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, February 25, 2015

Personalized Leadership: Breaking the Golden Rule

Personalized Leadership: Breaking the Golden Rule

By Chase Huotari
Franklin Township Middle School East
Franklin Township Community School Corporation
Ph.D. Student
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
A new, young principal, Freddie Firstyear, began school in the fall with high aspirations.  From the bottom of his heart, he knew that he was going to be a collaborative leader that people absolutely adored.  Folks will love working with me, he thought, as he laid out a plan to celebrate the successes of his people and to encourage growth, through praise. This would be key to his leadership’s success, as he envisioned, Everything is going to be great.
When the first staff meeting rolled around, Freddie began the staff meeting with celebrations.  It made sense, as every other leader he had worked for had done it.   In this particular meeting, even though the more extraverted staff members spoke up over those introverted, things went well. 
Note to self, Freddie thought:  Find a way to involve more of my folks next time, especially those who didn’t say anything.  After all they are some of my best teachers!
The following week Freddie attended a district meeting where the discussions revolved around building morale.  The speaker emphasized the need to celebrate our teachers even more.  Freddie then returned to his building and hashed out a plan based on Dr. Todd Whitaker’s Friday Focus. He would send out a weekly email that would include pertinent information of interest to staff, as well as examples of staff members doing great things as a way to continue to motivate and celebrate his folks. The first email went out that Friday, and the response was extremely positive.
As the weeks rolled by, the emails continued every Friday, yet the impact was not what it once was.  In fact, there appeared to be some negative reactions occurring at times.  In one situation, a teacher did not want to appear in the notes, while others faced ridicule for being featured. 
The end of the semester was fast approaching; Freddie sat down to figure out what went wrong.

The Golden Rule

The situation above resulted from a simple oversight, an oversight that occurred very naturally, albeit invisibly, because of unintentional adherence to a rule that many of us have been taught for as long as we have been able to understand the spoken word. 
The Golden Rule.
The golden rule simply states that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated.  And this is what Freddie was doing in his Friday e-mail.  However, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (1999) suggested that great managers break the golden rule every day.  Why?  Because the golden rule, “presupposes that everyone breathes the same psychological oxygen as [us]” (p. 151).  This is a mistake, as even with good intentions, the golden rule, when applied, requires others to make a shift toward what we prefer, rather than the other way around.
In the example above, the leader assumed that everyone would appreciate being praised publicly when, in fact, some did not.  Adding to that a certain level of expected toxicity that most new principals have to contend, it can complicate things as messages are received in a way unintended by the sender.
Darn the luck, Freddie thought.
The problem wasn’t the Friday e-mails, as articulating a weekly message from the desk of a principal has many more upsides than down; the problem rather was how the Friday e-mails were being handled by virtue of what was included.  The e-mails were launched from the principal’s paradigm, yet were received by some completely different.
The result was not motivation and boost in morale that Freddie sought; rather instead, pocketed resentment and a move away from building-wide collaboration. The answer, according to Buckingham and Coffman (1999), lies in unearthing our employees likes and dislikes – their preferences, needs, and expectations for communication. 
We might ask how they like to be praised. We might ask about their goals for their current positions.  We certainly could ask how often would they like to have conversations about their progress (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999), and if so, privately or publicly. 
All this information can be used to develop a profile for each employee, a profile that will allow for a move to personalized leadership.
Might this turn our golden rule into something more platinum? 
At minimum, it would be more personalized.

Personalized Leadership

We can think about personalized leadership like our own, online Nike store.  In the online Nike store, one can literally design a shoe from the ground up -- from tongue color, to swoosh color, to specific initials, we can make the shoe our own.
No limitations!
Personalized leadership takes this online store to the classroom door. 
As school principals, we have the opportunity to serve as the research and development, marketing, design, and sales team all wrapped into one.  Our intended demographic is very diverse and ever changing.  This provides us opportunity to connect others where they are.
When we look at leadership in a personalized way, we see, that each employee has a personalized filter, his or her own way of interpreting the world, thereby each demanding different things from supervisors” (Buckingham and Coffman, 1999). Our task as building leaders is to identify those demands and use them to motivate, excite, and inspire our employees to be great and reach beyond their levels of comfort, to heightened degrees of current and future success. 
Are we up to it?


