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.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Have You Ben Bass Fishing?

Have You Ben Bass Fishing?

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

The first time I’d Ben Bass fishing was a few days ago.

My wife Wendy and I felt like elementary school children in a grocery store happening across one of our favorite teachers from school.  Through our eyes, it wasn’t an educator at all; in that context, it was a MOVIE STAR.

Well actually, it was. 

As we passed U.S. Customs and rounded yet another corner in a labyrinth of a pedestrian holding area in Toronto’s Air Canada International Terminal, I said quietly, “Honey, you might want to get your camera.” 

After “Why?” and a few looks here and there, she saw coming our way, American screen and television actor, Ben Bass most recently Sam Swarek on ABC’s Rookie Blue with a history of great acting since the 1980’s.

As we approached, I leaned across the rope and quietly extended my hand, mentioning that Wendy and I were fans of his work.  His response was warm, one of affability and thereafter, delightful conversation.  Admittedly, we took a picture.

When the next pass brought us together, Ben asked about our careers at Indiana State University and particularly, our trip to Tokyo, and as lines later reconstituted at the metal detectors, we were provided a bit more time to discuss his most recent production project, which sounded really cool, by the way. 

My point in the Leadershop today is to discuss stargazing, in terms of its connection to education and our children.  Star treatment, as well.

I would like to ask educators, admittedly with a play-on-words that sounded more profound with jet lag, “Have you Ben Bass fishing lately?”

We walked away from meeting Ben feeling better than we walked into it, even exhausted from a whirlwind trip to Tokyo with my own presentations, day-long sessions, and a 12-hour flight.  At one point, we rose at 2 a.m. to get in line for the famed early-morning Tuna Auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market, as only 120 spots were available. 

Ben listened with interest as we shared what we learned about Tokyo, especially the part about seeing only two police officers among what seemed a million people -- a city where crime isn’t fashionable.  Indicative of this was the safety of our midnight ride from subway-to-subway after visiting the Tokyo Tower (13 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower, by the way).

We ended our conversation quickly, yet not-at-all in a hurry.  No autographs signed; rather it was simply a situation of movie-star-meeting-fans in a public setting, unexpectedly – sort of like an elementary student seeing his or her “movie-star teacher” out and about in town.

One might assume that the harried nature of anyone’s day could adversely affect a star’s receptiveness with fans grateful to be in the moment.  Not so with Ben.  His day had been long; in fact, weeks prior were as well.  Still, he took the time and interest that a superstar, as I define it, would.

When we hire teachers and school leaders for schools, can we say that we have Ben Bass fishing? 

Do we “catch” those who, when discovered in contexts out-of-school, show as much interest in those discovering them as the persons star-struck? 

How often is “movie star” in the job description?  After all, isn’t oftentimes the local convenience store parking lot, Hollywood Boulevard?

I remember intentionally carving out an extra hour in Wal-Mart each week while a K-12 Principal and Superintendent.  Wendy and I still fondly remember how shopping trips used to be; I was stopped at least two-to-three times per visit by students and parents wanting a chat.  Sometimes I was the leading man like Ben; from time-to-time, the bad guy – yet, always, one whose starring role listened with interest.

I see my own children star-struck every time they see teachers “Mrs. Engle,” “Mrs. Noble, “ or “Mrs. Johnson,” in public.  It’s a BIG DAY when we see their principal, “Mrs. Cassell.” 

In those contexts, my colleagues in K-12 are truly movie stars, and like Ben Bass, I’m grateful that these fine educators show interest in their fans, understanding the import of their actions in the moment. Their time is truly an autograph; the consideration of their signatures, indelible.

Can we say this of all in our schools?

Will we be able to say upon retirement that we had Ben Bass fishing, each time we made a K-12 hire, reeling-in another for a 30-year career?

Imagine if students continued wanting those autographs, as they matriculated through middle school and beyond.


Dr. Ryan Donlan often wonders what would inspire teachers and principals as much as the stars of television and movie screen do for all of us.  Capturing a bit of this transcendental experience might do well for all of us, vicariously helping our children move from where they are to a better place.  Please help him discover this by writing him at or calling him at (812) 237-8724.  He’ll pass this along to his Ph.D. students, who can then pass it along to those they hire.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coaching the Invisible, Invisibly

Coaching the Invisible, Invisibly

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

Having my dad and other family members in town for our ISU Sycamore Homecoming Weekend was a treat!  My students even gave me the weekend off, so that I could enjoy some quality time, which consisted mostly of good food, football, covered bridge festivals, and reminiscing. 

What was particularly interesting was my dad’s recollection of a childhood coach, my second coach actually, whose actions were indiscernible to himself, yet made an indelible impression on me.

I was a quiet kid, not much a fan of the sport I was playing, yet played because I thought I should.  Not bringing much game at first, I had the blessing of my first coach’s care and attention.  He helped me elevate my game to a level that rose above the waterline of my initial embarrassment.  I believed in myself and more importantly, believed that hard work and effort would bring improvement and enjoyment.

Fast forward to the next year, where I had a coach who would do anything to ensure a win for “his boys.” 

That was the problem.

