EPISODE 9: Dr. Ryan Donlan on How to Get School Boards to Do the Right Thing

September 25, 2017

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Today, on The Education Leader Podcast, I’m talking with Dr. Ryan Donlan, an associate professor in the Department of Education Leadership at Indiana State University, where he is an authority and trainer in promoting positive human relations, leadership development, and school improvement.

Dr. Donlan is also the co-author of the book, The Hero Maker: How Superintendents Can Get their School Boards to Do the Right Thing.

In this interview, Dr. Donlan shares the practical strategies superintendents can use to develop better working relationships with their boards.

Topics covered:

  • (00:43) – Ryan’s background leading up to today.
    • (00:48) – How Ryan first got involved in Education.
      • (00:48) – Inspired by a teacher to become a champion for at-risk kids.
    • (01:33) – Ryan explains what led him to write and publish: The Hero Maker: How Superintendents Can Get their School Boards to Do the Right Thing
      • (02:43) – Saw a need to help principals and superintendents get the support they need.
      • (03:17) –  To ensure good school governance so that children get the best chance for a quality education.
      • (03:50) – Ryan discusses his hopes and wishes for impactful communication and positive relations between superintendents and school boards.
  • (04:54) – Changing Dynamics
    • (05:06) –  Speaking on the dynamics between superintendents and school boards and how they’ve changed since he first started studying the field.
      • (06:06) – Increased complications in school boards in terms of finance, technology, infrastructure, certainly politics and accountability.
  • (07:43) – School Board Fundamentals
    • (07:43) – What superintendents can do when there isn’t an good relationship with the school board.
      • (08:13) – Discussing school board fundamentals.
      • (08:44) – Understanding the domino effect.
      • (09:57) – Is there an ‘I’ in ‘team’?
      • (10:37) – Why superintendents need to ‘sell and teach’ their bosses what their job description is.
    • (14:11) – How a superintendent can take the first steps in ‘shepherding’ the board in the right direction.
        • (14:58) – Ryan explains how the first step is to create a platform where safe steps can be taken.
        • (16:12) – How the first step should happen before the superintendent is hired.
        • (17:15) – The superintendent’s role as the board’s ‘shield’.
        • (17:56) – Why a superintendent needs to be active in the community.
        • (19:12) – Cultivating relationships between board meetings.
    • (20:34) – How superintendents can approach working with the board on a regular basis.
      • (20:55) – The dynamics of the Delta Force concept.
        • (21:36) – The interrelations between the superintendent, the school board, and the school board president.
        • (22:40) – The power of giving away credit and accepting responsibility.
        • (24:13) – Discussing long term and short term communication between the entities.
    • (26:38) – Ryan explains the ‘process model’ of communication.
      • (27:22) – Theories of human behavior and the work of Dr. Taibi Kahler.
      • (28:28) – ‘Positive personality energies’.
  • (33:01) – Parting Advice.
    • (33:01) – What lesson Ryan would want listeners to walk away from the interview with about working with their school boards.
      • (33:22) – To be hero makers.

Rapid-fire Questions:

  • (34:15) – What do you spend too much time doing?
  • (34:23) – What do you not spend enough time doing?
  • (35:20) – What do you wish more people knew about your job?
  • (36:03) – What are the emerging trends in education you’re keeping an eye on?

Resources mentioned:

  • Dr. Taibi Kahler:  Psychologist whose theories on human behavior formed the process model of communication.  (27:27).
  • Minds Unleashed: How Principals Can Lead the Right-Brained Way:  Resource authored by Dr. Donlan.   (30:49).
  • Gamesmanship for Teachers: Uncommon Sense is Half the Work:  Resource authored by Dr. Donlan.   (30:49).

Where to learn more:

If you’ve been intrigued by what Dr. Donlan has had to say and would like to learn more, you can do so at www.ryandonlan.com.


Pat: 0:00:02.8 Today I’m talking with Dr. Ryan Donlan, who is an associate professor in the department of education leadership at Indiana State University, where he is an authority and trainer in promoting positive human relations, leadership development and school improvement.

Dr. Donlan is also the co-author of a book, The Hero Maker: How Superintendents Can Get their School Boards to Do the Right Thing, which are first practical strategies for how superintendents can develop better working relationships with their boards.

0:00:33.5 Welcome to the show Dr. Donlan.

Ryan: 0:00:36.9 Hey thank you Pat. Really great to be here and please call me Ryan. That would be awesome, I’d appreciate it.

Pat: 0:00:43.0 Awesome, thanks Ryan. First off, how did you get started in education. Let’s go way back.

Ryan: 0:00:48.8 Ok. Way back to high school. I had a favourite teacher. He took an interest in me and made a lasting impression. You know, what he was doing at the time, he was making a difference in the lives of people. In fact, it was really cool, he was a champion of the C student. Those quiet students who go to class each and every day and get c’s. And he took an interest.

0:01:13.9 Now to say it simply, Pat, I wanted to be like him. But with one difference. I wanted to be a champion for the at-risk student. Those students who had difficulty in school and in life. Even at risk kids all grown up, I want to make a difference on behalf of people and so that’s why I went into education.

Pat: 0:01:33.0 That’s great. And we’re all thankful for that decision which you took way before. So what led you to publish The Hero Maker?

Ryan: 0:01:45.3 Well, you know, it started – I think back in the day when my principal asked me to come down to his office and I was teaching, and he asked me if I would be his assistant principal. 0:01:56.8 And I accepted that thinking I could run the whole school like my classroom.

And eventually I became a principal and was running the whole building like my classroom, and even as a superintendent, I was doing my best to run a district like my classroom. You know, a building and a district where it all boiled down to relationships. 0:02:18.0 And I carried that with me into the faculty.

So, one day I was standing around with my good friend Todd Whitaker and we were having a side bar at the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute. We were talking about, you know, whether or not the folks who were getting trained at the Institute, current principals, amazing principals, whether or not they would be able to take their training and use what we were teaching them in their school buildings.

0:02:43.2 Well, as Todd and I talked, we thought that much of it boiled down to whether or not they would have the support from their central office. And in talking further, we posed that the support that they may or may not receive from their central office was directly proportional, Pat, to how secure their superintendents had done their jobs.

0:03:01.7 Now that had – we felt that that had more of the potential for affecting whether or not principals could do the work than anything else that was going on in the building so we thought we had an obligation to publish The Hero Maker.

0:03:17.6 As we discovered in our co-writing anew, what we felt inside for some time, that good school governance offers children the best chance at an education. And not so good governance prevents it. That’s why we wrote the book.

0:03:33.2 And in doing that Pat, we were thinking, gosh, you know, Todd and I thought, “If we could help superintendents discover how to do a couple of things, we’d help them make a positive difference.”

0:03:50.4 We wanted superintendents to be able to reconnect with the real purpose of education with their boards, despite any agendas that may be brought through public election.

0:03:53.4 We wanted superintendents to be able to work with their boards more effectively during meetings, but even more importantly Pat, in between meetings.

We wanted to have superintendents have the ability to guide their boards into more productive roles, especially when they reach beyond the policy role and get into management and micro-management, which we hope boards ought not to do.

0:04:17.7 And we wanted – we wanted our superintendents to be able to connect better with their boards, communicate and collaborate regardless of board member personality. 0:04:24.9 I think that’s why Todd and I wrote the book.

Pat: 0:04:28.5 That is some great insights, and thank you for sharing that Ryan. And also I want to put on record that Todd Whitaker, your co-author, expressed an interest in joining this podcast, but since he’s travelling we couldn’t really have him on this podcast.

So we’ll be honoured to have him here sometime later as we move forward. 0:04:48.6 Thank you Todd and we’ll get back to you sometime soon.

0:04:54.7 So transitioning to the changing dynamics. You’ve been around the block awhile now, and you’ve probably seen the whole relationship between superintendents and school boards evolve over time.

0:05:06.7 How have the dynamics between the superintendents and school boards changed since you first started studying the field?

Ryan: 0:05:14.2 Gosh, that’s a great question. I would say that the dynamics, some of them have changed, some of them haven’t changed that awful much.

So, in terms of what has not changed, it’s really the fact that relationships are the path to getting things done. That hasn’t changed between superintendents and boards. 0:05:34.2 But the context in which those relationships have changed, Pat, is certainly different.

