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, April 20, 2016

Helping Our Kids Succeed

Helping Our Kids Succeed

By Nada Almutairi
Ph.D. Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

            Teachers think about different ways to raise their class’s test scores.
Leaders in schools think about different ways to increase their school’s test scores.
However, teachers are hardwired, more holistically, to think about making a difference in students’ social, emotional, physical, and academic success. They know that the most important duty of educators is to assist students in reaching their potential and inspiring children to discover their inner passions to learn and thrive in the world.  
            Today most schools and teachers use grading practices in school courses as a gauge to determine, and share information regarding, test-readiness and life preparation. But when educators focus so intently on an academic curriculum to increase test scores, the result runs the risk of kids’ memorizing a bunch of information that will be forgotten, long before it is applied.
            Life experience will not as readily utilize what is learned.  
            Also, with an overemphasis on grades and standardized testing, children may forgo the development of other skills they need, such as the soft skills necessary for collaboration in the workplace and the interpersonal skills necessary for positive relationships and friendships. Bookwork and tests may supplant deeper learning of things less academic, yet more “real.”
We believe that the perfect schools would blend the real world and that of an academic curriculum together, seamlessly. For instance, elementary students could simultaneously provide a flavor of learning in which the real world works in concert with any content’s core curriculum.
An expansion of student deskwork would be a good start.
Bell (2010) explained the use of Project-Based Learning, noting its use as a student-driven, yet teacher-facilitated, approach to inquiry, in which students could pursue information by asking questions stemming from each other’s curiosity. These questions could then guide them through research toward answers in line with their interests, aptitudes, and abilities.  Teachers would serve as guides, supervising students while they search for answers while work cooperatively with those who share their passion.
Collaboration, communication skills, and honoring each student’s learning style or preference are the keys in PBL.  Students are expected to solve real-world problems by designing their own explorations, planning their learning, and organizing their research. Teachers motivate each individual, as well as guiding and supervising each student (Bell, 2010).  We think of how children, worldwide, could benefit from an expansion of learning using constructivism, individualization, and activity.
This is no new concept to the Leadershop audience, we realize.  Yet why are we trying to tease out a bit of discussion, this week, on PBL?
As leaders, we believe that sad facet of education in both the third world and in countries quite developed is that defined by “teaching to the test.”  And a lot of this is occurring.
In this set-up, students may learn facts and ways to solve book-and-pencil problems, yet they fall short in developing connections between these facts and the real world in which they live.  When this happens, we believe students lose the value of learning.
Certainly, the value of lifelong learning is missed.
As we think of ourselves as relatively progressive in our pedagogy, pacing, and assessing, are we “on watch” to ensure that much of what we do in education today is not relying upon lower-level knowledge acquisition, dependent upon memorization without necessarily understanding? For instance, education in the Middle East oftentimes focuses on teaching students test-taking strategies, with much of the world thinking the United States is encouraging students to develop their discovering and thinking.  
Is much of the world correct in this assumption?
Probably not.
Surprisingly, education in the United States (USA) is moving toward a memorization paradigm, furthered certainly by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), yet in reality borne of an accountability movement predating.  A movement touting learning for all students unfortunately was derailed by a political and economic agenda that hasn’t worked out too well.
Ravitch (2013) noted No Child Left Behind’s standardized testing can provide useful information about students, yet as soon as the scores are tied to a staff’s job security, extrinsic motivators and scare tactics such as bonus structures and schools threatened with closure, the measures become goals, no longer indicators of how learning is occurring.
Good point, she has.
We may be starting, however, to turn things around. 
We’ll see.
Could an expansion of project-based learning be a nice start?
It might be, if states and local communities are encouraged to take risks, do things their own, way, and explore (as a model that students, themselves, could emulate). 
We know that project-based learning is important in that it teaches students by asking questions that pique their natural curiosity.  This choice will increase the joy of learning.  Also, we believe that project-based learning techniques will develop students’ self-efficacy during their school days, as well as their years in K-12, and thereafter. 
Could the same be said for the adults, if encouraged into projects of their own?
Admittedly, teaching students how to take tests is also important for their future. We adults know that.  It’s a part of life, and arguably a fairly important one.
Students after graduation from high school will face many standardized tests.  These standardized tests are for different careers that students plan to purses. Even our English Language Learners (ELL students) are required to prove their language proficiency by obtaining a TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language, or an IELTS - International English Language Testing System.  Yet once doing so, we’re all asked to demonstrate real-world competencies and soft skills in a collaborative workforce . . . in a collaborative society.
Thus, all things considered, let us call for a more equitable balance of academic and human capital development in our schools today.  Let us use creative strategies of lesson and content delivery to ensure our students will perform in all sectors of life, in all sectors of demand.
A balance of human development discourse in the context of uplifting academic achievement might be a viable pathway to pursue, if we wish to help our kids succeed, from where they are to an even better place. 
Wouldn’t we all prefer this for our children?


