In the wee early days of education blogging (2004), Ian Jukes, an author and public speaker from New Zealand began a blog titled: “The Committed Sardine.” The blog seems to have faded into cyberspace, but I wanted to share his original post where he explains the meaning behind his title.

Jukes’ powerful metaphor is a great way to frame the impact that even a few committed teachers can make on a school. After my last two posts, in which I shared a few indictments of current schooling practices, I need to give a more positive message on the value of commitment on the process of change and school improvement.

Here is Ian’s post:

A blue whale is the largest mammal on earth. The adult blue whale is the length of 2½ Greyhound buses and weighs more than a fully loaded 737. A little known fact is that a blue whale is so large that when it decides to turnaround, it can take 3 to 5 minutes to turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

As a result, some people have drawn a strong parallel between blue whales and our school system. It just seems to take forever to turn them around. There as some people who just don’t believe the public school system can be turned around.

But compare the way a blue whale turns around (slowly) with how a school of. . . Sardines – which is the same or even greater mass than a blue whale. . . A school of sardines can almost turn instantly around – how do they do it?

The answer is simple. If you take a careful look at a school of sardines you will notice that although all the fish appear to be swimming in the same direction, at any one time, there will be a small group of sardines swimming in the opposite direction against the flow. As they swim in the opposite direction they create conflict, friction, and discomfort for the rest of the school.

But when a critical mass of truly committed sardines is reached – not a number like 50 percent to 80 percent of the school, but only 15 to 20 percent who are totally committed to a new direction – the rest of the school suddenly turns and goes with them? Almost instantly!

Meaningful change begins with a small group of people truly committed to make meaningful change.

This metaphor is accurate. A relatively small number of parents across the nation chose to opt their children out of standardized tests last spring. As a result, I believe that this has provided a strong impetus behind the recent movement for ESEA reauthorization (NCLB) at the federal level.

Are you the type of educator willing to go against the flow, create some healthy conflict, and turn your school in a more positive direction?

If yes, we need your leadership, passion, and conviction. Be a committed sardine!