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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Monday, October 26, 2015

Who Finds Whom in K-12?

Who Finds Whom in K-12?

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

A very perceptive veterinarian said to me recently, “Did you find the kitten, or did the kitten find you?”
Sitting atop the vet’s silver slab of a chest-high table wriggled a skinny, sneezing, calico kitten with worms and a respiratory infection, found the night before as we sat on our family’s back deck.
I heard a faint meow at dusk.  Then responded with a meow of my own.  Another response – from a small voice, possibly below the deck or near our backyard’s woods line, as my family gathered. 
After about a half hour of conversation (kitty and me) from a distance, a pensive, hungry-looking kitten approached cautiously, and eventually found its way to my lap.  After some petting, purring, people food, and some water, we offered it a soft corner in our second garage, and after a night’s sleep, my wife and I made a trip to the grocery store for some essentials. 

So, “Did we find the kitten, or did the kitten find us?”

Our finding the kitten might imply that we were the ones doing the rescuing.
The kitten finding us might imply the opposite.

In thinking through this, I reflected that we were almost two years into accepting the passing of our aging Weimaraner, Zachary, our “dog-son” that pre-dated the births of our two children. 
Had we been avoiding another attachment?
Were we now the busy family machine and, not-as-much, a family?
Did we need something to slow us down and re-focus?

If so, then the kitten might have found us.

As educators, when we see those malnourished (at times, snarly) little kittens [Eddie, Haley, or whomever comes to mind] in our schools and classrooms, coming to us with all of their figurative sneezes, worms, and hunger, do we take the time to notice?
Do we speak to them in their own language, first? 
Do we spend enough time so that they trust? 
Do we offer what we have, even if a leftover?
Do we shop for suitable supplies, even if busy?
Do we accommodate their needs? 
Do we seek-out additional treatment from someone more knowledgeable? 
If no one is willing to step-up and parent, do we adopt?

And in the midst of whatever we provide, large or small, do we pause and ask the question, “Did we find these little [kittens], or did they find us?” 
And for what reasons were they sent?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is wondering who finds whom in our schools and classrooms, and further, whether or not our intended K-12 caretakers receive more each day that we recognize.  Not all resources are finite, he would argue, and would love to discuss this further at 812-237-8624 or

Friday, October 16, 2015

Workload Management

Workload Management

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

I was particularly excited when asked to speak on a panel at the Indiana State University New Faculty Orientation series on the topic, Workload Management.  Must be that I’m perceived as fairly productive, as there’s typically an implicit prerequisite for such in panel selection. 
It also doesn’t probably hurt that my daily smile is authentic. 
I do admit to having a lot of fun at work, which has a lot to do with sound management principles that I believe are a part of my life. 
So, in preparing my remarks, I pondered, What advice would I give to new faculty? I then realized that much of what assists in my current workload management, helped when I was a K-12 educator as well.   
Workload management is not something that we should do in response to the demands placed upon us; it is more what we can provide ourselves proactively, regardless of the demands or situation.
It’s really a method of “rolling life and work” similarly, authentically, and smartly. 
Any of us can thrive in workload management, if we consider doing the following . . .

Measure twice and cut once before accepting professional positions or newfound responsibilities.  If we study the people making offers for us to work with them, we’ll better be able to ascertain whether or not they will enhance or inhibit our professional qualities of life. 

Ensure that we are very much “a fit” for what we do, as the nature of workload management (in terms of clock-hours) is, at times, not-at-all one of work-life balance.  In ensuring “a fit,” we will find that our professional roles and expectations match our needs and personalities.

Consider “confluence” as one method of accomplishing workload management, which might for example, call for our laptops to be with us while barbecuing in the evenings, yet with intermittent bursts of “compartmentalization,” such as keeping away from e-mails (and workload) during our children’s sporting events or activities.

Know the relative importance of things on our plate, in terms of our supervisors’ thoughts on “where” we allocate our time and talent.  The “classic” challenge while I was in K-12 was focusing on classroom instruction, when so many people wanted a piece of my time, typically for their own urgencies.  The same holds true now in protecting time for scholarship, with ongoing demands for the other parts of “me.”  We must also recognize where we tend to spend our time and should avoid gravitating disproportionally to those areas that are our favorites, as we’ll find that our less-favorites become harder to accomplish when we’re pressured to catch-up on them.