Bell S., (2010). Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future. The Clearing House, 83, 39-43

Ravitch, D. (2011, March 20). Obama's War on Schools. The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC. Retrieved from
Nada Almutairi and Ryan Donlan are concerned about global efforts to prioritize test-doing, over that of student development and lifelong love of learning.  If you like to join their conversation about ways we can re-evaluate how we’re measuring student success, and how we’re measuring our own, please be encouraged to contact them at or at  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Transformational Leadership through Environmental Architecture

Transformational Leadership through Environmental Architecture

By Rehab Al Ghamdi
Ph.D. Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Instilling transformational leadership is essential in any educational setup.

We, as educators, work industriously to motivate and engage students, facilitating their learning, reading, critical thinking, creating, collaborating, and becoming life-long learners as well as leaders in their contemporary surroundings.

This is by no means an easy feat.

Consider the excitement elicited and how we smile when students dive passionately into a subject, ask for extra reading time, or form cross-curricular links that excite them genuinely.  This does not happen without a good deal of intentionality, some lying below the surface of what is typically witnessed as the business of school. In this case, trying to make both ends meet is not an easy task. One such example is when educational administrators work toward moving levers in a school’s climate. This, at a much deeper level, begins to influence a longer-term organizational culture that encourages and propagates continuous learning as well as growth of both students and teachers.

This is environmental architecture.

According to Simon Sinek’s (2014) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, the concept of ENVIRONMENT is noted. When the environment at work is that of encouragement and meets the primary human requirements to learn and live, individuals are bound to do more than just survive . . . they thrive, as they feel valued and important. Environment also influences their behavioral changes (Tyson, 2013) and helps them to cope with different situations. 

They soar to greater heights.

School administrators are the immediate architects of environment, or they should at least try to be, as transformational leadership requires a place suited to making it happen.  Leaders are to take-up this responsibility and mold the appropriate environment.

This is especially important, as people are oriented with different preferences.

Kahler (2008) noted the importance of environmental preferences, demonstrating that depending on a person’s goal orientation and one’s preferences toward involvement or isolation, particular environments suit people better than do others in the workplace.  Different people would prefer different environments in which they work best. Some prefer to work one-on-one; some in groups, some on the fringes of groups (getting the lion’s share of attention), and some prefer to work discretely alone.  Therefore, individualized provisions of such environment would prove worthy to individuals, according to their preferences.

Each person has a chance to perform.

With the right environmental preferences, people can perform better, as more of their foundational needs of safety and security are considered.  Our best leaders consider it their obligation to construct the right environment (i.e. conditions) to make this possible. This is particularly important in terms of what we find that we can and cannot control as we work to lead organizations and as part of this, to manage people and ensure provide each with suitable environment. For instance, management can allow employees to restructure an office without their direct approval. This creates an environment in which one feels part of the office and entire work process.

People do have the attitude to change.

