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, September 3, 2014

Laboring on Projects

Laboring on Projects

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

Labor Day earlier this week brought with it a national celebration of the American worker.  It also served as a gift that families could use to spend time together before recommitting to careers and education for the fall season.

Our household served as a hub of activity, as much of my extended family stayed for the weekend.  My nephew Jenner, now attending Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, brought his family to town for the big move-in. Other in-laws were passing through on their way to Kentucky.  We also had our neighbors stopping by, as well as our friend and colleague from China, Dr. Fenfen Zhou and her son, sharing some of their culinary expertise and good company.

At the intersection of these visits was something that reminded me of what happens in schools each and every day: folks “laboring over projects.” 

In our case, it was the addition of an attic ladder to an existing 34” X 23” opening in our garage ceiling.  Thankfully, my father-in-law is a retired contractor and although a few years past his heavy lifting, is always eager to complete something for his daughter and her family.

I’m a pencil-pusher, pretty much useless in these projects, or one step above, yet have a positive outlook and will try to learn anything.

Here’s how we labored over project:  In examining the opening, roughly eight feet above the garage floor, my father-in-law said immediately, “Who cut that hole?!?” 

What I didn’t know at the time was that most attic ladder door units are manufactured at least 48 inches in length; ones available for purchase locally were 54 inches.  The hole wasn’t nearly big enough.  After grabbing whatever tools I had around the garage, we set to work.

There we were, my father-in-law, the seasoned veteran, with more knowledge forgotten in construction than most amass in a lifetime, yet no longer one to lift, pound, or carry all too much.  I’m there with a handful of hand-me-down, garage sale tools and “no game,” to speak of.  My wife, Wendy, much better at construction than I, is her father’s daughter, so that helped.  Thankfully, my brother-in-law returned from Rose Hulman about half way through the project, just in time to see me trapped in an attic, wondering how lag bolts worked, if that isn’t any indication of my expertise.  This was after all the electrical re-routing, re-wiring, cutting, sawing, climbing, and hammering to make a new hole in an existing garage roof.  With my brother-in-law’s rescue, we got the job done.  It was pretty difficult but a lot of fun.  We had a cheering section, and most of all, we were family.

I thought of some parallels to our schools.

Something (or someone) presents itself to us, having been cut the wrong size, shape, and utility level by people who created it without a clue.

We’re in charge of adding the proper features and attributes to make it useful, yet everything that is available to add is neither the right size nor the right shape, and we must do a lot of cutting and rewiring to even get things to fit.

Folks who have the expertise in doing this sort of thing are for the most part are retired and no longer perform most of the heavy lifting.  When available, however, they are willing to share what they know and can even pinch-hit when all else falls short.  They care deeply yet now live afar.

Others more enthusiastic are on-the-job every day yet might not have the expertise or the wisdom to tackle the toughest projects.

Many of the tools are antiquated and don’t work.

Someone repels-in from time to time and provides some quick answers that help in the short run, yet is usually from out-of-town and isn’t a regular.

Thankfully, we have people who love to work with one another and support each other to get the job done, as best they can.

Each day, another project presents itself, designed wrong, yet not through its own fault.  Those who built it no longer seem to hold as much responsibility, as they have moved on with their lives.

It’s up to us do the best we can with whatever we have available, working relentlessly to protect our investment from depreciation and our neighborhood, thus, from declining property value.

It seems that the folks working hardest in our American public schools are continuously laboring on projects, in a way eerily similar to the quality time spent with our families this past holiday weekend.


Dr. Ryan Donlan enjoys strolling around, finding parallels to the challenges educators face in American public schools.  He can be reached for conversation or commentary at (812) 237-8624 or at

No comments:

Post a Comment