Let’s talk about relationships. 0:05:41.6 In terms of relationships, every board member has for some time wanted to be somebody’s hero. Whether they admit it or not. Whether they realize it or not. And that’s what this hero making book’s all about.

Realizing that people are ok, people are great, every board member brings their talent, their time and their interest to the position, but when it all boils down to it, we all want to be somebody’s hero. So that hasn’t changed.

0:06:06.2 But imagine the context of what has gone on in the past versus present day versus the future. I mean school districts continue to become more complicated, especially in terms, Pat, of finance, technology, infrastructure, certainly politics and, of course, accountability. And this has created more demands out of everybody, especially the superintendent.

0:06:28.5 But while it’s created more demands out of what the community expects from the board. And so it’s created more things that the superintendents, if they’re going to be effective, they need to get out in front more things, as the saying goes.

0:06:40.8 And I think, because of this, is that boards demand more of their superintendents, because there’s more to do, there’s more to know, and there is more to respond to urgently. And I think what Todd and I have done with our book, is in hero making, what hero making does, it is allows superintendents to provide themselves the space and the latitude to serve as the guide and the lead learner of the board. The board as a group and the board individually. Ok?

06:55 In a world where these demands are not going to get any slower as the years tick on. So, hero making allows for the trust to develop between the superintendent and the board so that with these changing dynamics, we can navigate them in a new way that everybody has a vested interest in.

In fact, when superintendents are hero makers in this changing dynamic, the true hero is really someone who helps others accomplish things they didn’t think were possible. Certainly alone. 0:07:38.1 And that’s what hero makers do with their board. Times are changing Pat, and that was a great question.

Pat: 0:07:43.2 Thank you, and that is so relevant today. And more so relevant today and it will continue to evolve as we move forward.

But here’s another question, digging a little deeper. What happens when the superintendents and the school boards don’t have a great relationship? Where do many superintendents go wrong, and what can they do to first recognize those things which are going wrong earlier on and make those course corrections so they can, you know, be more productive and work with their boards to get it back on track?

Ryan: 0:08:13.8 Good stuff. I’ll tell you what Pat, that’s a mouthful. Let me do my best here. First of all, some school board fundamentals. Ok? A board, as we all know, is not just one person. You know, it’s not just what we can picture as a traditional boss for our superintendents. Instead, it’s a group of folks.

A group of individuals that may or may not function together in a healthy or productive fashion. As Todd and I share. Ok? We could have people come to the board that really bring game, that know what board’s personship’s all about.

0:08:44.4 We have others, well, who went to school once and they have an opinion. So here’s what happens when superintendents and their school boards don’t have a great relationship, given this group and and individual dynamic.

0:08:56.8 First of all, a domino effect begins. Ok? And what happens, is people, board members, go beyond their job descriptions and start interfering with others. And they do it with the best of intentions. The board encroaches on what the superintendent is supposed to be doing. 0:09:13.2 In fact, they start managing and serving as their own versions of Chief Operating Officers and it just doesn’t work. And so, what this does – the domino effect.

Then the superintendent, because the superintendent’s getting micro managed, starts micro-managing the principals and the buildings, and gets in the way of all the site based leadership that we know needs to happen if we’re going to accomplish great things.

0:09:35.8 Principals start this. It’s a domino effect. Principals start doing it with the teachers. Start micro-managing their classrooms and what happens Pat, is that everyone has an eye on their backsides rather than what’s in front of them. They’re watching their backs and everybody is seeking justification rather than excellence. This is, this can cause a problem.

0:09:57.4 One of the things where superintendents go wrong is they believe that saying that there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. You know, we’ve heard it, “There’s no i in team.” Well, no Pat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Todd and I believe that there is an ‘i’ in ‘team’. It’s the individuals.

And you know, in addition to having that as sort of a challenged perspective – imagine this: our superintendents need to be able to teach up as well as down. They need to be able to be the lead teachers of their bosses, and that’s complicated because the first thing that they need to teach – imagine trying to sell this to your bosses, right?

0:10:37.7 From the start, the superintendent needs to sell and teach their bosses what their job description is. And then as Todd and I put it – this is tough, because imagine being a superintendent and needing to sell this, ok?

