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, December 17, 2013

Assessing Common Sense: An Overview of Intelligent Opinions

Assessing Common Sense: An Overview of Intelligent Opinions
Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor & Departmental Chairperson
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Blogmaster’s Note: Educational practitioners speak at times of the notion of COMMON SENSE.  Yet, what is “common sense,” really?  How is it defined?  Doctoral students from Evansville, Indiana, in December of 2011, offered Associate Professor & Departmental Chairperson Dr. Steve Gruenert at his suggestion, their thoughts and opinions on this oft-quoted concept.  As we are again holding doctoral prelims this week, we thought it would be interesting to re-run  their definitions, streamlining for readership interest and scholarly learning.  Some are quotes students have cited, thus apologies to those original authors for not citing as such. Many of you are enjoying a reprieve from your professional building responsibilities this week and can, thus, take a bit more time for a “deeper read.”   

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

“…if you have ever purchased a self-help book on making common sense decisions, you lack common sense.”  -- Evansville Doctoral Student

Considerations for Common Sense Assessment via Continuum
Assessment is a term that determines a current position in relation to a desired position. Whereas the term evaluation simply gives something a value, assessment tells us how far we are from where we hope to be. To assess common sense, there needs to be an ideal established, and from that point all other possible positions need to be identified. We shall assume the ideal to be theoretical, that is, not truly to exist within any one person. Given this approach, no real definition of common sense is necessary as we simply find a way to measure the distance between where we are and where we hope to be. We’ll try to avoid defining the phrase, because of its lack of precision.
To assess common sense, we also need someone to do something. A type of observable action – which implies a decision was made to inform that action – will serve as that which is measured.  It cannot be a thought, a preference, an opinion, an idea, or emotion. While these concepts may influence a decision, we are assessing actual decisions, not the factors that impact those decisions, despite the belief that emotions plus logic create common sense.  Common sense guides the individual to use reason, driven by reason, regardless of the emotion that may be attempting to drive intuition. 
Here is one way to assess common sense: By comparing the initial reaction to the reaction you would have had, had you been given time to think things through, then determining the relationship between the two reactions.  We can assess the “distance” between what we did and (in retrospect) what we should have done. Perhaps we could devise a scale or continuum upon which to plot this distance, ultimately providing a sense of how much is necessary to maintain status within the window of common sense.

Uncommon(ineffective)                      Common                                            Uncommon(effective)
-5            -4           -3          -2          -1         0          1          2           3          4           5

As found in the above figure, we might be able to create a window of common sense, perhaps most might situate this window between -1 and +1.

There is strong argument for the notion that common sense is not defined by the user but by the consumer of the actions of the common sense. Thus, this distance should be assessed by an observer, not the actor -- which puts us in the dilemma of one person accusing another of not having “enough common sense to come in out of the rain,” while another may respond life is about taking opportunities to “dance in the rain.”

This forces us to recognize common sense not as a tangible entity held by a person; it seems to be an attribute that members of a community project on one another; a collection of traditions that a community has developed; a way of behaving which is reinforced through a recurring pattern of reactions to statements and events -- in essence, to act in ways that make sense to the relevant community. A person’s common sense standard is related to the area in which the person uses the common sense. Thus, a bit of knowledge in that area may be necessary.
The areas that may inform common sense could include, but not be limited to: (a) safety, (b) courtesy, (c) logistics, (d) behavior, (e) discipline, (f) communication, (g) social skills, (h) personnel management, (i) leadership, (j) finance, (k) relationships, (l) situational awareness, (m) optimizing, and (o)flexibility.  Additional notions include thinking sensibly while (p) remaining calm; the (q) ability to survey the social and professional scene and carefully decide on next steps that preserve important relationships but insure that important actions are taken.  Each area might be scored on the same continuum.

