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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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Punishing Teachers and Hurting Kids?

Punishing Teachers and Hurting Kids?

By Amy Blake
Director of Special Education
New Castle Area Special Services
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Today’s society includes a world of extreme competition, with high-stakes decisions, little room for error, and strong consequences for failure.  As a result, some members of society search for strategies that will “put the squeeze” on those who are under-performing and impose consequences for failure to improve. In fact, while painting with such a broad stroke, they also at times, adversely affect to those who are not under-performing, because of those who do under-perform.
Education has not escaped this pressure and is subject to intense scrutiny. Oftentimes, education takes the brunt of public frustration for society’s misgivings, resulting in unnecessary and misguided strategies imposed upon those working in a profession that is already replete with unintended consequences. It is with this in mind that we will shed light on one such strategy that we feel is missing the mark, with the potential to punish teachers and hurt kids.  Consider the following:

IC 20-29-6-3 Unlawful deficit financing
Sec. 3. (a) It is unlawful for a school employer to enter into any agreement that would place the employer in a position of deficit financing due to a reduction in the employer's actual general fund revenue or an increase in the employer's expenditures when the expenditures exceed the employer's current year actual general fund revenue.
    (b) A contract that provides for deficit financing is void to that extent, and an individual teacher's contract executed under the contract is void to that extent.
As added by P.L.1-2005, SEC.13. Amended by P.L.48-2011, SEC.13.

As a result of funding reductions and economic changes beyond the control of school districts, many school corporations across the state of Indiana could essentially find themselves with budgets that as a result, have expenses that exceed revenues (i.e. “spend more than they earn”) – budgets that would result in deficit spending from the general fund.
In an effort to address this concern, Indiana has enacted a statute that appears to restrict expenditures for school districts that are in deficit financing. The section of Indiana Code that addresses this concern is found in Title 20, Article 29, Chapter 6, Section 3 (IC 20-29-6-3) Specifically, a portion of IC 20-29-6-3(a) states, “It is unlawful for a school employer to enter into any agreement that would place the employer in a position of deficit financing...”  So, what does this really mean? Well, our interpretation is that it means a school district who is operating in deficit financing is prohibited from entering into an agreement with their teachers to increase, or possibly even to maintain teacher compensation at given staffing levels that are necessary for a quality education for children.
At face value, this law seems to make a lot of sense. After all, everyone must work within a budget, especially those that are spending the public’s money, such as schools.  So, what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that the categorical application of this rule, without exception or flexibility, can result in the unintended outcomes of punishing teachers and hurting kids. 
We are concerned that this rule could punish teacher longevity, which may result in greater turnover rate and ultimately hurt kids as a result of diminished consistency in the teaching staff.  For example, let’s say that Sally is a highly effective teacher who loves her students and works hard to meet their needs. However, Sally’s school corporation is currently in deficit spending. Therefore, IC 20-29-6-3(a) directly applies to Sally’s school corporation, prohibiting her corporation from granting increased compensation to any employee, including teachers. As a result, Sally is placed in a difficult situation. As long as Sally’s corporation remains in deficit spending, Sally will not receive an increase in compensation regardless of her highly effective performance.
Eventually, Sally may have to make a painful decision. She may even feel that the only way to receive the increased compensation she needs to maintain “cost of living” is to work for a corporation that is not in deficit financing. This means that Sally may have to resign her current teaching position and accept a teaching position with a neighboring corporation (who is not in deficit financing). Doing so might permit her to hire in and receive credit for her experience and performance, resulting in increased compensation. For Sally and her students, this is very unfortunate.
Could financial rigidity also create a disincentive for school corporations to maintain the employment of the more costly teachers of longer service, who are performing at the same levels as more junior teachers that don’t cost as much?
Although IC 20-29-6-3(a) does ensure, more or less, that school corporations will maintain the balanced budgets that appropriations provide to them, the reality is that the ultimate impact can be harmful for kids, when situations beyond a school’s control put a squeeze on revenue after budgets have been built.
After all, school corporations cannot magically increase revenue. They cannot raise the price of their products or services in order to make a quick buck. Rather, schools operate on fixed incomes while providing services and supports for students, that they themselves may increase in cost.  Too often, that means that a corporation will operate in deficit spending, as the realities of our economy pit one public service over another when additional revenue requests of tax-paying businesses or citizens are not politically attractive. 
So, what’s the answer?
We believe that the answer lies not in “focusing on what is broken,” but rather in focusing on “what we want more of” (Regier & King, 2013, p. 161) as we work to make a positive difference.  
A good start would be to reconsider the probable, unintended consequences of IC 20-29-6-3(a) and search for meaningful alternative strategies to address deficit spending. Perhaps a solution resides in finding a way to make every public dollar count while still focusing on what we want more of in our schools (i.e. more highly effective teachers and improved student achievement). 
In the meantime, we might publicly recognize what is NOT the answer – inflexibility and uniformity in anyone’s bottom line. That could punish teachers and hurt kids.


Unlawful deficit financing, Ind. Code. §§ 20-29-6-3 (2011).
Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: Transcending energy vampires. Newton, KS:  
            Next Element Publishing.  