“Your job, boss, is that you’re to set policy, basically set policy, enact a budget, hire and fire me, hopefully the former and not the latter. Ok. You’re in charge of my contract and serve as community liaison. Just a reflection of community sentiment. But pretty much, boss, that’s it. Leave the running of the district to me, the superintendent.”

0:11:15.0 And then what happens, depending on what the answer is, sometimes the superintendents focus on the wrong thing rather than the right thing in this domino effect and here’s what happens.

0:11:23.4 When things aren’t clean by that job description, oftentimes they’re friends and the superintendency focus more on the reacting to what board members do, especially the rogue board members, rather than providing them what they need.

0:11:37.5 And as Todd and I share in The Hero Maker, what they need, is they need for us as superintendents to focus more on the care and feeding of our boards.

0:11:47.5 Where quite simply, care equals providing them safety and security as board members – because remember they’re community members too. And feeding equates to providing our board members love and belonging. In other words, we have to lead with the need, figure out what the needs of our board members are, and then act on that. Basically.

0:12:10.1 Because what board members feel like on the inside begins to reflect what they do on the outside. And we want school board members to feel good about themselves and quite simply, to be somebody’s hero. Because that’s why they went into board service in the first place.

And when they’re feeling good on the inside, they can more aptly stay at what we call, The 10,000 ft level. We want board members to realize how important it is to govern. They don’t need to be down in the weeds. They don’t need to be wrestling with the pigs. They need to be awacs 0:12:44.5 plane level maybe even. 30,000 ft or above.

And let the folks who are closer to where the teaching and learning happens to be the boots on the ground. Superintendents can get the ship turned back around but they have to make sure that they’re focusing on the – what the board members need as opposed to what some board members do. 0:13:06.6 And that’ll reap them the dividends they want.

Pat: 0:13:09.0 That is such powerful stuff. I mean, we could take off on so many different directions.

Ryan: 0:13:16.3 We certainly could. We could write a book about this stuff.

Pat: 0:13:21.8 Whoops, that’s already done.

Ryan: Got that, got that.

Pat: 0:13:24.4 So, I’m – just to summarize some of the things that you said. Be wary of the domino effect. Don’t micro-manage. The eyes in the back effect. You know, look forward, get your team to move forward rather than watching their backs.

And then steer clear of boundaries and expectations. Both with your subordinates and the executive team as 0:13:47.1 [Inaudible] board. Put them in the 30,000 feet level and give them that kind of feedback so that they can, you know, have a bird’s eye view of what the executive team is establishing. Did I miss anything there?

Ryan: 0:14:02.8 No. Well said. In fact, Todd and I hope that you’re going to be along for the ride when we write the next book here Pat.

Pat: 0:14:09.6 Look forward to that, look forward to that.

Ryan: Awesome.

Pat: 0:14:11.5 So what are the – I know you mentioned, you touched upon a lot of stuff here, so as a superintendent, when I’m listening to it, “Hey it all sounds good” but what are the first things I need to do to get my school board to do the right thing? You know?

It is like you mentioned, everybody has different motives, why they came on the board, they have different agendas, they have different – [Inaudible] to their stakeholders.

So, how does the superintendent take the first step towards, kind of shepherding them to do the right thing in the same direction?

Ryan: 0:14:46.8 Yeah, that’s so important, because we can talk about the what all day long, but unless we get to the how, we’re not going to be helping our friends in the superintendency take those first steps.

0:14:58.0 Well the first step is to have a safe place to take a first step, Pat. Number one. 0:15:01.8 And establishing a platform so that you can take some safe steps.

And so, the platform would be this, to establish a platform by realizing as the superintendent, ok, we got to go into this realizing that all school board members are ok. They’re good folks who want to make a difference. 0:15:23.1 Some are more challenging than others, but we really got to look at them as good people who want to make a difference, because they’re trying to make a difference for their particular group of constituents.

0:15:31.2 Or to put it another way, each of them, like we mentioned wants to be a hero. It could be that one board member wanted to get elected to be held in high regard by his or her daughter, and maybe to protect them from the experience that they themselves had 20 years ago in high school, so that they’re going to make sure that this never happens to their own children. 0:15:51.3 That’s ok. That person wants to be a hero.