Manage what we do intentionally and make investments that count in multiple arenas.  In higher education, this would mean that when we invest in our teaching, our workload in terms of scholarship and service is positively impacted as well.  In K-12, this might be envisioned in terms of instructional leadership, building management, and social capital.  In business, it might include products, profits, and people.  Does each investment of time and talent reap triple dividends across our areas of expected performance?

Know what we need to recharge our batteries each evening, as this will help us better manage the next day.  This is typically accomplished through recognition of whether we are extroverted, and thus need to be around people to energize, or introverted, and thus need a bit of solitude. 

Prioritize relationships over tasks, and in terms of the relationships we have at work, make many more “deposits” than “withdrawals” with those around us.  Expecting more of ourselves toward the positive output of others is the way to go.

Have “good friends” at work.  Life’s too short to think that we have to separate business and pleasure, all the time.

Take something off our bosses’ plates, as often as we can.  It will allow them to take something off their bosses’ plates as well.  Paying things upward is simply the right thing to do and does not go unnoticed.

Be around.  Be visible.  Be available.  Other people will then be able to connect with us, which may increase our collaborative opportunities that, themselves, manage our workload.


Dr. Ryan Donlan doesn’t as much believe moving toward better workload management means deciding WHAT one does in the limited time available, yet rather HOW one does all that is expected, and desired. He is also interested in learning how you achieve optimal workload management as well, so please be encouraged to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rainy Days in K-12

Rainy Days in K-12

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

Seems as though, at times, some in our profession need an uplift, as if they walk about early in the week thinking to themselves:

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothin’ ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothin’ to do but frown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down
(Williams & Nichols, (1971).

What we can offer them is a kind smile, of course, and for the ones who delight in deeper conversation in the lounge or break room, a way to unleash their minds through an appeal to their right-brained intellect.  Here’s one such way.

This week, for leadership whose staffs are truly seeing less-often “the sun” in K-12 education, I am hoping you’ll have a discussion and look at the rain differently, just as I had the opportunity last Saturday while sitting on my deck amidst all that was cool, wet, and clammy.
In doing so, I jotted down a few things I noticed about rainy days, as I thought of my time in K-12 and even that now in higher education (friends Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker have aptly addressed Mondays).
Those few things follow. 
In reading what I have written, can you make the connections [for each] to your K-12 experience, and would you be willing to share with a friend or colleague?  Please feel free to disagree and note that some may just not fit. 
You might divide them among your PLC groups, or however you like.

A Rainy Day  . . .

Allows us “open-eyed clarity” over the more frequent “squint,” borne of unrepentant glare;

Prevents “sunburn” caused by “overexposure”;

Provides an excuse to get “less done here,” so we can focus “more on there”;

Brings “family” together all under “one roof”;

Provides “balance and sustenance” to an environment lacking such;

Invites “an umbrella,” and an opportunity for the discovery of vulnerability, or vanity;

Provides a natural “facelift” to our pathways, playgrounds, parks, and professional settings;

Offers, in the midst of our hurry and clutter, “ambient soundscapes” that are calming;

Allows for the collection of resources, and thus “energy” that is economically regenerative;

Gives us a deepened appreciation that days often considered regular, whatever the weather, are “a gift.”


This is not so much an activity for those seeking “coffee-mug happy’s” or “bumper-sticker smileys”; rather, ones who wish to stretch their socio-psychological understandings of the larger “permissions” that affect us through rainy days at work, AND the resultant effects upon how our children view the world themselves, through our lead.

Best to you as you turn your minds and make a vicarious difference, while the skies open.


Williams, P., Nichols, R. (1971). (Recorded by The Carpenters). On Carpenters [The Tan Album].  New York, NY: Jack Daugherty Productions, A&M.


Please join Ryan Donlan in opening-up to the world around us and making a connection that we can share in the ISU Ed. Leadershop.  We would love to give credit to your good thoughts, while putting together relevant pieces for K-12 to share.  Just give Dr. Donlan a call at (812) 237-8624 or write at