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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Friday, March 27, 2015

On Co-Teaching

On Co-Teaching

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

Students need co-teachers.  We, as teachers, need co-teaching. 

This is true at the K-12 level, or even at the University. 

While in K-12, I co-taught with my mentor teachers.  It was an outstanding experience; we were quite different, and although my probationary status operated in a fishbowl, it was a wonderful way to learn my craft.  I would like to think that those much more seasoned learned a few things from me as well.

For a number of years, I have co-taught classes at the college and university as well, most often with colleagues in the Department of Educational Leadership, and even one with my Dean.  Sometimes, the choreography is serious; at other times a bit more on-the-fly.

This semester, I have had both the fun and privilege of co-teaching with two of my good friends and colleagues, Dr. Steve Gruenert and Dr. Todd Whitaker.  We’re co-teaching a graduate-level principalship class, where the three of us get together each Thursday evening in a teaching studio at Indiana State University.  A handful of our students, mostly professional educators, meet with us in the studio – others join from a distance via the Internet with a software that allows for video and audio capabilities, as well as the creation of breakout rooms for small group interaction.

It’s a great time.

This week, for example, Steve took the lead on “school culture,” Todd shared “three types of teachers,” and next week, I’ll start the evening with “instructional leadership.”  Although it may sound segmented, it’s really not; rather, it’s like someone is “singing melody”; while others “sing harmony,” the lead alternating depending upon the content, topic, or circumstance.  It can change on a dime, depending on the teachable moment.

Co-teaching requires a few things in order to be successful.  I can’t say that I’m a master of it, but I can be propped-up pretty darn well with Steve and Todd in the room. 

Here are a few thoughts with you, off the top of my head – those that I hope you will consider discussing with friends and colleagues – that contribute to co-teaching success.

Co-teaching is significantly enhanced through:

Communication in the co-planning – yet not over-communication, as we might consider allowing for a bit of extemporaneous performance as well.

Playing to each other’s strengths. 

Admitting when something’s not in your wheelhouse.

Discussion and reflection of how things went afterward.

An honest talk.

An ability to affirm each other or at times, to disagree, and to be OK with the fact that multiple perspectives exist.

A willingness to watch closely to see if students are “getting it,” when your colleagues are talking, and their willingness to do so as well, when you are presenting.

The latitude to extend on another’s explanation, clarify your colleague’s directions, and provide another way of articulating that simply cannot be accomplished with one voice.

A division of tasks (technology, etc.), so that someone can “always” be all-about relationships.

A healthy dose of self-confidence, yet not overconfidence, so that everyone is more about “effectiveness” than “justification.”

A willingness to “put oneself out there” with a perspective that can be debated, and restraint, when you’ve been “bettered” on a point. 

Excitement, when the students disagree, and to feel comfortable sharing.

Impeccable content knowledge.

A willingness to shut up, and learn.

A desire to protect and preserve the moments where learning happens, and not rushing through a lesson plan.

Laughing at ourselves.

Please feel free to add to my list.  Particularly, would you agree that we as educators need co-teaching as much as the students?  It would be great hearing from you, as I’m sure many of you have much more experience and a perspective that will help keep me relevant.


Ryan Donlan loves augmenting his teaching, scholarship, and service through collaborative work with others.  If you would like to partner with him on anything, please reach-out to him and say “Hi,” at 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Drama: Kings, Queens, and Productivity

Drama: Kings, Queens, and Productivity

By Sonia R. Walker
Adjunct College Professor/Department Chair/Business Instructor
Maryville University - St Louis, MO & Clinton Prairie Jr./Sr. High School–Frankfort, IN
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