0:15:54.1 Maybe another group wants to champion the cause of a group that wants lower taxes. That’s ok. Maybe another group, on the flip side, wants taxes to be raised so they can build a new high school. So these are ok people with good, honest, just and righteous objectives.

0:16:12.1 So, the platform is that we’re dealing with good people. Ok. So given that. Here’s the first step. The first step actually happens, we hope, we hope, before the superintendent’s listening, even take their job. The first step happens before the hire, because to have a discussion in an interview about what the relationship is going to be and what it could be between the superintendent and the board is critical.

0:16:38.5 Because, if we think about this way, it’s really the only time, Pat, where we all have nothing but wins and there are zero losses in the relationship. And there’s no risk of having the discussion. No one’s taken the vows at the alter, no one’s committed for better or for worse, nobody’s done anything except sit down to share philosophy. And practice.

0:16:58.1 So it’s a great time to take the temperature of the group, establish the norms, in other words, this is my vision for how I’m going to serve you so that you can stay at the 10,000 ft or above level in those very important governance roles that you all have.

0:17:15.3 And, by the way, this is the time where the superintendent needs to assure the board – as we say in the book, as we say in our book, the superintendent is going to be the board’s shield. We are going to protect the board in our roles as a superintendent. Ok? 0:17:31.8 Now, upon hire, it’s a little bit different. There’s a first step here too.

0:17:37.1 And it’s – I love this step because it’s a lot more about doing than it is about talking. And that’s difficult for some of us who are superintendents. We want to talk. We want to tell our story. We wanna, you know, but we just gotta zip it and do some stuff before we do a lot of talking.

0:17:56.4 And it’s indirect. So, immediately upon hire, what we suggest a superintendent should be doing, is to be noticed doing things. Out in the community. You need to be noticed doing things that appeal to each board member’s constituency group. You know. And it could be where you get your haircut. It could be where you fill your car. It could be where you volunteer your time.

0:18:19.3 Because what board members need – remember, they want to be heroes – they need community members coming up to them and saying, “Hey, you made a great choice in a superintendent. I just happened to see so and so last week and blah.” You know.

Board members need to be stroked, and if you are doing more listening than talking as a supe, indirectly, you are gathering credibility. Street cred with your board members, because those board members are getting an affirmation.

Now, while you’re doing this, you need to be cognizant of what your community behaviour represents. Especially when you think, “No one’s watching.” Again, it’s where you shop, where you get your car serviced, where you have coffee each morning, where you sit when you have coffee each morning and who you talk to. These are important. They show the community that their favourite board member either made the good choice or not and they will readily communicate it.

0:19:12.4 And then, then Pat, I think the next step is to realize that what we do with our board members between board meetings, is even more important than what we do with our board members at school board meetings.

Those would be the first steps. If you launch those – and the how there, is correctly launched, then you know how they say, “Good beginning is half the work.” It does make the work a lot easier from that point forward.

Pat: 0:19:40.5 Absolutely. That is such great words of wisdom. You know, acting as the board’s shield before you take the job so it makes them feel important and they know you’re all rowing in the same direction. And thereafter, be noticed doing things so your board members look like heroes in the community.

Ryan: Exactly.

Pat: 0:20:00.0 So that right from the get-go, they are right behind you and actually compliment everything you do and makes your job so much more easier. That is so valuable and I hope a lot of superintendents are listening this, really pay attention to this. 0:20:14.5 Great starting points.

Alright, now Ryan, we’ve done that, we’ve kind of had a great beginning, and we’ve got things rolling in the right direction, the school board is behind you, now we know, you know, expectations are increasing every year for superintendents. There are challenges like never before.

0:20:34.5 After you’ve set these expectations, I mean after you’ve set the initial ball in motion, how do you evolve as you move along. Like you mentioned, what is the cadence between meetings, and how do you engage your board? If you could talk to us a little bit more — as you progress, how do you deal with the board on a regular basis?

Ryan: 0:20:55.6 Absolutely. I think one of the things that I would like to – I probably should share a little bit about a concept that another friend of mine, Steve Gerner, came up with awhile back. Todd and I, you know, echoed that in our book.

