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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 

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