As Dr. Nate Regier and the good folks at Next Element Consulting remind us – “Drama:  Good for Ratings; Bad for Business.”
Yet, drama is something that we experience as a part of our everyday lives.  Some people seemingly love drama.  They either manufacture it, or feed into it, while others work steadfastly to minimize its existence and impact … it’s lure.
In K-12 schools, not a day goes by it seems, that we can avoid experiencing or teaching a student who is involved in drama.  The same could hold true for fellow staff.
Drama can manifest itself as one seeks or wants attention.  “Drama sucks all of the energy out of your life,” as noted in Beyond Drama – Transcending Energy Vampires (Regier & King, 2013, p. 1). “Drama is an energy vampire, sucking the lifeblood out of everyone and everything around it.”
The authors told the story of a company where administrators ran a business with constant drama.  Employees wanted something different, so even in the midst of an economically dangerous national recession, they took it upon themselves to start their own business to coach and provide consulting to employees worldwide in how to understand, minimize, and avoid drama in their workplaces and lives.  They then went on to live this professional lifestyle in their own organization.
Those who have worked in education and in corporate America can see the parallels in drama at work and at school.  Many of us have been raised with drama modeled at home, with either parents or siblings adopting roles as drama kings or queens. Without a conscientious decision to step out and beyond those roles, we have run the risk following drama in its footsteps, as it comes more naturally than its converse, which Regier and King (2013) described as “Compassion” (or “to struggle with”). 
Some more predisposed to distress and drama appear quickly to don a king’s or queen’s crown, as a learned reaction to difficult experiences they face.  Some retort that it’s a defense mechanism, taught and modeled by parents.  We know it, as well, from a different standpoint – that of any human being’s potential to wear of a mask while in distress, one that cover up the real person underneath – the OK “me.”

Children Students & Drama

Many time students who are leaders in drama are students who are not getting their needs met.  Kahler (2008) described them as those who on their better days are persuasive, adaptable, and charming, yet have a psychological need for incidence (a bit of risk and the potential of a payoff – a “rush”).  When a situation in school is presented to them, whether academic, social or otherwise, they “take action” and DO something with it, even if fraught with repercussions. 
Many educators do not understand this need, or the actions of these students, and thus, require those with such energy to sit in rows and be silent.  What happens instead is that in the absence of positive fulfillment of their needs, children seek their negative fulfillment.  They manipulate the situation until drama torques-up.  They get their rush, and so do many others around them, in a negative way.  This involves a ripple effect upon others in the classroom, eventually culminating with children and adults, alike, assuming the classic roles of persecutors, victims, and rescuers – Karpman’s (1968) classic triangle of drama. 

Managing Kings and Queens

In studying the book, First Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, we pose that good managers and good teachers have a lot in common.  Teachers who can “relate” are those who can re-direct those who tend toward drama.  They invite the drama king or queen to “dial-down” by changing their own approaches as adults to intervention and teaching, while allowing students to connect with them and learn as they learn best. 
Our better teachers are stewards who avoid a one-size-fits-all approach (last year’s lesson plans or last scenario’s tool kit) and recognize that various personalities and their needs predominate in “today’s” classroom, as yesterday’s drama kings and queens might have abdicated their thrones.  This is not limited to K-12 schools.  Drama occurs in colleges and universities as well, as it is not outgrown when psychological needs are not met. 
Haven’t we all seen, at times, our co-workers’ acting as persecutors, victims, and rescuers? Take for instance the teachers’ lounge of Anytown’s high school, or periodically the commons area of a local college – with educators’ “holding court,” complaining about the student who wants too much attention or the higher-up who just doesn’t have a clue? 
Same crowns, different neighborhoods.  
What is particularly interesting in teacher/student drama is the context of who is playing persecutor, rescuer, or victim.  Even more fascinating are situations in which they switch roles. 
Yet “people-watching aside” – The fact remains as follows -- Drama:  Good for ratings; bad for business.
It’s even worse for teaching and learning.
A wonderful opportunity exists for us to learn about the rudimentary elements of drama, and more so, to learn that drama does not represent the true identities of those involved; rather, it represents masks they are wearing that with the right approach, can be “invited” off so that productive communication can occur. 

Once these folks are OK/OK, drama will learn to check itself at the schoolhouse door.


Buckingham, M., & Coffman, K. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world's
greatest managers do differently. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model: Six different personality types and
            adaptations. Hot Springs, AR: Taibi Kahler & Associates.
Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: Transcending energy Vampires. Newton,
Kansas: Next Element Consulting.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cabin Fever (Revisited)

This week's weather in many parts of our nation has encouraged us at the ISU Ed. Leadershop to revisit this piece written in February of 2013.  