Amy Blake and Ryan Donlan have strong perspectives regarding using broad-brushstroke solutions in situations requiring a fine pen to solve the problems we face in education, in our state, and in our nation.  If you would like to join them in conversation, please do not hesitate to contact them at or at

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rearranging Seats on the Titanic

Rearranging Seats on the Titanic

By E. Scott England
First Grade Teacher
Sullivan (IL) Elementary School
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Let’s take a quick trip back to April 15, 1912 in the Atlantic Ocean.  Close your eyes and picture the layout of the ship, the Titanic, the best you can. White walls so recently painted a faint smell of fresh paint lingers as rich mahogany chairs and tables beautify the dining salon; wicker chairs and tables set upon brightly colored linoleum floor next to a view of the vast Atlantic Ocean, and leather upholstered loungers designed with eloquence and for comfort surrounded by intricately stained glass windows.     
With your eyes still closed, rearrange the layout in whatever manner you choose. Let’s now do a quick check of your new arrangement: would the Titanic still sink?
Of course it would.
Regardless of any layout configuration, the sinking of the Titanic was not caused by the location of rooms or the furniture selected to adorn the massive ocean liner. What could have kept it afloat would have been a stronger hull or a leader more receptive to potential danger warnings (Ryan, 1985).
While this may seem a silly exercise of a few minutes we’ll never get back, it’s really more similar to what we do in K-12 education than many of us would like to admit.  We oftentimes rearrange the furniture when the foundations are cracking in our educational organizations as well.  Too often, a toxic work atmosphere is reorganized in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the toxicity.  All that has really been done though is rearranged the same factors that made up the negative atmosphere before, thereby spreading the stink without really sanitizing anything. 
In order to improve K-12 leadership for better schools, we might consider our need to restructure rather than to rearrange.
Before we continue, let’s take a moment to define restructure.  Merriam-Webster (2014) defines restructure as “to change the basic organization or structure of” (def. 1,  The keyword upon which to focus is change.  Thinking back to the Titanic, can we see how change could have altered the course of history?  If we were to have rearranged what was already there, we would have had no lasting effect upon the disaster.
Now let us think of a K-12 workplace scenario. 
It probably isn’t too far from the truth to say that we have all experienced a toxic person, which for our purposes here would be a teacher, Ned Nasty – that is, one who has a negative demeanor in speech, actions, or in one’s general existence in the workplace.  Taking this one step further, we will assume for our example here that others have side-barred with leadership about this person’s bringing down the atmosphere of the lounge during lunchtime. 
Let’s examine a few choices:
First, a leader could simply rearrange the person’s schedule so they have lunch at a different time than those complaining.  Unfortunately, this would result in Ned’s having lunch with another group of people that would soon share with leadership the same complaint.
Second, a leader could invite change to the way the person is behaving, in the structure of the interactions taking place.  What might be a good first step?  Quite possibly, it would be a heart-to-heart conversation, an open talk as it were.  Could it be possible that Ned doesn’t see what he is doing is toxic?  Maybe so.  Maybe not.
More than likely a psychological need is not being met in Ned, and in the absence of the positive fulfillment of that need, Ned is unconsciously meeting those needs through distressed behavior, such as being critical, hyper-convictional, manipulative, or even reactive (Kahler, 2008).  It’s not so much whether or not these behaviors are intentional; of course they are.  It’s more important to understand that the person exhibiting the behaviors is interpreting their resultant effect differently than those who may be affected by them. 
Rearranging would be for a leader to invite the person to consider that a more appropriate time and place would be appropriate for the behavior.  Restructuring would be for the leader to help the person address the underlying, unmet need so that the person moves out of distress (Kahler, 2008).
Tragically, when a problem arises in K-12 education, the solution leaders often use involves rearranging previous pieces to create different variations of the same problem.  Quite possibly, this rearranging is done to prevent feelings from being hurt, through a bit of avoidance, as restructuring takes much more time and attention, and often a critical conversation.
In extreme cases, it might result in a bit of severance. In First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Kurt Coffman (2009) stated, “Sometimes the only way to cure a bad relationship is to get out of it” (p. 174).  To be a successful leader, you may find yourself at times, making these types of decisions -- those that affect you emotionally.  But a truly successful leader is going to act in the best interest of those dedicated to furthering the organization’s mission, rather than in the best interest of least resistance or expediency.
Think of the Titanic again as we ponder acting in our best interests compared with acting for the greater good.  The Titanic carried the required minimum sixteen lifeboats plus an additional four inflatable lifeboats (Sinek, 2014).  There was room for the more, but the decision was made to settle for the minimum.  It wouldn’t matter how the lifeboats were arranged, the number was still twenty in all.  That is thinking for one’s self. 
Now let’s imagine that someone acted upon change before the Titanic set sail.  Imagine that additional lifeboats were added to accommodate everyone that would sail on the maiden voyage.  Even if the ship still struck the iceberg in the middle of the cold Atlantic, more lives could have been saved than lost.
We cannot stand idly by and watch K-12 staff morale sink as tragically as the Titanic.  We must summon the courage from our leadership toolbox to begin the difficult process of restructuring.  With hope and prudent stewardship, we can plug the hole and save everyone aboard.


