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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Invisible Time

Invisible Time

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

            I’m thankful my old colleagues in K-12 would put up with me when scheduled to make presentations at conferences, as I wanted to arrive long-before our sessions would start.  Sometimes, arriving the day before, I would ask conference-center or hotel staff to open our assigned breakout rooms, so that I could see the functionality of the rooms, the placement of the equipment (laptops, LCD’s, plug-in’s etc.), and even the arrangement of furniture.
            In doing so, I would try to “fix” pretty much, everything that wasn’t conducive to our presentation.
            I called this my “Invisible Time.”
            Invisible Time allowed me to do whatever I needed to do in preparation for any given event, so that when folks arrived, I would be ready to focus on THEM, not necessarily on the tasks needed to get things going. 
Nearing show time, I’d even go so far as to ensure that background music was playing, lapel mics were affixed, and beverages were refilled, before the doors would open.  Conference logistics would often make this more difficult, with back-to-back concurrent sessions, so I was known to request that my sessions were held after lunch or after the morning keynote, so that nothing occurred directly in my room prior.
            As much as this spoke to my affliction of “overthink,” it gave me peace of mind as I would watch fellow presenters arrive on-time (which is “late”), with the oft-predicted technology’s needing triage, resulting in a clunky start and a general disconnect with participants.
            Now that I’m presenting more often, I don’t always have the luxury of an early arrival, so I have adapted my shtick to one requiring shorter amounts of Invisible Time. 
            Still, I use it.
            My presentation experiences have informed my perspectives on school leadership, as well. 
I strongly believe that K-12 leaders are “on-stage,” most every moment of the day.  Inescapably, school leaders are the breakout presenters, if not the keynotes of their schools, as they have a ready-made audience watching their every move, hanging on every word, and never going away.
            I often teach K-12 school leaders that they can never be seen focusing entirely on “setting up” for any given exchange, as they are “delivering” from the moment their vehicles hit the parking lots, or in some cases, leave the house.   This is where it becomes imperative that school leaders intentionally schedule Invisible Time,”so that they can be all about “Showtime.”
            As a K-12 leader, where is your Invisible Time?
            Is it in the office before others arrive?
            In the school library, in a quiet corner?
            In your favorite teacher’s classroom?
            After school, once everyone leaves the building?
            If during the day, it demands a #2 who can handle any given situation as good as you (or hopefully better), which will keep people satisfied when they don’t have your ear.
            Wherever and however this Invisible Time takes place, two components regarding its use are critical:  (1) That you take time to DO something (handling tasks so that you can be all about relationships when again visible), and (2) That you take time to THINK and unleash your mind. 
The latter is where principals often shortchange themselves.
            A principal with who uses Invisible Time is more creative, more at peace in relationships, and thus, more effective.
            Consider how many actors are successful when they neglect to THINK about their lines, as well as how they’ll come across to an audience once “Action!” is called.
            K-12 leaders are such actors.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is keenly interested in not only the WHAT of K-12 leadership, but also the HOW. Toward this end, he encourages school leaders to use Invisible Time to hone and craft their academy-award performances.  If you would like to share a script that you have studied in a starring role, please don’t hesitate to call him at (812) 237-8624 or write him at

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