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

Chase Huotari and Ryan Donlan are continuously looking for creative and meaningful ways of applying the Platinum Rule to school leadership.  If you have any ideas for them that you would like to share, please feel free to contact them at or at 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tune Out the Noise

Tune Out the Noise

By Dustin LeMay
Avon Intermediate West
Doctoral Student of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            The profession of education has a lot of noise right now -- Politicians expounding on the failures of our education system; school systems reacting to changes in funding structures and referendum failures; even new laws regulating teacher evaluation and the re-structuring of compensation models.  All this is occurring while teachers are unfairly characterized in the media, not accorded the respect of years past. 
Even more troubling is the fact that schools and teachers are held accountable for standardized test scores and academic growth using a complicated mathematical formula that creates winners and losers in a competition, borne potentially of a manufactured crisis, decades prior. 
 With distractions abound, we believe that those of us who wish to thrive in education today have two clear choices:
1.     Complain about the changes and negativity, thus making ourselves miserable and unmotivated (and a part of the larger problem) or …
2.     Challenge ourselves to make a new reality by tuning out the noise. 

Our choice is clear.
We would encourage yours similarly – We must to find a way to tune out the noise. 
Yet, what exactly does that mean?   Have a positive attitude?  Don’t worry, this too shall pass?  Ignore your job and move to a tropical island?   None of these bits of advice hits the mark exactly. 

Tuning out the noise means instead, absorbing the new facts, regulations, and circumstances that are rolling downhill continually, using them to carefully construct a new reality within the profession of each school building and each classroom.  
Yes, tuning out the noise involves harnessing the energy directed AT us, toward something meaningful that we have an ability to influence. 
Sounds good, right? 
Well, it can be, if accomplished without the over-reactions and complaints (the noise) that can quickly de-moralize a school staff … it can be, if accomplished through leadership that doesn’t look for internal cohesion by identifying an external enemy.
Most of all, we can tune-out the noise in education, or at least turn-it-down to “tolerable,” levels through school-wide, staff-wide commitment to five simple actions that can pave the way to success.  To tune-out the noise, we can:

1.     Focus on What Can Be Controlled: We can control our attitudes, our effort, and how we work together.  Problems can’t always be controlled, but focusing on the solutions helps get us there.  Sometimes it may be necessary to vent a little -- after all, we are human. However, it is not ok to constantly perpetuate a culture of complaint. Consider that amidst the mandates and political banter, we CAN control, for example, how teachers are involved in the evaluation process, what we do with our data, how we listen to and support our stakeholder needs, and certainly, creating an environment that lets each of us know that we should have fun and laugh each day.

2.     Work Smarter, Not Harder: Rick DuFour’s (2010) work with PLC’s has been around for a while now -- valuable work that speaks to the need for a continuous, collaborative process of ongoing school improvement.  When teachers work in PLC’s, they define goals and expectations of each other.  New sets of academic standards may feel, at times, like a load of work to teachers, but with the shared load that a true PLC process allows, teachers are able to break down the walls of isolation and establish an environment of shared leadership.  These collective efforts reap even greater dividends than the sum of their parts.

3.     Hold Ourselves Accountable for Best Practices, OVER Test Scores:  We know we are accountable for standardized testing results.  We may not like putting children in front of computer-screened assessments for hours on end, but these requirements do not appear to be going away any time soon.  As we establish a culture of high expectations that maximizes instructional time, might we consider that in the long run, test results will take care of themselves – That is, if we address the needs of the whole-child-as-learner, as opposed to considering them as test-taker’s?  As leaders we must empower teachers to focus on each child’s academic and social needs, as well as their own.  We need to trust our teachers to be learners and leaders, and at times, to get out of their way.  We need to be courageous enough to allow those closest to the teaching and learning to implement what is best for children, not what is best for individual employees or test scores.

4.     Focus First on People:  Educators who are on the firing line make personal sacrifices each day to uplift student performance.  Oftentimes, this is at the expense of our loved ones and family, as we take far less time for ourselves than we took years ago. Sometimes, it is at the expense of our own health, as continuing education requirements, year-round calendars, performance pressures, and technology demand that we “Never turn it off,” subordinating wellness to program, process, and performance expectation.  In light of such, can we keep in mind each and every day to consider our colleagues first as people, then as co-workers? Can we strive to treat others equitably, not equally? In such, we may be a bit more energized in spite of the noise, and better able to serve students.

5.     Commit to Two-Way Communication: That includes administrators’ listening to and trusting teachers’ and staffs’ professional input. On the flip side, it means teachers’ and staffs’ respecting administrative decisions and following through with them. A true team focuses on working together toward a common vision. At minimum, this means that on our most challenging days, we don’t point fingers and blame.  In our most arduous hours, we come together for support.  When circumstances collide, we put in the work that let’s each of us know that tomorrow will be a better day.  We talk to each other, and play to our strengths, winning battles and saving lives.

By establishing and sticking to our five key actions, we can lay a foundation of success that empowers each of us to tune out the noise and build successful school environments for our students, teachers, and families. 


DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for Professional learning communities at work (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dustin LeMay and Ryan Donlan work each day to tune-out their own noise so that they can listen to folks’ charting courses for improvement of our K-12 educational system, toward a better tomorrow.  If you wish to dial up your own volume and be part of the conversation, please be encouraged to write to them at [] or at  These two wish to learn from others that have workable actions of their own.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

As the Test Turns

As the Test Turns

By Christina Larson
South Montgomery Community School Corporation
Doctoral Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Do the benefits of an excruciatingly long statewide assessment really offset the loss of comparable hours of instruction? Have we veered from a once-responsible path, hitting head-on, an educational road sign that denotes, “Wrong Way”?
After the statewide release of the length of time that would be needed for this year’s ISTEP+ Part 1 and ISTEP+ Part 2, educators learned that our students would be faced with, at our count, roughly twenty hours of ISTEP + assessments and preparation. 
Governor Pence showed leadership this week (not to mention political savvy) by issuing an Executive Order to halt all that nonsense. Though we have the upmost respect for State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and her team at IDOE, something needed to happen, and they didn’t appear to be changing course.
The Best of Daytime Drama: As the Test Turns.
This brings up a conversation that Hoosiers, and all across America, need to have:  Do we really want to subject our elementary students to an assessment that runs as long or longer than many State Bar Exams, in order to determine if schools are doing a good job teaching what the tests measure?  Can we develop other ways to ensure excellence in education without sapping our children’s time, talent, and interest in school?
Possibly the more important question may be, “Are these assessments really helping students to become College and Career Ready?”  They certainly do not focus on authentic learning and real-world problems. If we listen to our friends in business and industry who will hire our graduates, they are asking us to prepare employees who are problem solvers and collaborators. 
What ever became of the push for the 21st Century Skills of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking?  There certainly is a small glimmer of their inclusion when Indiana included Speaking and Listening Skills which addressed collaboration, presentation, and reciprocal communication with others. Unfortunately, these critical skills are left unassessed in ISTEP+, and in the Instructional and Assessment Guidance Documents for 2014-15 that is prepared by the Department of Education, teachers are encouraged to only allocate 5 to 10 percent of their instructional time in this area.  With high-stakes testing now reaching an all-time high, we’re pushing aside what makes schools, teaching, and learning great – and transferrable.
Pink (2006) and Zhao (2015, 2012) aptly suggested the United States is best known for leading innovation and entrepreneurship.  Yet as other countries are moving toward systems that foster creativity, we are moving farther away. Our assessment system is now forcing teachers to focus on only what can only be measured at lower levels of inquiry, thus turning what could be a liberating learning experience, into response-driven regurgitation.    
Our world is changing before our eyes. We understand the need for educating our children to be successful in a global community and economy.  Yet, with our current focus on assessment, are we unintentionally creating a generation of followers who will have trouble serving as leaders?
Obviously, this article presents more questions than answers, yet certainly questions that merit discussion as this turn-of-events continues.  We believe that the time is now in Indiana, as well as across the country, to change course and avoid future collisions. 
Governor Pence reacted quickly to the outlandish double-timing of this year’s assessment schedule, but what will be his next move?  Perhaps this will be the defining moment where our lawmakers and state officials will recognize the impact of their agendas and look for another way to ensure quality schools without further reducing time for children to learn. 
Our next few miles of travel will impact us, most assuredly.


