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.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

In "Alex's" Class: On Tour, Where All's Good

In “Alex’s” Class:
On Tour, Where All’s Good!

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

            Two days ago, I stood face-to-face with something that got my attention. 
On a trip with family at Rocky Mountain National Park near Boulder, Colorado, I was traveling in an 8-passenger rental vehicle that I would be using to drive nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, on a narrow, winding dirt road with steep ravines, thousand foot drops, and no guard rails.
            Even to this formerly active skydiver, the notion of driving my family up such a path was intimidating.
            I was a bit pensive.
            Tour guide “Alex” from Alex Rocky Mountain Tours offered to drive if I wished, and while respecting his skills and expertise, I opted to keep my hands on my own wheel and let Alex tend to his craft: Guiding and storytelling. 
            I’m not sure why I do not possess the rush for incidence that I once had . . . possibly a result of marriage and child-rearing, or just plain accumulated wisdom about what one should and should-not-do, naturally. 
            Driving large vehicles up narrow paths with no guardrails, thousands of feet in the air: typically a should-not-do, from my perspective.

Thus, I made no hesitation in asking a series of questions to an incredibly patient “Alex,” as he offered us options on which trek to take – the exhilarating trek or the still-cool-yet-admittedly-more-mild-pathway.
My words, not his. 
He made each sound like an adventure.
I began the negotiations with the “still-cool” option.
Pretty firm on the safer option, with a gentle nudge or two I was provided kind assurances that the more-exhilarating dirt road was, in fact, a more learned option . . . even a one-way path for our safety, with little-to-no chance of oncoming Winnebago’s careening toward us around tight curves.
Ok, so I capitulated to my much-more-adventurous family.

            Fast forward past our incredible tour and ascension up the mountain – the awe-inspiring views, Alex’s great stories, humbling geographic formations carved by once-glacial activity, and wildlife (from small, yellow-bellied marmots, to the towering 700 pound Elk just up the hill). 
Fast forward as well past the lunch at the top, gifts purchased, and a descent that was as unsettling (to me) as the climb (paved, yet with two-way traffic, still bereft of guardrails). 
Fast-forward past the family recount of what was the coolest part of the trip, and what else came close. 

            What happened next in reflection was fairly predicable to those who know me . . . my thoughts went to P-12 leadership, and more particularly this time, teachership.
It was borne of my initial worry as family protector.

            You see . . . Alex was, in a sense, our teacher. 
And we were his students.

            Alex was providing to us a day in school, and we were experiencing things that were a bit unsettling, things that were totally unfamiliar, yet things good for us.
Probably sounds like your first few weeks in school this year, doesn’t it? 
Or . . . your first few weeks to come.

            Here is what really stuck out, to me.
            Can you imagine what might have been going through the mind of Alex!?!?

            Who am I meeting today?
            Are they patient, or demanding?
            Are they receptive, or are they know-it-all’s?
            Can I teach them?  Will they learn?
            Will they apply what I share to their lives, and to others’?

            Here’s something else. 
Alex had the courage to hop into an 8-passenger vehicle, soon to be heading up a mountain to an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet, with an unfamiliar driver he had never met (me) and a narrow winding dirt road with steep ravines, thousand foot drops, and no guard rails.

That took guts!
Alex did all of this without any of us ever seeing him sweat.
He even took care of the "little things" that would be a distraction to most (or left of radar), and these were greatly appreciated!
And it is quite possible all-the-while that he was sweating . . . yet again and if so, invisibly.

            I now realize that Alex had no idea if I were to be demanding, accepting, a good listener, or a know-it-all.  He did not know how I would handle stress.  Alex didn’t even know if I could drive that well, because to be quite frank, passing a driver’s test is a pretty low bar, given the climb we were about to make and the road upon which to make it.

            Yet, Alex hopped in the Tahoe. Alex is a great teacher, and that is what the best do!

            How many of your teachers, despite the dangers they face – those to their professional reputations for taking chances, with job security determined by high-stakes accountability systems – hop into the Tahoe and take that ride???

Do we as leaders stop and ponder what is happening in each of our 29-passenger Tahoes, up those steep ravines? 

We are so fortunate each day that our teachers teach much like Alex, where everyone is ON TOUR with learning, and ALL’s GOOD!


Dr. Ryan Donlan has the deepest of admiration for the thousands of P-12 teachers who are heading back into the classrooms this summer and fall.  Please consider following Dr. Donlan on Twitter at @RyanDonlan or contacting him at sharing a story of your “Alex” who is taking folks to the Alpine and back in one piece, with a newfound appreciation of things they are experiencing that might scare them, but in the hands of a good teacher, turn-out for the best.