According to Sinek (2014), we do not have the power to “change people.”  However, we can change what occurs near or around them, which may invite a certain degree of change within them a bit more indirectly.  We can create a circle of safety (Sinek, 2014), which is really an environmental concept, as well as one of basic needs-attentiveness.

Management matters a lot in carrying out responsibility.

We wholeheartedly agree that effective educational administration involves empowerment, motivation, genuine concern for others, and creating the right environment that is conducive to the well-being of the whole person, whether staff or student. Yet, what is the right environment, when people differ so tremendously?  Common to the notion of transformational leadership through environmental architecture are the following:

First, school administrators must use environment to communicate vision and moral purpose.  In this case, they have to act effectively. It is not sufficient for leaders to have or verbally convey a moral purpose; they should capitalize on the symbols and create comforts of the space in which everyone works, to convey it, illuminate it, and a request for the commitment of others to it.  In doing so, leaders would mindfully organize the space in which we work, consequently selecting its components and asking, “Do my colors and textures match the intentionality of my expectations and obligations?” 

“Do form, fixtures, and functionality intersect in a way that message the mission and validate the vision?” Probably, this will steer a sense of change and actualization of ideas.

Secondly, school administrators must understand that space is under critical influence of the words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions of the persons in it. This concerns the administrators’ interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. People create their own backdrop of environmental visibility.  Because of such, administrators and teachers must constantly work not only to develop but also to maintain an upbeat relationship with others by instituting trust, mutual respect, as well as a safe learning environment.  This will determine to what extent persons walk about comfortably or conversely with a certain degree of defense mechanisms, dotting the environmental landscape.  Environmental wallpaper is, thus, important to the success of internal and external relationships.

Finally, school administrators must leverage environmental architecture in how they set examples for others and the images they create for the institution. Such leaders not only model but also display the very attributes they wish to inculcate in their students and see in their coworkers. The servers are their own teacher-leaders of the way business is done through people, providing not only the pallet, but also the paint.  Effective leaders motivate others by not only communicating but also modeling commitment, enthusiasm, flexibility, innovation and integrity. All of this works out to create an appropriate environment for each of them.

Provisions for appropriate environment are, in turn, paramount.

Therefore, as Sinek (2014) alluded to using different terms, but similar constructs, the creation of the right environment through transformational architecture is bound to motivate everyone within.  School administrators who create a safe, open and welcoming environment, will notice readily that students will feel more at ease while learning and the teachers will perform their best, leading to achievement of excellent results.   Such kind of an environment will make teachers and students feel empowered to take risks and develop to the best of their abilities.

Change is inevitable.

 It is simple really: for us to transform others and ourselves through leadership, we need a certain degree of finesse with our environmental architecture.

In conclusion, our leaders have it in within arm’s reach.

Our leaders have the responsibility in their possession to provide adequate and conducive environments.  The administrators would then otherwise assess and establish the preferences people have and provide them to ensure maximum productivity.

If leaders “get it right” on environment, then their folks will have the capacity to achieve remarkable things, expanding their capabilities. As Sinek (2014) reminded us . . . In the Marine custom, senior officers eat last, while their soldiers eat first.  This then charges our leaders to work their level best, to ensure each individual is satisfied in their environment.  In this regard, the assertion can be that our leaders have the charge to provide transformational leadership by creating adequate and conducive environments for everyone.

We would like to encourage our professionals to make this a part of their school cafeteria’s environmental wallpaper, as well, and have everything at its best.

Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model: Personality types with adaptations. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates, Inc.
Sinek, S. (2014). Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
Tyson, B. (2013). Social influence strategies for environmental behavior change. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc.

Rehab Al Ghamdi and Ryan Donlan believe that leadership involves not only supporting the people working with us, but also providing an environment that allows everyone to play to his/her strengths.  If you would like to share ways you have leveraged environment to help someone on your team, please feel free to contact them at  or at