered and saw the teacher talking with a few students currently enrolled.  She seemed nice enough.  It appeared that the school was combining “future student/family night” with “current student/family night.”  Over the next 15 minutes or so, we spent time wandering the room, looking at student work, making notes of supplies and materials, and trying to get an affirming nod from the teacher. As nice as she seemed in a general sense, she didn’t make contact with us. 

We eventually lost interest and left the room.

Sean and Katelyn didn’t mind.  They very much wanted a return to the snack table in the cafeteria. 

We eventually left, deciding to school-shop elsewhere to see what was available.

In retrospect, I thought of the dollars and cents involved.  If we were to have enrolled Sean and Katelyn, the school would have received over 20 thousand dollars of state funding over the next two years alone.  Instead, we chose to spend around 10 thousand dollars or more of our own money in tuition in parochial schools, before moving to Terre Haute, Indiana. 

That’s over 30 thousand dollars in financial opportunities lost, due to invisibility and a subsequent loss of interest.

My point?

Is there a possibility that someone, a child or young adult, arrives at school each day, invisible, traveling from class-to-class or activity-to-activity with a fortune to invest and no one appreciating it by making a connection?

We’d like to think not … but …

Could it be that these children are the quiet ones, who would love to have someone notice them, yet no one does?

Invisibility in our schools, I would contend, doesn’t happen intentionally.  Oftentimes, it’s just because we’re paying attention to the MORE visible around us. Examples:  The brown-noser’s; future felons, and as some critical theorists would contend -- those who are similar in demographic to ourselves.

Not wanting this simply to be a hunch, I spent a bit of time looking for a scholarly perspective on invisibility and found what I believe is an intriguing, related concept – the notion of mattering.

Lemon and Watson (2011) noted that mattering (whether we are of interest and importance to others), taken together with six other issues pertaining to stress and self, accounts for 35.1% of the variance in at-risk status for dropouts. 

Wanting a clearer picture of its individual influence on kids, as well as to get a clearer definition of mattering, I braved a thunderstorm’s stroll through campus and visited the library.  Touching books (a lost art), I found a study by Rosenberg and McCullough (1981), which mentioned that when students matter little to parents, they have lower self-esteem, more depression and anxiety; they’re more anxious, and they are more likely to be delinquent. 

I thought to myself how one’s being invisible in school would certainly compound any of these negative’s influenced by one’s home life.

The authors noted further, “Mattering may be relatively high among children and adults, low among adolescents and old people” (p. 180).  I thought to myself, What a time NOT to push 150 students through a teacher’s classroom each day at the junior high and high school level.

And for those who allow kids’ overtures to push us away at this critical age, believing they want to be left alone, the authors noted, “… the adolescent who infers that he is significant is happier … [This] is doubly interesting because mattering is usually a burden, an obligation, and a restriction on freedom” (p. 179).  

The upshot of it all -- When we pay attention, kids may resist, but they may secretly want us to “pull-them-in,” when they are pushing us away. 

They want to matter.

How often do we create opportunities lost in children, borne of unintentional invisibility?


Lemon, J. C. & Watson, J. C. (2011). Early identification of potential high school dropouts: An investigation of the relationship among at-risk status, wellness, perceived stress, and mattering. Journal of At-Risk Issues 16(2), 17-23.

Rosenberg, M. & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health.  In R. G. Simmons (Ed.), Research in Community and Mental Health (pp. 163-182). Greenwich, CT:  Jai Press, Inc.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is looking to buy a keyboard amplifier … AND he wants to do his part positively to affect the future of education in America.  If you would like to help him promote greater visibility so that more student feel they matter, please consider contacting him at (812) 237-8624 or at 

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