Uncommon(ineffective)                      Common                                            Uncommon(effective)
-5            -4           -3          -2          -1         0          1          2           3          4           5
                              (a)   (l)(g)  (c)   (i) (n) (m) (p) (q) (b)(d)     (f)       (e)     (h)(j)  (k)   (g)  (o)

The overall pattern or predominance of indicators could provide a means to determine whether a preponderance of common sense exists, or not. In the above figure, scoring indicates 8 out of 18 criteria in the common sense range. This is 44%. Most might find this person to be lacking common sense. It is important to state that this process does not assess effectiveness.
Once this process has been refined, we might be able to develop a hierarchy of performers. Those possessing the most common sense would be studied further to determine their secrets to success while the rest of us aspire to their abilities. Anyone with uncommon amounts of common sense would be granted special status. They could help us further define common sense as their actions in the future would be regarding as exemplary (see Animal Farm). This may be viewed as an attempt to project one’s own beliefs on the population at-large. A handbook on common sense could be created. Yet how much sense would it make to those who needed it? Perhaps those who do not show adequate yearly progress toward increasing their common sense could experience an intervention from the state?
To digress, many believe common sense is not measurable. To some, common sense is considered the “mean” of the shared culture, which everyone seems to know--yet to which no one can assign a value. Common sense is in the eye of the beholder; therefore, depending upon who is measuring, one might or might not display common sense. 
Yet, others find it measurable by determining when it is not present. The negative space, or lack of data, still tells us something. Lacking common sense can be an action that is assumed to be in opposition to popular opinion, and thus, that action leads to a less than desirable result. If others in the culture respond by labeling those individuals as lacking common sense, then perhaps a predominant score located to the left of common sense (on the continuum) can be defended.
Common Sense as Prelude to Effectiveness
A person has never had to be highly effective in academic performance if they were able to apply common sense. Common sense absolutely comes from learning from our mistakes and those of others.  Experience and common sense can keep you from doing stupid things. Common sense is using practical knowledge with limited, specialized knowledge.  Therefore, we might surmise a correlation between the two concepts, but not causality.
The more common the sense is, the more successful the administrator will be in the eyes of the community. It is literally knowing what to do and when to do it, and that all depends on whom the players are in the arena.  If the goal of a leader is to maintain an acceptable reputation for having common sense, he/she must be in tune to the expectations of the community. The community defines common sense.
Common sense also relies heavily on the experiences of an individual.  Experiences or background knowledge, not necessarily formal education, enables leaders to predict consequences more accurately. The mistakes leaders make when faced with new cultures are often attributed to lacking common sense.  “What were they thinking?” is a frequently asked question. Yet, to improve common sense, one should experience more surprises in life so that those can be used in the future as common sense lessons.
If we don’t think and react as the status quo of “regular-minded” people, then we are lacking common sense.  Some amount of experience is required for common sense.  Therefore, new professionals may make several mistakes and live with the consequences (unless they are pilots) before learning what not to repeat. The bridge between common sense and effectiveness is fun to imagine. Becoming effective could be perceived as a matter of cataloging mistakes – knowing what was outside of the common sense range, yet knowing which of those were okay. Common sense is something to be learned and hopefully increased over the course of on-the-job experiences and extensive human interaction.
If you can keep the common sense label, and therefore your job, you cannot move forward without bringing the understanding of the community with you, a very slow boat. While common sense is not very effective in strategic decision making, it seems to provide a comfort among folks needing to make tough decisions. In the end, the choice to balance common sense with science is made, and the process continues.  Loss aversion and status quo bias serve as two reasons why we can’t rely on common sense. Difficulty can be anticipated when what makes the most sense may not be the “common” sense.  Having experience in knowing the expected decision may be the essence of common sense.
Life Implications

The common sense verdict of the majority of ordinary people throughout history is much more likely to be accurate than the latest fashionably brilliant insight of the ruling elite. Reliance on our past experience alone can lead to predictability and prevent us from exploring new ways of thinking. Common sense is usually the default, but it can be a trap.
As you continue your trek toward the Ph.D., someone wrote: One who becomes more intelligent will begin to display less common sense.  Perhaps the best measure is having enough common sense to know when to keep your mouth shut. Intelligence is teaching others with your mouth shut…well, at least it should not be open as much as the learner.
Dr. Steve Gruenert encourages your thoughts, comments, and reactions, as well as your contributions to these notions of Common Sense, and can be reached at

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lesson Planning for Leaders

Lesson Planning for Leaders

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

A few mornings ago, I noticed my wife’s lesson-planning book sitting atop the table in our breakfast nook.  She uses it at the Indiana State University Early Childhood Education Center.  I smiled nostalgically as I remembered the last time I used one about 20 years ago as a classroom teacher, then thought, Why didn’t I ever use one as principal or superintendent?  

Pondering how leaders could begin with the end in mind, as Covey (1989) reminded us from those highly effective, I thought of how a school principal might take the Standards and Standard Elements of the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) and work backward toward ensuring “coverage” of each during his or her leadership in any given school year. 

Turning my mind a bit further, I imagined how vertical articulation of leadership content could be delivered as a school’s organizational culture progresses developmentally through any planned program of a leader’s tenure.  A leadership curriculum, it would be.

I then I thought: Is our leadership Standards-based?  Do we use backwards design?  Do we even have a curriculum or lesson planning, per say?

Said other ways …

Do we move from the outcomes we desire, through next the framework upon which our decisions are suspended, and finally to the actions we take to reach those outcomes? 

Do we perform gap analyses or use pacing guides, even figuratively? 

Do we evaluate the intentionality of our leadership with respect to scope and sequence of what others can handle in followership?

Or … do we simply go to work and deal with urgencies?

I then wanted to examine the logic of my thinking, so in order to evaluate commonalities in teaching and leadership, I pulled from Domain 1 of Dr. Robert Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching Framework’s Learning Map (2011, 2010).  I noticed quite-the overlap. 

Take for instance the Design Questions from Domain 1, “Classroom Strategies and Behaviors”:

Design Question 1:  What will I do to establish and communication learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?
Design Question 2: What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
Design Question 3:  What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
Design Question 4:  What will I do to help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?
Design Question 5: What will I do to engage students?
Design Question 6:  What will I do to establish and maintain classroom rules and procedures?
Design Question 7:  What will I do to recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?
Design Question 8: What will I do to establish and maintain effective relationships with students?
Design Question 9: What will I do to communicate high expectations for all students?  (Marzano, 2011, 2010)

Consider a quick substitution of “staff” for “students” and “school” for “classroom,” in each question above.  Our better leaders ask these questions of themselves. 

So how does lesson planning for leaders fit in? As important, What’s left out of leadership if lesson planning is absent?  My guess is that it would be prudent forethought … as well as depth.

Broadening the panorama, I will go so far as to suggest that a bonafide leadership curriculum is necessary to help any principal span the gamut between professional standards as written and daily actions as required? 

Who would write such a curriculum? 

Leadership Teams? 
Boards of Education?  
College Professors?  

Let’s measure twice before we cut once on that one.

I have often suggested to K-12 leaders that we take time to THINK each day.  Would this “thinking,” let’s say with a lesson plan book in our Sunday armchairs, help us better to craft what we do to move a school forward?

In conferring with colleague Dr. Steve Gruenert on the need for lesson planning in leadership, he extended my thoughts as he typically does, noting, “Pastors use bibles, coaches use playbooks, the military uses the most current intelligence, parents go by intuition. Perhaps educators ought to use all four.”  

Dr. Gruenert also noted that leaders might best separate the leadership curriculum guide from the to-do list, as oftentimes, our to-do list becomes mistaken for the playbook.  He’s got a point.

I wonder how it would be received if I asked principals enrolled in my graduate classes to purchase lesson-planning books as part of their required course materials. 

Might be a learned experience, putting them to good use.


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people.  New York, NY: Free Press.

Marzano, R. (2011). Marzano art and science of teaching framework learning map. LearningSciencesInternational Learning and Performance Management.  Retrieved at

Marzano, R. (2010). An observational protocol based on “the art and science of teaching”. Englewood, CO: Marzano Research Laboratory.


Dr. Ryan Donlan would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, reflections, and intended actions regarding lesson planning in leadership.  Please feel free to contact him at anytime at (812) 237-8624 or at

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jeopardy in Education

Jeopardy in Education

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


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

In the game of Jeopardy, contestants are given answers and must provide responses to such in the form of questions.  It sounds easy enough, but as the last few decades have shown us on network television, it can be a challenge, indeed.  Education, likewise, has provided us answers for quite some time, to which we have been trying ourselves to ask the right questions.