Pink, D. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
Zhao, Y. (2015, January 22). China encourages college students to suspend study and become entrepreneurs and innovators. Creative, Entrepreneurial, and Global: 21st Century Education. Retrieved at
Zhao, Y. (2012). World-class learners: Educating creative and entrepreneurial students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin


Christina Larson and Ryan Donlan are firm believers in the need to upsize the teaching and learning, while right-sizing the amount of standardized testing, in America’s schools.  If you would like to talk with them, or even debate a point or two, please do not hesitate to contact them at

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Deep Practice: Perfection over Permanence

Deep Practice: Perfection over Permanence

By John Schilawski
Assistant Superintendent
Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation
Doctoral Student of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

We often do what we do in schools, because we have always done it.  Such is the case with policy, practice, and people.  At times, we unearth what we believe are new strategies for “best practice,” either through sound research or deft marketing.  In other cases, something “suspect” hides for a time in plain sight, and we never really discern its shortcomings.
One practice to note is ironically, that of “practice” – a student’s practice with the content and skills that we are trying to teach.  Could it be that we’re doing it wrong?  Possibly, if done in the context of one teacher working with twenty to thirty students at a time, as we believe that we may be fooling ourselves that the guided practice we are monitoring is actually “guided” at all.  Let’s discuss.

As we have believed for some time in K-12 education, guided practice is often the way to assure high levels of learning and retention of material. Independent practice beyond is thought beneficial as well.  Student practice of academic content has been an integral part of pedagogy in K-12 schools for many years.
In consideration of practice’s importance in the mosaic of the teaching/learning experience, a couple of quotes come to mind.

1. “Practice makes perfect,” and
2. “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

The initial quote has roots stretching back to a 1500’s proverb; it is speculated that its first use in the United States was by President John Adams, when as a young attorney he offered commentary on his early courtroom performances, “I was too incautious and unartful in my proceedings, but practice makes perfect” (
Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi offered us the second quote. It oftentimes reminds us of different experiences in growing from child to adult, such as the repetition of free throws, work on the balance beam, wrestling takedowns, music lessons, marching band drills, musical rehearsals, dance steps, and even plucking away at the violin, to mention a few examples.
We all can put memory, or even a bit of nostalgia, to one quote or the other.

The focus of this discussion is more on “practice” as an academic pursuit, and its value as we are practicing it. The reality is that although practice can help students improve – and in extreme cases can help them to reach master performance – practice can also yield marginal results or even cause a decline in performance.
Ouch.  That’s not what we intend.

