Is Your School Building a “Whalephant”

Home/Governance and leadership, Innovation in Education, Vision and Strategy/Is Your School Building a “Whalephant”

Is Your School Building a “Whalephant”

imageWhat would it look like if you started with an elephant and tried to turn it into a whale, piece by piece, without starting over?  Imagine an artist’s image of this process: first changing the right front foot into a flipper, then the tusks into a wide sheet of baleen, then the wispy little tail into huge, grand flukes.   (If any of my readers, students included, have even the hint of the artist in them, please draw this creature and send it to me; winner gets three free copies of #EdJourney!) For a very long time, the morphing, emerging “whalephant” is, at best, ill-fitted for anything.

Many schools and school systems are trying this piecemeal approach to innovative change. Their process essentially says “We completely understand that the world around us is changing and that we have to make fundamental changes to how and what we teach, but we REALLY don’t want to, so we will change this bit and that bit and leave the big bits alone.” They are going to end up with something that looks like the body and head of an elephant…with fins and flukes.

Does this mean that the only way to effectively change a school is to tear down the entire existing system and start over? Absolutely not.  It does mean that we have to systematically challenge the big parts of the system and design an elegant outcome.  This approach is more exciting and probably less comfortable, but will absolutely result in more intentional, sustainable, and elegant solutions.  It will result in a whale, not a sad misfit.  Look at your current strategic plan and ask one simple question: is this plan a bold challenge to the industrial-age, assembly-line model of education, or does it tweak that model at the margins?  If the later, there is a good chance you will get to keep your job as you will not cause discomfort to those around you.  If the former, there is a good chance your school will be powerful and effective at preparing students a decade or two from now.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:


  1. Mark Crotty July 1, 2015 at 4:32 pm - Reply


    Great analogy. The whole post aligns with my thinking that so much comes down to culture–the DNA of the creature. Without the right stuff there, always going to end up with some weird mutations.


    • Grant July 1, 2015 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      I have just been reading some Strategic Plans, and am afraid the schools that implement along these lines are going to end up as a strange hybrid, with even more pressure on the students to be more things, which cannot possibly be the solution.

Leave A Comment