And it’s a notion, it’s a borrowed term, but it’s the Delta Force. Ok. We call it, sort of the Delta Force in education. And this has to do with an ongoing relationship that the superintendents need to keep in mind for operational excellence over the term of a supe’s tenure with the board.

0:21:36.2 No matter if they’re new in their term, if they’ve been there awhile, or been there long term, and that involves three main dynamics in this triangle that truly make a difference on behalf of the school district.

0:21:49.9 If you consider the points in the triangle, one point is the school board. The board as a whole. 0:21:56.9 The other point in the triangle of Delta Force is the superintendent. Ok. So we’ve got two points of the triangle. Two corners of the Delta. 0:22:05.6 And then the third is the board president. And keeping these three entities and how they work together in mind is critical in immediate and long term efficiency and effectiveness of operation. 0:22:21.3 Because, communication needs 0:22:23.2 [Inaudible – glitch]. Ok.

The superintendent is the CEO of the district. Everything that comes along in the district is going to be on the superintendent’s radar and the decisions that need to be made about it are going to be made for better or for worse. Because, of course, the superintendent’s the CEO and that’s where the buck stops.

0:22:40.4 We often say that you will tee up better leadership with you school board if you do this as a superintendent. This is the advice Todd and I have. 0:22:48.8 Everything that goes right in the school district, give the credit away to somebody else. Give it away to your principals, give it away to your teachers, give it away to your students, your parents and your families. Everything that’s going right, give that credit away. Don’t take it as a superintendent.

0:23:06.8 Because somebody else helped make that happen or did. Everything that is going wrong, accept full responsibility for. And don’t make excuses. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again.

0:23:18.8 Ok. So a superintendent operational that leads by giving all credit away to those closer to the action, those closer to achievement. And accepts responsibility for everything that goes wrong. It doesn’t mean you can’t deal with it, but with the board, accept the responsibility. It’s your watch. Accept it. You know. I mean, that’s just – you’re CEO, accept it. Right? And so, it’s pretty powerful stuff isn’t it?

Pat: 0:23:43.7 Absolutely. It can transcend verticals and it can apply in so many walks of life. And as a leader, what you said is so true. Give away credit and take – be responsible for any mis-steps out there. Own the problems.

Ryan: 0:24:01.0 Exactly. And so, in terms of the Delta Force, what happens here, is you need to communicate. You need to lead as a governance team. That’s what the Delta Force is all about. So, you’ve got your board, you’ve got your superintendent, and you’ve got your board president.

0:24:13.3 Well, as superintendent, there’s a difference in short and long term communication between and among the entities. 0:24:21.8 First of all, I would say that you know, your board president really needs to be on speed dial about every week.

There should be no surprises, there really should be no secrets, and the board president, if elected and serving in that role, needs to understand what’s happening, and serves as the filter, because the board president often builds the board’s agenda. 0:24:42.8 What does the board need to know and what doesn’t the board need to know.

And so, that weekly communication has got to happen and superintendents need to embrace that and have a great working relationship with the board president. 0:24:55.6 Now with the school board, of course you have your work sessions, you have your monthly meetings, and those sorts of formal events, where the board president and the the superintendent hopefully will work together with the board secretary to prepare an agenda.

But also, in addition to those monthly meetings, the superintendent needs to be – really needs to be making a list and checking it twice of getting together with board members, you know, on a rotating basis. As needed as well. Have coffee. Have breakfast. 0:25:21.4 Have lunch. Do something with board members so that you’re individually making these connections and finding out from their perspectives what their folks are interested in. What their folks are worried about. What their constituents think, feel and understand that the school district is doing right and wrong on.

0:25:42.1 So you’ve got this Delta Force going on with communications going in all directions, and to be honest with ya, when it’s humming along like it should be Pat, in the middle, is achievement. And school success.

0:25:55.2 And finally, if the superintendent, the school board and the board president are achieving that success, the adults in our school should really be satisfied with what’s going on. And we’re going to have some really great things happen.

Pat: 0:26:12.3 That is great Ryan. Those are so many – such valuable takeaways for superintendents. Now I hear you mention a cadence of at least once a week phone call, or one-on-one conversation with the board president and have in between meetings, don’t just wait for the board meetings to happen, but make sure the communication is constant and that there’s a flow of communication between all stakeholders in the system.