One of our favorite reads on the subject is Daniel Coyle’s, The Talent Code (2009), in which Coyle describes a young clarinet student named Clarissa. In this example, he noted the girl in six minutes actually accomplished a month’s worth of learning.  The key was that she didn’t just “practice”; she instead used “deep practice,” along with concentration, determination, and perseverance.  It didn’t hurt that she liked the song and wanted to play it well.
By the way, Clarissa was not a virtuoso; in fact Coyle described her as somewhat mediocre.  Now what is particularly interesting is that after that six minutes spent in deep practice, Clarissa went on to a familiar piece that she performed with relative ease, with few mistakes, yet in reality, did not do it justice.  She simply practiced.  In such, she was not thinking or learning; it was a waste of time.
Coyle believed the differences in results for practice and deep practice lie, in part, in Myelin.  From a neurochemical perspective, Myelin is what the brain produces to wrap around neural fibers.  It insulates them; protects them.  It cerebrally converts, over time, a neurological two-track into a cerebral superhighway.
The thicker the Myelin, the better insulated the electrical impulse, causing information regarding performance to move faster and more efficiently. This is what Coyle believes is “The Talent Code.”
Others have informed our thoughts on practice as well.  Pink (2009) equated intense, highly productive learning with a personal strive for mastery based on a person’s motivation.  He noted this as Type I behavior “fueled more by intrinsic desires” (p. 77).  According to Drive, “The secret to high performance and satisfaction . . . is the deeply held, human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world” (admittedly from the cover jacket, yet we actually read further).  
Think about how long a child will sit in front of a computer navigating and playing games, drawing on paper, playing with PlayDoh, or building with Legos.  Countless hours are spent in this realm of extended learning and expansive creativity.  Watching a child maneuver in Mario world or running the dungeon maze is captivating; they learn through trial and error, problem-solving continually and even more important, leveling-up.
In his treatise on why some children do not like math, Dr. Robert Sun (2014) said, “Interest is a function of proficiency-and proficiency requires practice” (Power of Deep Practice section, para. 1).  He continued, “Through Deep Practice techniques, skills that might take months of conventional practice can be mastered in a matter of weeks or even days” (Power of Deep Practice section, para. 4).  Of course, this has to occur under the right conditions.
So what’s the rub?  Why are we a bit concerned with doing what has always been done? About practice?
In education we all-too-often rely on mass practice and redundancy through repetition –  “skill and drill.”   We’re not here to say that repetition doesn’t have a place in learning; however, we are saying that it should not be a default strategy in lesson design or in anyone’s thoughts on “best practice” in the teaching and learning process.
Hattie (2012) advocated the use of spaced practice rather than mass practice.
Consider the fact that if a child does not understand the order of operation in Math, is it really reasonable to believe that giving him or her fifty additional problems will yield minimal results toward mastery?  From Hattie’s (2012) meta-analysis, spaced-practice verses mass-practice ranked 13th on a list of influences on achievement.  
We contend, building upon the work of Coyle, Pink, Sun, and Hattie, that a child’s spending more time on the task makes little difference in learning.  Rather, it runs the risk of making what one is doing more permanent, than perfect.
One-on-thirty?  We don’t think so. 
With finite human resources a reality, we can still creatively design experiences in which students can be provided the opportunity to practice appropriate, skill-building experiences and strong immediate feedback. In doing so, a few well-structured problems may facilitate a level of deep practice, which produces higher-than-average results in terms of time and effort.
Consider the natural order of one’s curiosity in terms of things relevant, exciting, or of great interest, whether practical or not.  If a child wants badly enough to learn something, he or she will find a way to make it happen. The secret is in our making the connection between what we know is important for children to learn, and what they perceive to be of interest to themselves.  Serving as a choreographer of these connections may very well be our first job as educators; offering opportunities of deep practice in meaningful bursts, with the ability to redirect in-the-moment, may be one of our most important. 
If any argument could be made for increasing content preparation for educators, it would be this:  Pre-service educators need to invest in what our best coaches have -- moment-by-moment efficacy and confidence in the talent-development of their protégés; in fact, that which redirects misaligned permanence, into deep-practiced perfection.
“That,” we could all live with in K-12.      


Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code: Greatness isn’t born.  It’s grown. Here’s how. New York, NY: Natam Dell.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY:  Routledge.
Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY:  Riverhead Books
Sun, B. (2014, August 25). Four letters that will energise america. The London Economic.  Retrieved from

John Schilawski and Ryan Donlan are educational reimaginists who do not hesitate to question what is currently in place and purported to help students achieve.  If you wish to call-them-out on anything they are championing, don’t hesitate to reach-out and begin the conversation at or  They’ll be glad you did!