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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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt

By Dr. Donovan Garletts
Notre Dame Catholic School
Michigan City, Indiana

As educators it is our duty to seek out empirical data to drive the decision-making process. As an academic authoring this piece, the same responsibility is present, but the foundation here is meant to drive thinking, encourage research, and to plant the seed, per se. 
It is vital you understand this distinction as a reader before you proceed. Let this serve as a disclaimer – that I neither support nor reject the information contained herein, but rather wish to share as a mini “think tank.”  
Over the last several decades, the States have been inundated with Federal Education Reform and corresponding mandates. The power and authority of individual, state-level Departments of Education have been stripped in a sense. Much of the decision-making is done for the states through Federal intervention at an unprecedented level.
Be it assessment, curriculum, programs, or a variety of other instances, the Federal government has tried to unify America’s educational system in a way that has not necessarily worked out. The most recent intervention, the reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) under the new name of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), has supplanted NCLB (No Child Left Behind), but we are yet to see the results because of the nature of its infancy.
That said, we have slowly seen our country fall behind other countries in various assessed subjects, and it has been noted we are no longer producing our own “world-renowned” physicists, scientists, doctors, etc., but rather hiring them from abroad.
All of this leads us to scratch our heads in an attempt to answer the lingering question of “Why?”
Perhaps the most talked about (and controversial) areas of education as of late are curriculum (Common Core State Standards), development of the whole child (Rigorous Homework vs. Family Time), and technology (1-to-1 Technology, Learning Management Systems, etc.).
Below are summaries of informative, yet provocative, articles that I hope will start an extended conversation at the building level. The articles in full are cited below for your viewing pleasure. We must continually evolve, transform, and engage in the teaching and learning process.

The Educational System of Finland

Finland has long been touted as one of the top educational systems in the world. The basic philosophy is to let children be children and learn through play, exploration, and the inquisitive nature of young minds.
No formal school starts until age seven and proceeds until the equivalent of our ninth grade. Upon the successful completion of the nine obligatory years, students and families have the choice to attend traditional secondary for three years (university prep), vocational school, or enter the workforce.
During the formal primary and intermediate educational years, most students do not start school until 9:00 a.m., citing consistent research on pupils and sleep needs, and end before 3:00 p.m. The short school day is intended to allow more preparation time for teachers outside of the normal school day, while intensifying the day for students.
Finnish students rarely receive homework, and neither students nor instructors are subjected to the same high-stakes testing we see in America. Testing certainly still exists, but it does not carry the same power of persuasion as it does here with regard to student achievement, funding, and jobs.
To put simply, Finland goes against the grain when speaking of education with a truly less-as-more attitude.

Dinner or Homework?

If you have Internet access you have likely seen the “New Homework Policy” note that has gone viral.
The idea is becoming an unavoidable conversation between parents and educators, but it is not new. In fact, entire school districts have gone to a no homework policy as early as 2014.
What is driving this relatively innovative education idea?
Could it be a domino effect of high-stakes testing? One that creates instructors so concerned about tests they inundate students with enough daily work to last them a month then parents become so fed up with the amount of homework their children are assigned they search for a “better way?”
Proponents of the no homework philosophy cite “mounds” of research that point to no quantifiable improvement of student achievement between students with or without homework, but I have yet to see it.
It is likely just too subjective to prove.
That said, there is major substance and evidence linked to the importance of social growth and extracurricular educational opportunities. Both of which would be more accessible in a no-homework world.  

Technical Difficulties

The idea that technology could potentially be hindering our students is not something most educators are willing to back. Perhaps we have simply been programmed to think otherwise. After all, any and all governmental entities, accrediting agencies, and even textbook companies are pushing technology as the only way to increase student achievement.
Should technology be more a common sense application than a mandated educational structure?
Take the time to Google “Waldorf Schools” and simply read Waldorf’s philosophy on the absence of technology.
You see what I did there? -- Use technology to do research on a school system that (largely) doesn’t believe in technology.
Research completed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (UK) in 2015 examined how technology in schools impacted student achievement on multiple international exams.
The results?
In short, students with extended exposure to technology show “no appreciable improvements” in any of the tested subjects. Are schools simply becoming enablers for students addicted to technology they use at home?

I hope this short piece will not only offer some thought as you continuously work to improve your schools, but will serve as a catalyst to start an ongoing conversation.
Please share your thoughts with me using Twitter (@CoachGarletts). I cannot wait to hear from you all, and if you are laughing at my request technology-infused communication, irony happens to be one of my favorite things!


Coughlan, S. (2015, September 15). Computers do not improve pupil results says OECD. Retrieved from

Doyle, W. (2016, August 30). A world education leader is fleeing Common Core and other American Ideas, we should pay attention. Retrieved from

Habib, N. (2016, September 6). No-homework policies attracting attention. Retrieved from

Kardaras, N. (2016, August 27th). It’s digital heroin: how screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.  Retrieved from

Kelly, J. (2015, April 15). 11 ways Finland’s education system shows us that less is more. Retrieved from

Koerber, B. (2016, August 22). Teacher absolutely nails it with new homework policy. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Dr. Donovan Garletts is passionate about myriad issues that confront the “forefront” of K-12 education and can be reached for conversation and commentary at his Twitter account above.  Please reach-out and let him know your thoughts regarding his article, and of course, the articles he references.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Your Genie; One Wish

Your Genie; One Wish

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

            You’re a school principal. 
You live in Anywhere, USA, big or small. 

Pressures of school accountability are what they are.  They’re tough to deal with at times. 
You love the challenge, or at least you say you do (when at Rotary).
You have good teachers, good staff members, and parents who love their kids.  The difficulties you face are typical of the principalship: Older generations struggling to understand newer generations; ever-moving performance targets; the up’s and down’s of performance scores on annual standardized tests; and difficulties finding new teachers wanting to enter the profession who are properly licensed for your openings.
And . . . you really do have the BEST job in the world! 
Those of us who have been principals really “get this.”

            Then, while heading down your school building hall one day, you meet a Genie with a lamp. 

As you introduce yourself and ask for its hall pass, you hear from your Genie that everyone is being asked to do more with less nowadays, even Genies. 
(The Genie is able to offer you a hall pass, because . . . well, it's a Genie)
Anyway, you find-out the Genie has only one wish available to grant.  Your only option will be multiple choice, as open-ended responses are simply too costly to process. 
You are, however, welcome to provide your answer on a computer.

            Here goes:

            Would you rather have:

_____ a. One million dollars in cash, yet with a surrender of your administrator’s license.

_____ b. A contractual roll-over guaranteed with a 3% raise every year for a lifetime, no matter how well the students and school do each year.

_____ c. A love of lifelong learning guaranteed for every one of your students for the next 50 years, yet with standardized testing scores that may or may not meet state expectations.

_____ d.  Standardized testing scores for all students meeting or exceeding state performance expectations for the next 50 years.

_____ e.  Nothing really.


Dr. Ryan Donlan hopes that K-12 building principals will see themselves as critically important to the lives of students, and thus capable of making decisions that have opportunity/cost consequences.  Good decisions.  Just decisions.  Smart decisions.  What decision would you hope the principal of your child would make?  If you would like to share, please let Dr. Donlan know at


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Executive Presence: A "Must" in Educational Leadership

Executive Presence: A “Must” in Educational Leadership

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education, 326A
Indiana State University

I have been asked to speak to an MBA class this fall on the concept of Executive Presence, as applied to education.  Admittedly, a nebulous concept, yet one that if used in moderation, can add a nutritional boost to one’s leadership.  In terms of how this applies to those of us working in P-12 education, I'm thinking about describing it as follows:

Executive Presence is . . .

Something between the dichotomy of “officious” and “chummy.”

Something noticed without needing to see it when heard; and something noticed without needing to hear it when seen.

Something that exists on a conscious/competence continuum, in different stages of our professional careers: At first, we are unconscious regarding our incompetence at it (in our blind spot).  Then, we are conscious of that incompetence.  Over time, we work on our competence with executive presence, consciously.  Once doing so, we become unconsciously competent at it eventually, as it become how we “roll.”  Finally, we use our conscience, unconscious competence of executive presence as we teach it to others.

Something that can be worn without donning a professional outfit, but can use one as an accessory.

Something that reminds us of the old E.F. Hutton Commercial, because when someone with Executive Presence talks, “. . . people listen.”

Something that seasons with the passing of time, the raising of children, and with positive treadwear.

Something that can be learned as a skill, yet with some having it as a talent.

Something that appears more authentic when individualized to one’s personality and context.

Something that allows one to leverage positively, organizational culture.

Something that requires one to understand that oneself is “OK,” and others are too.

Something whose arms can hug, whose fingers can pull a trigger, whose hands can wield a pen of clemency, whose heart can forgive, and whose mind does not forget.

Executive Presence – Nebulous, yet critical for any successful, practicing principal or superintendent.  What would its picture look like next to the dictionary definition? 

Who is its poster child in your district?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is working as an author, speaker, trainer, and graduate faculty member to help others build their levels of executive presence in P-12 education.  If you would like to help him flesh out the skeleton of this construct, please give him a call at (812) 237-8624 or write him at  He would love to talk.