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, January 20, 2016

Shifting the Monkey: "Mine vs. Yours," to "Ours"

Shifting the Monkey: “Mine vs. Yours,” to “Ours”

By Dr. E. Scott England
Northside Elementary School
Fairfield, Illinois
Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Bad words. 
We’re taught from a young age not to use them. 
At the very least, we are taught not to use them in professional settings.  But what about a series of “good” words that come together to form bad statements? 
Allow us to explain.
We’ll begin with the phrase, “That’s my job.”  It’s innocent enough, to the point, maybe even said with a bit of pride and an inflated chest.  Innocence comes to a screeching halt, however, when one adds the word not. 
Our eardrums shudder when we hear someone say, “That’s not my job” or “That’s not my problem.”  Indulge us for a moment as we set the scene.
Imagine we’re at a restaurant.  It’s a busy, up-and-coming restaurant with a fresh menu and inviting atmosphere.  We’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about the Mediterranean salad.  We place our order, looking forward to the homemade sundried tomato vinaigrette dressing drizzled over the delicious salad topped with feta cheese.  As the server turns to leave, we remember: “Would it be at all possible to get that without olives?”  The server smiles and says absolutely.
Back in the kitchen, the server puts in the order with the chefs before rushing back out to serve another table.  After a while our order comes up in the kitchen ready to be delivered.  As our server grabs it, she notices it has olives.  Bringing it to the attention of the kitchen staff, the chef tells the server it wasn’t written on the ticket. 
The server apologizes. 
With a roll of the eyes and shrug of the shoulder the chef says, That’s not my problem, as he turns his attention back to cooking.  Not to be rebuffed, the server comes back with a quick, Fixing it is not my job. 
We now have a problem, and stuck in the middle of it all is our Mediterranean salad that is slowly absorbing the aroma of olive.
In the case of your salad—as is with most cases—someone will intervene to solve the problem.  Maybe it’s the disgruntled chef, the offended server, or even the owner.  In all honesty, even the maître dˊ is qualified.  But are there winners and losers?  Can we even really have a winner in this situation? 
Let’s apply the same scenario to education.
Imagine a teacher coming to a principal seeking guidance about a student with behavioral problems.  Obviously to us, a response of That’s not my job is not going to set well with the teacher.  It probably wouldn’t happen explicitly, but what about the implicitly?

Principal: “What I’m hoping that you’ll do is to talk with your mentor teacher about how to exhaust all of your best efforts before sending the student to the office and removing from class.” (That’s not my job)
Principal: “I’d be happy to send you to some professional development on Assertive Discipline.” (That’s not my job)
Principal: “Have you talked with the guidance counselor about the student?” (That’s not my job)
Principal: “Will you please let me know how your conversation goes with the parents?” (That’s not my job)

What all of these iterations have in common is one thing: An abrogation of responsibility.
More so, it WILL become the principal’s job when efforts fall short and that student does something to make an office visit, and more serious consequences, unavoidable. 

Instead, a principal might jump at the opportunity to serve as a teacher of teachers – to guide teachers through various classroom management practices and model them directly.  The same should apply with assessment strategies, communication skills, technology practices, and so forth. 
This is not-at-all to say that the principal should be the best teacher in the building, as many instructional leadership proponents seem to contend for effective principaling.  Rather, principals should be open, resourceful, and persistent in asking no more of their folks than they would try themselves, in full view of all around them.

For example: How about the irate parent? 
In this case, we are referring to the irate parent who, as a hobby, causes grief to anyone in the school district, more often than not without cause, and typically follows up his/her expletives with a rant on Facebook.  Well, circumstances often call for the teacher delivering a note or in some way communicating to the parent, with rebuff and retribution a certainty.  We would pose in circumstances where principals have considered effective modeling, and through such an expansion of their own job duties, teachers might be more apt to follow-through. 
In those circumstances of clear demarcation, the engendered faculty response might be stopping by the office to inform the principal that he informed the parent if there is any issue needing follow-up, an appointment can be made with the principal. 
School culture borne of leadership influence allows them to say, indirectly … That’s not my job! 
This pernicious perspective begets a complicated array of skewed paradigms and professional finger-pointing, all of which do nothing to bring schools and families together around the important, common interest of parental involvement toward a quality education for everyone’s children.  That’s not my problem becomes banter for both sides. 

Strategies for dealing with these situations and many others, once derailed, as well as how to prevent them altogether, can be found in our friend and colleague, Dr. Todd Whitaker’s book Shifting the Monkey (Whitaker, 2012). 
When That’s not my job! rears its homely utterance, the situation is typically associated with one of two phenomena: (a) A monkey is being shifted by a lazy, shirking employee (or possibly a good person working for a poor leader) or (b) A monkey shifting back to its correct spot but is being rejected by a lazy, shirking employee (or possibly a good person working for a poor leader). 
As you can see, these phrases (in most cases) bring negative outcomes.
This is not to say we as leaders shouldn’t, at times, think these thoughts.  It’s okay to admit how annoying it is to us when teachers pass off an irate parent for the sake of not wanting to deal with them.  It is okay to think This is not my problem. 
But imagine the detriment that ensues when a leader operationalizes these thoughts into behavior, either intended or unintended.  Shifting the monkey professionally, yet clearly, while modeling what needs to be modeled to assist in skill development along the way, lets others know, first, that the educational challenges that present themselves really are, OUR jobs, as is our success at rectifying them. 
Schools are busy places full of busy people.  A sure way to drive uphill in this congestion would be to allow the phrases That’s not my job and That’s not my problem to become more the rule than the exception. 
Leaders who take the time to educate their teams and staffs on how to handle situations they may feel unprepared to tackle (and thus, SHIFT THE APPROPRIATE MONKEYS as Dr. Whitaker teaches us) bring about an expansion of everyone’s job description so that a daily reality of “All hands on deck” allows everyone to handle our daily reality -- All Other Duties as Assigned.


