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, December 9, 2015

A Great Principal's "Any-Given Afternoon"

A Great Principal’s “Any-Given Afternoon”

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

            As I drove down a Michigan expressway earlier today, I called my wife and asked her to verify an address: I was going to make an impromptu (admittedly uninvited) visit to the school-building address of Principal Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat) of Morrish Elementary School in Swartz Creek Michigan, who was kind enough recently to endorse an upcoming book that I have coming out with Dr. Steve Gruenert.
            I wanted to thank her and to see what she was up to.
            Michele has a large social media following, an international professional learning network; she is the co-author of COLchat Reflections: Creating a Culture of Learning One Day at a Time, and has a reputation for being an incredibly successful K-12 school leader, and thus one of the busiest people on the planet. 
One might assume you can’t just drop by and see someone like this, but I bet different.   
Michele is a GREAT building principal.
            I didn’t have much time, as I was traveling between destinations myself, yet I was betting that at 4:30 p.m. today, Michele might be quite predictable, indeed.  She would probably be in her building, helping teachers and staff wind down their days, helping others wind-up their evenings, and doing about a hundred things that she didn’t get done during the day, because folks needed her to do other things. 
I was right.
In pulling into my parking space, I saw Michele with a smile at the school’s entrance, greeting families as they were visiting, waving to others who were leaving, and helping with what I believed was a school fundraiser.
These things weren’t delegated. 
Michele didn’t have a small army of “peeps” handling her clerical or public relations work.  Like other great K-12 leaders I know, she was assuming the lion’s share of everything that was going on at that moment in time. 
She was “principaling,” even with few people left in the building.
And the best part about it . . . she made me feel like a million dollars when I arrived.  I would have thought that I was the only one in the building, even with her greeting others by name as they passed, making them feel like a million dollars as well.
I began this week writing a Leadershop article on the conditions of our school buildings after the day is done.  I might not run it, because my interests have shifted, yet I will say this about that topic: I believe if schools have a culture that engenders pride and self-worth, a principal’s school building at the conclusion of any given day will still allow principals to impress visitors with how nice everything looks. 
Morrish Elementary was such a place.
What a great feeling to be in Michele’s “house,” even if staying only a few minutes.   I enjoyed our brief talk.  I look forward to visiting again, maybe with some warning.
What I will say in closing is how much pride I have knowing that our best principals around the nation, like Michele Corbat, are probably quite predictable in what they might be doing, whom they might be greeting, and where they might be making a true difference, on any given afternoon . . .
. . . At their school entrances, in their office doorways, or readying for a school event, doing too many things to count, yet ensuring that when we visit, we feel like the only ones on their calendars, at those moments in time.


Dr. Ryan Donlan believes that K-12 principals keep him relevant.  If you’re a building principal, please continue helping him in this regard by contacting him from time to time and letting him know “What’s Up?” in your building, and thus allowing him to pass-on the story of how you make a difference to his PhD students, as well as the groups to which he speaks.  He can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Do They Know Their Influence? Maxine, Shirley, and Lauren

Do They Know Their Influence?
Maxine, Shirley, and Lauren

By Dr. Nicole Singer
Assistant Principal
Leo Jr./Sr. High School, East Allen County Schools

As a writer new to the Ed Leadershop, I reviewed numerous past installments in order to ascertain how my writing should feel to the reader. I determined that many of the posts were written in a conversational tone and took an ordinary, everyday event and applied it to life, as well as leadership.
While sitting at a recent professional development session where Drs. Donlan, Gruenert, and Whitaker presented, I wondered what the purpose of the session was, as my “left-brained” mind had trouble following along. The session was entitled, Minds Unleashed: How Principals Can Lead the Right-Brained Way.  When the session ended, it became clear the goal was to cause us to think differently and to look at things through a different lens . . . even if after knowing this, we would have difficulty finding meaning.
I had this difficulty, and yet used a bit of reflection to my advantage.
On the over two-hour solo drive home, I had time to think and began to synthesize what I had learned over the years at State, throughout my eighteen years in education (ten in educational administration), and in life.
One thing became completely evident: I need people in my life.
I know, you are probably wondering how this revelation of needing people in my life is looking at something through a different lens. Well, until this point, unless you read the byline, I have not identified myself. All I will say at this point is that I am a female leader in school administration working in a sea of men and sometimes one that must have a thick skin in order to really hear people and understand their perspective.
I have been nicknamed “The High Commander” by some.
I’d like to think the nickname conjures images of Condoleeza Rice, Colon Powell, Mother Theresa, or Abraham Lincoln (all great leaders), but I’m not sure that was the intent of the nickname.  Not minding the intention, I take the name as a high compliment.  All of those individuals are wise, respected, consistent, and fair.
Who could go wrong following these leaders?
Now, back to needing people … I need the right people.
As a female leader, it is important to have different kinds of people in my life, each with his or her own roles to fulfill. My right people start with the woman I admire most – my grandmother. She was not educated past the 8th grade, but boy, could that woman spell. And, I am not sure ever a day went by for her where hard work was not a part of it.  She raised five boys, handled live snakes left in pockets, and cooked for what was a small army.
I recall a story she once told about one particular evening. Grandma shared that she was playing baseball with her boys one summer after dinner, and a neighbor lady inquired why she was playing ball instead of doing dishes. Grandma looked the neighbor lady in the eye and said, “My boys will only be young once. Those dishes will be there tomorrow.”
What grit to go against the grain in the 1950s!
Next is the woman who taught me all the things I didn’t learn at home. This woman taught me to think for myself, to be confident, to dress well, and to act like a lady no matter the situation (sometimes I need to do this better).  She also taught me to cook, sew, as well as to understand the value of fine china and to be passionate about what is important.
So many of these skills, learned in my formative teenage years, have made me the graceful woman I am today.
Lastly, I turn to the woman who gives me my energy.
This young lady is a former student of mine, turned close friend.  She is professional, not afraid to live life to the fullest (and on the spur of the moment), and what she says is gold. Her determination has taken her far in her 26 years, and I am excited to be a part of the journey as she continues in life.  
My only fear, really, is that I am turning into her Woman #2, but I guess that is not all bad.
You are probably thinking, this lady (me) has had some strong, positive females in her life, but how does that have anything to do with looking at things through a different lens?  Well, it was during that solo ride home from a leadership conference when I realized I am who I am, because of these women.
I have grit, grace, and gumption.
I challenge you to think differently about who has made you the leader you are.
Ask yourself, “Who has shaped me?”
“How have they influenced my life?”
“How have they made me who I am?”
Then do something it takes courage to do, something that many may find a bit different: Consider telling them exactly what they mean to you. Those words may truly be the best gift they could ever receive.
And as one of the great men in my life, Dr. Terry McDaniel, might say, “It could be their lollipop moment.”


Dr. Nicole Singer is a Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education at Indiana State University.  She is a school leader, dedicated to educational excellence in our nation’s schools, and can be reached at: