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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.

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