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Monday, August 10, 2015

A Mouse in the Hunt

A Mouse in the Hunt

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

I have heard for years about the outstanding service provided by those employed in the Disney organization, yet it wasn’t until this past week that I saw it first-hand. 
Our family went on a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
As I find it hard to turn-off my faculty role, I couldn’t help but noticing things about the Disney experience that apply to K-12 leadership. 
First, the Disney “cast” – everyone from the bus drivers to the Mouse in costume – considered Walt Disney World our family’s home.  “Welcome Home” was a common expression on Magic Kingdom Express shuttles, at our resort hotel, and in the various parks we visited. 
It felt like our home, with most of the good stuff, and more.      
In addition, Disney cast members used every opportunity to celebrate people individually and to invite them to feel special.  My wife and children had never visited Disney, so they got the “First-Time Visitor” buttons, yet even though I mentioned that I had been there as a child, so did I. 
Another example -- my daughter Katelyn’s birthday is in July . . . mine too.  Given the number of weeks hence, we were still given “Happy Birthday” pins.  Must’ve heard a hundred times, “Happy Birthday Katelyn, and to you too Ryan.”  
We were celebrated.
Moreover, the “Disney default” to [what could be considered] shortsighted questions, as I often ask them, was not a weird look or rebuff, yet instead a kind affirmation and an explanation that did not embarrass me in front of my children.
One example was when I asked a counter clerk for a tour of Cinderella’s Castle after the late-night fireworks.  I didn’t realize that Disney really doesn’t give tours of the Castle (a short walkway under an arch is what is available, unless one has reservations for a Princess meal upstairs).  Yet at 11:00 p.m. after a long shift, this cast member’s response was very cordial, even in that this was probably the thousandth time something similar was asked since her shift began. 
Some might say that we in public education could take a page out of the Disney playbook for welcome-home treatment, celebrations, and affirmations.  To a degree, they may have a point, as we can always improve.  Yet, something else was in play that I feel in fairness to those serving in K-12, I should mention.
I call it having a “mouse in the hunt.” 
It has to do with parents.
Probably the more familiar expression would be “having a dog in the hunt” (or some investment in what one is experiencing) yet “mouse” seems appropriate, given last week’s location. 
Having a “mouse in the hunt” seems to influence how parents behave while bringing their children to a place that they hope is going to be life-changing – like Walt Disney World (or I would argue, school).
To explain this “mouse” thing, let me share that I was standing directly in front of Cinderella’s castle at 8:30 p.m. getting positioned among a crowd that would grow to thousands for the Disney parade and fireworks.  I knew it would be a long evening, but Wendy and I were on a mission to provide memories for our family. 
Among us were countless parents much like ourselves – dinner-table-eating, manners-modeling parents, who understood that everything our children noticed us doing that evening would one day serve as a playbook for their own parenting.
What fascinated me, however, is that some others were there as well – ones very familiar yet much different, including those folks that we see treat counter clerks with disdain at our local gas stations . . . those who yell at their children at the county fair, even louder when others are listening . . . and those who expect to be first in line when they arrive late. 
These folks were there too, among thousands crowded tightly.
Yet, amazingly, much more so than usual, these folks were on their better behavior. 
And their kids were watching.  Their kids were learning.
It was cool.
The reality was that the behavior of most of these folks was better than they typically display at home, in our local communities, and most certainly in our schools.
As I pondered this, I hoped it was because they knew the value of Disney as a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for their own children . . . or a byproduct of the way the cast around them was inviting them to feel.
Yet, my pragmatism suggested to me that the better behavior might as well be a result of deeper investment (monetary or otherwise), which resulted in folks stepping beyond old habits and checking themselves?
A result of having a “mouse in the hunt.”
Given this possibility, how does this apply to K-12 education? 
Could we as educators more often encourage (or require), at minimum, a mousely investment on the part of parents and stakeholders, coupled with a bit more that we can do ourselves as K-12 cast members, to garner the cooperation and better behavior from parents that I witnessed in Disney? 
Would this be volunteering?  Paying a fee?  Logging time at home spent in support of their children’s academics?
Not sure.
Maybe over this next school year, we can develop ideas to put more of the “mouse in the hunt” in our partnerships, subtly requiring more of families though investment, while asking even more of our own cast members in terms of welcome-home treatment, celebrations, and affirmations.
Through such, children and parents might, more often, consider our schools and the experiences we provide, destination events, as we know them to be.


Dr. Ryan Donlan considers it an honor to be able to sit-back and think about things that will allow us better to serve children and families in the K-12 experience.  He also strives to find ways parents can invest their talents to make the most out of their children’s learning experience.  Please feel free to contact him at any time at (812) 237-8624 or at 

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