Cabin Fever

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

Have you noticed that some people are sad this time of year?  Quite SAD, actually.  Yet given their condition, they still come to school each day and depend on our leadership.

Physicians and pharmaceutical companies call this condition, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also referred to as the mid-winter blues or another name we used when I was principal-ing in the U.P. of Michigan: Cabin Fever.  Cabin fever kicks in around this time each year – when a chill’s in the air, the sun’s not shining, and when things just aren’t quite green enough.

Maintaining staff and student enthusiasm for teaching and learning is a bit cumbersome during this season.  We find that our short days sometimes seem lengthier than our longer nights: staff fuses get short, office referrals get long, and students don’t seem to be buying what we’re selling.

What do we do?

As leaders, we try our best to play “Doctor Mom” or “Doctor Dad.” We make quick, prudent diagnoses of those who are SAD, offering prescriptions to “fix ‘em up.” 

Easy as that … Right?

Well, as a leader, I didn’t always think so. 

I tried all sorts of these motivational promotions from companies all-too-willing to flood my desk with catalogues of mailbox stuffers, happy-land posters, and workday-well wishes for the staff announcements.  Atta-boy’s and Rah Rah’s can last a quarter or two on a game clock, but typically not a quarter or two on a school calendar.  They didn’t work for me all too well.

Wanting to involve greater minds than mine for ideas as I composed this short-read, I reached out to friends in the Twitter universe and found that they offered more creative ideas for keeping high the energy level in schools.  A leader’s meaningful, genuine efforts to recognize, to reward, and to accentuate the positive were first on our colleagues’ lists.  They suggested that by finding those magic moments, making the most of “the present,” and asking staff what they, themselves, needed to get through this mid-winter stretch, leaders would make headway.  The key, my colleagues felt, was in listening to others and of course, smiling … authentically smiling.  I would agree wholeheartedly.  I certainly smiled when I heard the ideas for staff snowball fights and morning floor hockey. 

Through these and other conversations, along with the pleasure of reading a few excellent books, I think I have uncovered the most important part of what we as leaders must do in our schools to help others get through through this season’s Cabin Fever …

We must diagnose and cure our own. 

Yes, we must take care of ourselves first, yet, we often do not. 

We’re often in denial. 

Just like parents, sometimes when we have a fever (Cabin Fever, or otherwise), we stoically plow forward, not under any circumstances letting anyone else know we’re not well.   Yet, is this really doing anyone, any good? 

This week, I received a request to write a conference abstract for one of my upcoming presentations.  As I put some thought into what I wanted to say, I thought of our Tweets this week, and the Leadershop as well, and entitled it, When the masks drop, put YOURS on first. 

Here is what I wrote:

[Our] role is more of a calling than a job … more a mission than a position … in fact, a true labor of love.  As human service professionals, we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy operating altruistically, thinking of others before we think of ourselves, don’t we?  Yet, are we truly “helping” those who depend upon us to the degree that we can, when we do just that?!?  Airline personnel would remind us that if turbulence is present and the oxygen masks drop, we should affix OUR OWN, before fastening those of our children.  This is based upon the premise that unless we are first fully capable of helping others through a clear body and mind, then we are “no help at all.”  [There exists] the unapologetic necessity of focusing first on meeting our own needs while working in the helping professions, in that by doing so, we will be more effectively positioned to help others with theirs.  Being self-ful is the key that pays itself forward.

The cure for Cabin Fever? 

Ironically, might I suggest that in the midst of moving forward with the many good ideas that our colleagues on Twitter suggest, we should first ensure we are operating on all cylinders. Putting on our own oxygen masks first is not selfish; it is self-ful.

We can then navigate more effectively through our cabins, until we can open the windows and let-in a little fresh air, whereupon spring fever will bring about the exciting need for an entirely different prescription regimen.


Dr. Ryan Donlan studies school wellness and would hope that you should share ideas on how you apply your own oxygen masks with the intent of being self-ful.  If you would like to share, will you please contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at  Thanks for visiting the Leadershop!