0:26:38.7 That brings me another very important thing with your work. I know you really believe in something called ‘process model’ of communication. What exactly is this and if you could explain this for those listeners out there and how can superintendents communicate more effectively using this model?

Ryan: 0:26:58.4 Absolutely. The process communication model or as applied to education, the process education model, is a model of adaptive communication that has been long a part of communication theory for well over 30 years.

27:22 It has it’s background in therapy. And way back, quite some time ago, an incredible, incredible psychologist by the name of Dr. Taibi Kahler 0:27:27.3 had come up with some theories about the way humans behave. It was basically theories of human behavioural analysis.

And what he was able to do when he was in his graduate education, in fact, he was doing his PhD work, he had an internship at an in-patient – from what I understand, an in-patient, out-patient treatment center.

And he was privy to the first hand observations of people and what they would do in therapy when they were about ready to go into distress. And what he observed, and what he was later able to document and validate was that people will do predictable, sequential things with their words, their tones, their gestures, their postures and their facial expressions, before they go into distress. Before mismanagement or maladaptive type behaviours would occur.

0:28:28.0 And he was able, not only to discern these, but he discovered the positive personality energies in people that allowed them to bring talents into whatever they were doing in their personal and professional lives.

0:28:42.2 And so, what we’ve done, which we’re very excited to bring, is we have provided a special feature in The Hero Maker. Now, it has a different cadence than the rest of the book, so we put it in a special feature in the end, because it is a deep dive, Pat, and it really gets – it gets theoretical. But fascinatingly so.

0:29:05.7 And if superintendents were willing to spend the time, learn about the process communication model and maybe have some conversations – I’d be happy to by the way. I think that they would find that what they are able to learn, not only about their board members, but about the board members constituents.

0:29:25.1 The constituency groups. The folks in their community. Even the folks who work for them in schools. They will learn why people do what they do in more detail than ever before, and superintendents can learn what they do in minute by minute and even second by second communication and how to bring the best versions of their board members to the table.

Even mid-discussion in a board meeting. Even during community comments. If somebody is sharing a concern, superintendents can learn how to best address it and bring about the most positive aspects of one’s talent, and hopefully minimize those distress behaviours that cause communication and conversations to take a turn for the worse.

It really is within the hands of superintendents to do that, and that’s why we brought that special feature and the model. It’s the best that we found and I just love having those conversations.

Pat: 0:30:23.7 Yeah. I know we’re not even scratching the surface of, you know, we can go in and dig in pretty deep on this. I just wanted to also mention you have other books which you have authored as well. Minds Unleashed: How Principals Can Lead the Right-Brained Way. Also, Gamesmanship for Teachers: Uncommon Sense is Half the Work 0:30:49.6 And I’m sure readers, they find this fascinating, they can go and read your work or reach out to you. You’re also a certified trainer in that process communication model. Is that right?

Ryan: 0:30:58.8 That’s right. Yup. In fact, it’s made – well originally, I think what we’ll all find is that those of us who communicate well, we have a certain art in doing it. And what the process model allowed me to do, Pat, is allowed me to put science to my art and take it to a whole other level.

And so this is not just a model for those who are struggling to communicate. It certainly can help ’em, but it’s a model for everyone who’s on their game and are excellent communicators, to elevate us all to another level.

0:31:33.2 So, again, I’m happy to talk about the model and, of course, you’re very kind in mentioning our other books as well. That certainly is – they’re great reads and not only that, but boy, that “Minds Unleashed” that you mentioned, that’s a weekly reader with chapters for principals and teams that can be read in any order. People are just loving that. And kind of you to mention.

Pat: 0:31:58.8 Absolutely. And if the readers find there’s something they want to dig in, they can always reach out to you, and what is the best way to reach out to you if you have any websites you want to put on file here so that listeners our there thinking, “Jeez, I really want to reach out to Ryan and know a little bit more.”

