Keeping the fleas motivated

by Cheryl Doig


Former principal Dr Cheryl Doig challenges school leaders to think both differently and pragmatically about developing a school-wide approach to teaching and learning.

This is a very accessible article for the New Zealand context that pulls together theory and practice to raise interesting and debatable issues for school leadership teams to consider. Her use of Handy’s (2002) elephant and flea metaphor to challenge how we think about relationships of individuals to the institutions in which they work is thought provoking.

In the model of quality, Doig pulls together three components which, she argues, are each equally essential for the development of quality schooling: learnership, leadership, and management.

She argues that in a successful school, all members of the school community will actively contribute to all three components. She provides brief examples of how in her school students, teachers, leaders, and members of the community are encouraged to participate and take shared responsibility for the quality of the teaching and learning environment.

Some readers might object to the flea metaphor, others might take up the debate about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, or the issue of school rules as raised by Doig. All of this is bound to lead to an interesting and challenging debate for school communities to have about the best ways to create productive learning environments, and to develop the community without losing a healthy respect for diversity.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • In what ways might a principal show that all members of the school community are valued if the school contains both innovative and more conservative staff members, students, and families?
  • How can the school leadership ensure that consistency of practice is maintained when individuality is encouraged and praised? How would the development of ‘non-conformist’, ‘non-boss compatible’ fleas influence the culture of your school?
  • Do you have any ‘fleas’ in your school? If so, who are they, what are their strengths, and how can you as a school leader tap into their potential, or assist them in realising their potential as agents of change?
  • In what ways might the model of quality leadership described in this article differ from the widely used reflective approach to leadership? What model(s) are you using? For example, do you practise learnership within your school? How might it influence your school culture if you did?

Further reading

Elephants and Fleas: Is Your Organisation Prepared for Change? by Charles Handy.

Milstein, M. M. & Henry, D. A. (2000). Spreading resiliency: Making it happen for schools and communities. California, USA: Corwin Press Inc.


Doig, C. (2002). Motivating the fleas. The Journal of New Zealand Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour, 3(2).

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