Whitaker, T. (2012). Shifting the monkey: The art of protecting good people from liars, criers, and other slackers. Bloomington, IN: Triple Nickel Press.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

It's 2016: Where's Your Hammock?

It’s 2016: Where’s Your Hammock?

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

            School principals can kill their schools in just a few years (Donlan & Gruenert, 2016).  Eerily (and ironically), it only requires they do a handful of things that some K-12 leaders, at times, belief will save schools, ideas suckled through bottles of imposed accountability.
            It’s now 2016. 
Consider that through federal reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we might be seeing a possible pendulum swing away from nationally prescriptive school-running.  Wouldn’t this be sweet?  With this opportunity, we encourage you to embrace even further your leadership prowess, if given more opportunities for local control and innovation. 
Yet be mindful of the risks involved, as any opportunities we now have, bring with them an obligation to step away from certain tunes that have been playing in our heads since 2002 –  a player-piano of extrinsic school improvement measures promulgated for an intrinsic profession. 
We certainly don’t want you grooving to that beat and unintentionally killing your school.
            Thus, we propose a New Year’s resolution for principals and teams.
The most relevant gift that you could give your school in terms of a leadership do-over is to promise to spend 5 to 15 minutes each week with a closed office door, doing something with the right side of your brain.  And we encourage you to ask your teachers and staff to do the same. 
It’ll be time well-spent!

Metaphorically, we want you to install a hammock.

What’s this? 
Plainly and simply, it’s taking time for YOU to build your personal and professional capacity.  Take time to read something different, just once each week.  Maybe it’s a blog, or a book of weekly reads.  It could even be children’s literature, or poetry.  Might even be that you listen to classical music, or as we like . . . classic rock.  You might simply look out the window, at the sky, or think back to your last trip to the gas station or convenience store.  It might be looking through an old photo album or yearbook, reminiscing on what used to work, and can again. 
What we’re asking you to do is to turn your mind to the right (its creative side) and apply disparate concepts to the way you do your job.  Think about how all of these different things you see in life, each and every day, apply to leadership or teaching, and could potentially be used to improve student success. 
Lie down on your metaphorical hammock, if only briefly, and don’t feel guilty about it.

            By asking “Where’s your hammock?” (Donlan & Gruenert, 2016), we mean:

“Where do you go, during school hours for a few minutes each week, to ponder uninterruptedly?” 
“Where do you spend a few moments each day, thinking unconventionally?”
“How do you carve out a brief respite in the right side of your brain, amidst a left-driven job description?”

            These are important questions for leaders to begin thinking about themselves, and then sharing with teams, by way of example and activity. 
            It’s especially important as it seems that at times, it is difficult to reach our school’s vision (a right-brained ideal, by the way) by way of our school’s mission (our left-brained train ride).  A linear path rarely results in a non-linear outcome.
How about a right-brained school mission instead? 
Not necessarily the redevelopment of your mission’s WHAT; rather your mission’s HOW.
Consider these specifics as starters:
Can we unleash our leadership minds and think of a new way of getting from here, to there (wherever here and there are, for you)?  More particularly, could the year 2016 be one in which our Professional Learning Communities take on a different look, possibly more “data-informed,” than “data-driven” . . . more “adult-centered” with permission to actually pay attention to the needs of adults . . . more focused on what we know are the right things to do, rather than what we’re told must happen? 
We believe that schools can function no higher than the personal and professional capacities of those doing the educating, and to be quite frank as we share in our Indiana Principal Leadership Institute, a school can perform no higher than its leader.
That’s YOU.
Imagine the possibilities if in the year 2016, principals and their teams could have deeper conversations about what schools could be, and what schools must do, taking just a short time each week to do it.  We might suggest supplanting the next review of a pacing guide or lesson-debrief with some hammock time for some creative thinking. 
Why not have your team bring their hammocks together in the staff lounge, or at a local coffee shop? Have some fun.  Turn your minds.  Talk about something different.  Do something together that you typically don’t do.
            Imagine if we took the time at staff meetings to provide space, then voice, to those more introverted, especially those who are rarely heard  Wouldn’t it be cool if those of us in the profession entrusted with training children to think, would actually be given time and permission from leadership to think, ourselves?  The culture may tell you not to do it . . . a recent tweet from a business consultant reminds us that if our new hires do not embrace the current culture, then there will be issues with trust, yet if that new hire is the principal, then nothing will change. Nothing will change without some creative thinking prior to the change.
Thinking might make teaching thinking skills a bit easier.
Bob Chadwick from Consensus Associates once noted, “To go fast, sometimes you have to go slow.”  Thoughts of Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare come to mind as well, as we ask you to consider not only the pacing guides of your teachers and classrooms, but also the pacing guides for your leadership and your lives. 
Could we all reap a bit more return on our investment with a weekly “downshift,” or as we say, time on a hammock thinking of ways we could re-experience our profession?
It’s now 2016, and thus, we ask by way of resolution, “Where’s your hammock?”


Donlan, R., & Gruenert, S. (2016). Minds unleashed: How principals can lead the right-brained way. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.


Dr. Ryan Donlan and Dr. Steve Gruenert invite you to join them as they unleash their minds to talk about school reinvention, in terms of reform, redesign, and reimagination.  They can be reached at or