Ryan: 0:32:18.3 Oh, that would be great. Well, you can always, you know, check – well, one of the easiest ways to contact me, is through my website. Real easy to remember because it’s www.ryandonlan.com. So super easy to remember. Other ways to contact me, I think just about everybody in the world has my cell phone number, so when your listeners figure that out, you’re welcome to give me a call. But just happy to talk anytime, and certainly happy to visit your listeners and my colleagues wherever they are to see the great work that they’re doing and hopefully, possibly to even be a small part of it.

Pat: 0:33:01.7 That’s kind of you to put those contact information there. So, if listeners could walk away from this interview with just one lesson about working with their school boards, you know, the superintendent sitting there and listening to us today and thinking like, “Jeez, if I could take away one thing today and go implement it with my board”, what do you think that should be?

Ryan: 0:33:22.5 Wow. Powerful question to ask, and let me answer it by saying this: Often times we hear that our educational leaders need to be instructional leaders first and foremost. And that’s important stuff, Pat, but Todd and I don’t necessarily think so.

We believe that superintendents, even before being instructional leaders, need first to be hero makers. 0:33:48.3 Because if we are serving as hero makers, we’re able to leverage relationships to get instructional leadership done. And leadership at all levels is really what is going to make a difference for the children in our communities.

Pat: 0:34:04.0 That’s great. Thank you. Before we wrap up, we like to ask all our guests a few rapid-fire questions. The questions will be quick, but the answers do not have to be. So are you ready?

Ryan: 0:34:15.3 Let’s do it!

Pat: 0:34:15.2 Alright. So the first one is, what do you currently spend too much time doing?

Ryan: 0:34:18.5 Probably working.

Pat: 0:34:23.5 Alright. What do you spend not enough time doing?

Ryan: 0:34:26.6 Probably skydiving.

Pat: 0:34:30.3 That can be – that’s the rush you miss every time.

Ryan: 0:34:37.0 Yes, it’s been years, and it is definitely a rush I miss. Truth be told, I had to be kind to my insurance agent and when my wife and I started having children, we looked at the difference between policies of those who skydive and those who don’t and my family, my family and our budget needed to come first.

Pat: 0:34:56.7 So just for the listeners out there, thinking what are we talking about, so just a background, Ryan is also an avid skydiver, musician, MC and he has many other hats he wears as towards his career. So, that’s a lot of experience out there Ryan.

Ryan: 0:35:17.9 Pat, you’re too kind.

Pat: 0:35:20.5 So what do you wish more people knew about your job today?

Ryan: 0:35:23.0 Oh, I wish more people knew that I still believe deeply that my job is a classroom. And as a faculty member, as a consultant, as a speaker, as a book writer, as a friend of Todd’s, as a servant to educators, I’m really allowed to come to work every day and treat everything that I do like I used to as a classroom teacher. Which is be authentic, help people out, have high standards of me personally, as well as those around me, and just work to make a true difference. 0:35:58.5 I am blessed with that ability and I take that very seriously.

Pat: 0:36:03.3 Great. What are the emerging trends in education you’re keeping an eye on?

Ryan: 0:36:07.7 [Edit out] Could you say that again Pat? 0:36:09.5

Pat: What are the emerging trends in education you’re keeping an eye on? 0:36:13.3 [Edit out]

Ryan: 0:36:13.5 The main trend that I’m keeping a close eye on because there’s not enough folks talking about it, is a principal’s role at being one who facilitates the social capital in the schools and allows teachers to be the true instructional leaders in a building.

0:36:34.1 That probably has piqued my interest more than anything else of late. At least the five years or so, and I’m watching for the research on it, I’m watching for new theories to develop, and I’m encouraging and hoping that my students, especially my PhD students, will be providing me feedback in even greater depth and breadth on this role as principal as external facilitator and social capital builder, because I think that’s where the true action is as we move forward in education.

Pat: 0:37:08.2 Great stuff. Great stuff. Thank you Dr. Donlan, I just wanted to say thank you for your time today. You’ve shared a lot of incredible advice and I’m sure a lot of our listeners would benefit from your expertise.

Also again, I want to mention www.ryandonlan.com. If anybody wants to know more, reach out to Ryan, that’s where you will need to reach out. Thanks again Ryan, it was great talking to you today.

Ryan: Thanks Pat, it’s been a pleasure.

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