Consider the following from games played in our schools each day.

Contestant - “I’ll take Pedagogy for $1000, Alex.”

Alex - “The answer is: Giving a pop quiz.”

Contestant - “What is a form of assessment?”

Alex - “No, I’m sorry, the correct response is: How do weak teachers ensure attendance?”

In your next faculty meeting, why not deepen everyone’s perspective by including Jeopardy as a way of putting a conversational cart before a horse. It might lighten a subject that runs the risk of hitting too close to home … yet one that needs exploration.  The Internet has many sites where one can download the Jeopardy game and insert your own answers and questions.

One such critical conversation has to do with student behavior.

As educational leadership faculty, we believe that when students misbehave, they are answering a question. A strong teacher will be able to discern the answer a student is providing. An average teacher will fumble around trying to read-in to the answer or attempting to guide the student toward a different one, eventually succumbing to the philosophical weight of the exercise. A weak teacher will respond with his or her own answer in response to the student’s answer. The weak teacher will misbehave as well.

Student misbehavior seems to pervade many schools; teachers oftentimes claim it as their number one source of frustration. Quotes of apples not falling too far from trees are oftentimes topics of lounge banter.  If student misbehavior is a recurring problem, perhaps it is an answer students are providing for a question borne of the teacher, lesson, or classroom environment.

So, let’s explore some other answers that are occurring in our schools.

Contestant - “I’ll take Bullying for $500, Alex.”

Alex - “The answer is: Jimmy won’t leave Charles alone.”

Contestant - “What happens when Jimmy gets mad?”

Alex - “No, I’m sorry, anyone else?”

Contestant - “What happens when the teacher leaves the room?”

Alex - “No, I’m sorry, we need a more specific response.”

Contestant - “Who is Jimmy, and what are his needs?”

Alex - “Correct.”

Let’s try another:

Contestant - “I’ll try School Culture for $500, Alex.”

Alex – “The answer is: Good people are visiting a toxic teachers’ lounge.”

Contestant – “What happens if preparation periods are too long?”

Alex – “No, I’m sorry, do we have another question?”

Contestant – “Where is the only microwave provided to staff?”

Alex – “No, I’m sorry, it doesn’t have anything to do with technology.”

Contestant – “How can a good school become weak?”

Alex – “Correct.”

Another possible question might be “What have we done with our leadership to encourage ‘our best’ to seek refuge?” 

If the Socratic Method is to continue to explore the answers in a setting of dialogue and inquiry, perhaps using the game of Jeopardy in the context of educational professional development (going deeper with each inquiry, to get to the best and most logical question), could be deemed as the Jeopardic Method.

Consider this a new way to approach leadership, one of getting to the best question for each answer provided in daily business of “doing education.”  It could even become a part of the way we better learn how to lead.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have three focus groups of educators get together (high performers, average folks, and underperformers) for the purpose of facilitating the Jeopardic Method with these issues:

The answer is, “Low faculty morale.”
The answer is, “Low student academic performance.”
The answer is, “Poor student attendance.”
The answer is, “Weak parental support.”

The similarities or differences in the questions (responses) provided would be interesting, indeed. What would teachers from each group believe is the cause of each of these conditions?

In particular, who among these groups could potentially move us toward the right questions? Or rather, would we stay with all groups at the pedestrian level -- that which has provided the same questions (reasons) to the answers we have experienced in education for quite some time?

By the way … teacher misbehavior, a question in and of itself, serves also as an answer that our strongest principals are beginning to aptly question.


Dr. Steve Gruenert and Dr. Ryan Donlan are always looking for contestants in their own game of Jeopardy.  Some consider it a rather uncomfortable topic for conversation; hence, our authors oftentimes must eat lunch by themselves or with each other.  If you would like to ask some powerful questions, or help better to discern the answers we experience, please feel free to contact them at or at  They would be happy to call on you.