Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What We Learn from a Pig

In the television movie, “The Gathering Storm”, about the pre-war years of Winston Churchill, we learn that this once, noble, and dignified future leader of Great Britain, was susceptible to moodiness, anxiety, paranoia, and depression. In a poignant scene in the movie, after being ridiculed for a position he took on the floor of Parliament, he is seen sitting in the barnyard of his rural estate watching an adult pig “wallowing” and eating from a pile of grounded, and rotten apples. The scene itself is curious, but quite descriptive of the mood Churchill is in. He remarks in a calm, and sullen tone, while observing the pig as follows: “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you, and pigs treat you as equals.” (Ramin, 2002)
There is something poignant and heartfelt about that scene appealing to our blogpost today. We as school leaders, to be effective and impactful on our organizations, must use the example of the pig in creating effective learning organizations. I am not suggesting the imperious, denigrating or disgusting image of a pig, but rather the curiosity, and uninhibited ability to dig in and “wallow”, which implies an attitude of being devoted entirely to something, and taking pleasure in it.
In the Journal of Animal Behavior, researchers document that pigs learn quickly how mirrors work and “will use their understanding of reflected images to scope out their surroundings and find their food.” (Angier, 2009) They use their uncanny ability to sniff, dig, and ply their way around their surroundings to understand and learn from the traits therein. Shouldn’t leaders be doing the same?
For those people who have been following my previous posts, you already know how I feel about the "closet" leaders that hide in their office, behind closed doors, leading from behind a desk. The example of the pig being a creature that “wallows” and is enveloped in a curiosity of learning about its environment is the kind of leader we need to become to make a difference for our school organizations.
Leaders such as former GE CEO Jack Welch have advocated a similar approach to running organizations by suggesting: "You have to wallow in it. Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you." (Comstock, 2013)
Nothing is more frustrating to a school of educators than to know their school superintendent or principal is not visible, among the school and the activities of the culture. The comment that a teacher has never met the superintendent, is a disparaging sentiment that reflects poorly on any leader that seeks to make significant change in their future. 
Leaders have been given a great opportunity to “wallow” in their organization in order to learn from it, understand how it works, appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the system, and to reflect on a direction that meets the needs of the district and students. Take time from your role to “wallow” and be an active leader of your district.
Angier, N. (2009, November 9). Basics- in pig cognition studies, reflections on parallels with humans. New York Times. Retrieved from

Comstock, B. (2013, February 23). Best advice: What i learned from jack welch hanging up on me. Retrieved from

Ramin, L. (Writer) (2002). The gathering storm [DVD]. Available from

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