Buckingham, M. & Coffman, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Kahler, T. (2008). The Process Therapy Model: Six personality types with adaptations. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler & Associates, Inc.

Restructure. (2014). In Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved from

Ryan, P. R. (1985/86). The Titanic: Lost and found (1912 – 1985). Oceanus, 28(4), 4 – 14.

Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York, NY: Penguin Books.


E. Scott England and Ryan Donlan are looking for the longer-term solutions in K-12 education that will bring lasting improvements to how teachers teach and how students learn.  They believe that these solutions start with a leader’s focus on people and the underlying structures of relationships and communication that influence how they accomplish what they do each day.  Please feel free to join the conversation by contacting them at or

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A NEW Parental Engagement in Schools

A NEW Parental Engagement in Schools
By Cathy Rowe
Frontier School Corporation
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

                  As educational leaders, we are oftentimes looked upon for leadership in the worst of times and in the best of times -- for guidance and reassurance that all will be well, even when it will not.  Such vast responsibility is not without burden for the K-12 school leader, at times begging the question, “Will I make the right decision?” or “Is this the best I can offer?” 
            Sounds a bit familiar, like what many of us experience at home.
In a sense, leadership is like parenting – a NEW type of parental engagement in schools.  Each day, it presents itself, as we take every opportunity to nurture, guide, and watch over our programmatic “children” in the best of times and the worst of times.  It’s not just a family of five, it’s a family of five hundred and five, figured conservatively.
One great challenge inherent in programmatic parenting is the fact that if children are not thriving, we believe it is our fault.  With myriad societal variables in play, we truly embrace this very fact of our leadership, whether fair or not as we self-reflect.  Do you?
            Taking personal responsibility for not only the educational attainment of students, but also their emotional, physical and social needs, is what we as effective leaders do every day.  As teachers, principals and superintendents, our students and staff look to us to make the right decisions.  They look to us, as do children to parents, in order to get their needs met.  And then they look again the very next day.
This never-ending stewardship of others’ needs is pivotal to understanding that leadership involves an ongoing and never-ending commitment to others above self -- relationships over tasks. Thankfully, with responsibility comes reward. Wrapping services around students, as well as adults when they are in need pays multiple dividends in establishing a community of mutual respect, a collaborative work setting, and a family environment in which everyone works together.  This is especially helpful in that K-12 education is being asked to compete on an arduous playing field, necessitating a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We engender such a team through our parenting.  Consider a military analogy:
            Just as our best Marine leaders eat last (Sinek, 2014), those who are privileged to serve in leadership understand that leading must come at the expense of self-interest. We don’t necessary contend as do others, that there is no “I” in team, yet we would say that one does better with “we.”  Putting employees’ needs above any selfish motives is at the heart of effective leadership, as it is with parenting.
            And what goes around comes around.
            Leaders are not always gifted with friendly terrain.  Such is the case in K-12 education today, where danger evoking flight or fight can affect performance. We know that in any hierarchy of needs, the most foundational include one’s safety and security.  Leaders have an influence here as well, as parents would with their own families.  How do?  By creating Circles of Safety (Sinek, 2014).
Creating Circles of Safety (Sinek, 2014) provides a bit of protection in situations fraught with risk -- those very same circumstances that can potentially reap the most dividend for our efforts on behalf of teaching and learning – as they are less traveled.
Circles of Safety develop strong bonds of trust in employees as they are protected from the outside forces that threaten to do harm to the organization, and thus, to them.  As parents of the organization, leaders work to ensure that the employees are sheltered as they are developing, exposed to only as much as they can handle. Consider also the fact that as children mature, they can then run a bit of interference for their parents from time to time, as employees themselves can provide Circles to leaders, when their safety is, at times, threatened from the outside. 
            Leaders cannot, and we believe “would not” escape parenting, even the feelings that parenting engenders.
            How many times do we as leaders have outside obligations that take us away from our schools such as professional development trainings and/or conferences, only to begin to feel the isolation and distance from those to whom we are responsible, much as parents would their own children?  As parents find themselves bringing back to their children travel mementos or trinkets to help offset the separation that they have experienced, leaders act similarly, reaching out to reconnect on personals level when returning to buildings in an effort to re-establish the critical social connections so important in their day-to-day lives. 
We know that being parentally engaged with people – socially, emotionally, or otherwise – is at the root of successful relationships.  This holds true in personal relationships with our own children or with those we lead in our organizations.  Recognizing the importance of parenting and cultivating Circles of Safety are of paramount importance as we hope to raise our next generation, ensuring positive caretaking and development of generations beyond.


Sinek, Simon (2014).  Leaders eat last:  Why some teams pull together and others don’t.  New York, NY:  Penguin Books

Cathy Rowe and Ryan Donlan recognize that at the heart of effective leadership is a foundational belief in one’s responsibility to care for others dependent upon us.  It is with this in mind that they hope to continue their conversation, any time you wish, if you would be willing to contact them at or