He wasn’t overtly critical.  He wasn’t mean.  He simply, through action and inaction, did not help those who were average and below, those less apt to advance the score.

It is interesting how the quiet disenchantment I had for this man as a child caught the attention of my father.   And stuck.

Albeit now with a gate less spry, my father has not lost a step in his own recollection of how his son was treated nearly forty years ago by a man devoid of any understanding of how he came across.  A man who did not notice the invisible.

After all, this coach went to the mat for “his boys.”  I’ll bet he was at every sporting event, every scouting event, every school event, and every social event. 

For those he noticed.

To be honest, this coach’s neglect gave me a convenient opportunity to opt-out of a sport that I didn’t enjoy, an opportunity to do other things that served more as platforms for life interests. 

Interestingly, my dad often asks as we talk, “What was that coach’s name?”

It is no surprise that the negative has figurative reservations at the table in the forefront of an elderly man’s recollections, as he thinks about his own children’s experiences that at times, were devoid of a kind word, a bit of attention, and more certainly, visibility.

My dad is not a fan of invisibility where his own children are concerned.  I’m not sure I know too many parents who are.

As school leaders, we have invisible students as well, who probably hope that they matter.

Will we notice?

Will we take the opportunity to identify them, even if it is not the most efficient use of our time, so that our more invisible students feel better about themselves after we interact with them, than they did before we noticed? 

Will we be like my first coach and help children rise above inconsequence toward personal growth, even if they don’t add to our win?  Or will we be like my second coach who truly cared for “his boys,” yet made it very clear who was visible to him, through actions and inactions he did not even see.

How will we be remembered in the golden years of parents’ lives for what we did for the invisible when we had other things, like school accountability for instance, on our minds?


Dr. Ryan Donlan’s mentor, Dr. William A. Halls, was a champion of the “C” student.  As such, he made a lifelong impression as one who made a positive difference in the lives of students who to some, were invisible.  If you are also this champion, please consider reaching-out and mentioning such to Dr. Donlan who can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or  He would like to meet you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Transnational Teachable Moment

The Transnational Teachable Moment

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

This past week, I sat in the Milwaukee Brat House eating my 2nd “Loaded Brat” for the week with two new friends and colleagues from across the ocean.  We were attending and presenting at the first International Transnational Conference in Education and Learning.  The brat was incredible, a Milwaukee staple, as was the hospitality.
Particularly noteworthy about our conversation was our thankfulness that international conference organizers had the foresight to run with the suggestion of a presenter earlier that day that resulted in their completely turning the conference on its head, on a dime.
After rather lengthy ballroom introductions at the opening of this conference with attendees from what I counted among five continents, a collective interest in what each presenter was planning to share seemed present.
The question was posed to all presenting: Would you be willing to do something different?  Further: Would we be willing to set aside what had been advertised and planned? Would we be willing to change what we had prepared to present, ourselves?
The answer, “Yes,” was heard ballroom-wide, much to the delight of participants and organizers. 
A decision, thus, was made to allow all presenters to attend ALL presentations, rather than breaking things into concurrent sessions as had been planned for well over a year.  Admittedly, this was a bold move, one potentially fraught with pushback from those who had been readying in many cases their international presentations for hour-and-one-half timeslots.
Thank goodness my presentation was on Day Two.  I could adjust that evening.
Upon reflection, a well-planned conference morphed into something immeasurably more meaningful for the group, who many years hence will remember how the collective will of an international group turned something from “good” to “great,” with individual needs to showcase wares and provide home-court commercials set aside. 
In short, as Regier and King (2013) noted, conference-goer’s seemed to have a collective will for universal effectiveness over that of individual justification.  We each gave a bit of ourselves (quite a bit) to allow for a bigger part of us all. 
I’m not sure I have ever seen something so collectively “OK” that was as uncomfortable for some as it was.  Presenters traveled from Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America to offer their sessions, at quite the time and expense, not that those from North America didn’t.

As leaders, I’m asking you today to do a simply math problem.  Count the number of teachers in your building that would set aside and/or completely revamp something that they may have been planning for many months to deliver, with great resources expended, in the most public of venues, so that the collective learning of the group “might” be improved. 
Further, how many of them would do it the same day it is to be delivered?
How many of them would allow for the equivalent of that transnational teachable moment I experienced this past week?
Then after counting, think of one thing you can do to double the number you came up with here.  Think about how you can encourage the adults in your buildings to step beyond themselves, when it is uncomfortable for them.  What could you provide for them, so as to invite them into that “most-cool place” to be?

In thinking of that transnational teachable moment, I reflect upon the number of countries, cultures, ethnicities, races, and world perspectives that came together on a decision having to do with teaching and learning that seemed quite simply, to “make sense.”
 No back-channel conversations to speak of; no caucusing, no dinnertime regrets.  In fact, it wasn’t even the opposite; no one celebrated what a good decision it was, really (with possibly the exception of me, in this writing). 
We just moved on and enjoyed the learning, not saying a thing.


Regier, N., & King, J. (2013).  Beyond drama: Transcending energy vampires.  Newton, KS: Next Element Publishing.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is looking worldwide for answers that will help take our schools from where they are to a better place.  If you would like to share something from his homeland or from yours, please feel free to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at