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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From Ph.D. to Practice: Applying Coursework to Our Leadership

From Ph.D. to Practice
Applying Coursework to Our Leadership

By Whitney Newton
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            We understand that at times, when folks share that they are working on doctoral degrees, the response received is often one of practitioner-based skepticism.  Folks wonder if doctoral students are able to keep their feet on the ground while reaching for the stars – interpreted, “Is this learning ‘at-all’ practical?” 
We cannot answer this for every terminal degree program; however, in the Department of Educational Leadership of the Bayh College of Education at Indiana State University, as students and faculty, we certainly know the focus:  Those working each day to make a difference for the children, families, and communities.   We are focused on the needs of practitioners.
            In keeping this in mind, what we try to do is to partner as co-learners in both one’s art (Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind), as well as one’s science (Kahler’s Process Communication Model).  In this week’s five-minute read, we’ll demonstrate how we apply Ph.D. coursework to our leadership through a first-person account of the learning that has taken place over the summer, as well as the reflection that will help support an even better launch this fall.  We hope, in part, that this will encourage you toward future educational pursuits, wherever they may lie. 

Whitney’s Reflections on Coursework

Hiring season is in full swing for many schools. At my urban middle school in Indianapolis, we have a more complete picture of our student body and school landscape from the district, as well as from our teachers, where those who have decided to move on have made it official.

I work in a school where hiring is considered the most important job of the leadership team after supporting our current staff in meeting students’ needs.  We interview and decide as a team, with consensus decision-making, and maybe more intuition than we’d like to admit, driving each interview.  We look for a few characteristics during our hiring process, including clearly seeing and hearing a passion for kids, hearing each candidate’s own passions – whatever they are, a collaborative spirit, confidence, and the ability to role play a courageous conversation.  

More than we likely understand, we believe we are selecting people for their talents like Buckingham and Coffman (1999) describe, whose “filter(s) and the recurring patterns of behavior [they] create” we can capitalize on as new members of our team (p. 82). We believe we are hiring the best, fitting them into the role that is the best fit for their unique talents, holding them to high expectations as part of our organization, then getting to watch them soar.  I am wondering, though, whether we could be doing more to capitalize on the diversity of our current staff, and whether we could be asking better questions during our hiring process – both of our candidates and of ourselves.

As I dive deeper into my learning and understanding of Taibi Kahler’s Process Communication Model (PCM), I am thinking through how to apply what I have learned in the ISU Ph.D. program to the work I do at my school, especially in the area of hiring, and I am thinking hard about what questions to ask next. Particularly, “How should I bring all of this information to my team so that it can inform our team dynamics, impact our hiring process, and impact our teaming/training of teachers?” More questions include the following:

How do we bring this to our teachers, so that it can impact the work they do with our students?

Should the leadership team take Kahler’s Personality Pattern Inventory?

Should we ask the whole staff to take the inventory? Maybe just new hires?

Should we do some professional development on Kahler’s approach to human interaction?

Do we work to put together diverse teams of teachers, or is the real question orbiting around how we teach our teachers the “process” of communicating with our students, especially those whose personality energies (and thus, communication preferences) look different than ours? 

In “Process” in Building Cultural Community (2014), Dr. Ryan Donlan and Dr. Michael Gilbert suggested that, though more research needs to be done, awareness of the Process Education Model (another application of the PCM) among educators and school leaders leads to more effective communication and “expand(ed)…understanding of diversity (p. 193).  

Donlan and Gilbert summarized that the Process Education Model “has provided educators a deepened understanding of a more inclusive world, inviting us to see and understand the differences in others so that we can interact successfully. It has allowed educators and leaders to utilize others’ frames of preferences to enhance the how of communication” (p. 194).

This makes a pretty strong case for our leadership team’s developing a deep understanding of Kahler’s PCM in order to impact our capacity to work with the diverse teacher and student populations in our building.  Ultimately, it certainly makes the case that teaching our teachers about PCM and developing their understanding of how to communicate with diverse students would be an extremely wise investment.
Buckingham and Coffman (1999) described the importance of looking at “the total work environment into which this person must fit” (p. 101) when selecting a new member of the team.  We can ask ourselves, “What are the talents of the other members of our team?” and “What talents are missing?” Applying this to PCM makes the case for trying to build diverse teams of teachers, whose condominiums compliment, rather than replicate, each other.

I am not sure I have any answers to the questions I am asking my team and myself about how to strengthen our hiring processes.  The fog will likely clear some as I begin trickling information about what I have learned in ISU’s Ph.D. program into our team meetings, as well as when I hear further the diverse opinions and perspectives from my team members.  What I know for sure is that in every interview from here on, alongside my dutiful notes on each candidate for our team discussions, will be a tiny “PCM Condominium,” predicting each candidate’s Process Communication Model (PCM) personality energy arrangement.


Hopefully these reflections have stimulated some thinking in you, offering some “science to your art” – about hiring, teaming, or another topic deeply impacting your practice as you begin a new school year.  We very much hope, as well, that you will feel inspired to pursue other readings or research from graduate study or that which you can use as material for reflection to guide your practice.  

As leaders and life-long learners, we know reflecting is an important part of our process of making a difference on behalf of faculty, staff, students, and community. What questions and reflections do you have as we wind down the summer and begin another new year?


Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). The First Key: Select for Talent. First, break all the rules: what the world's greatest managers do differently. New York, NY.: Simon & Schuster.

Donlan, R., & Gilbert, M. (2014) "Process" In Building Cultural Community. Building cultural community through global educational leadership, 183-196.


Whitney Newton and Ryan Donlan are deeply committed to taking education from where it is to a better place.  Whitney is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership in an Indianapolis-based cohort, nearing her last semester of coursework in preparation for her Preliminary Exams and Dissertation.  Ryan Donlan is a faculty member in this program teaching human relations, advanced theory, and research.  They can be reached at or at 

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