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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Elegance of Disproportionality

The Elegance of Disproportionality

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

My daughter, Katelyn, and I watched a young deer foraging through our back property a few days ago.  It had an odd gait and looked a bit shabby, yet was beautiful in its own way.  Later in the day, I watched my son chew a bit of wild onion from the yard as he picked a sprouting dandelion for my friend and colleague visiting from overseas. My colleague, in turn, shared what her culture views as the weed’s true value, in terms of teas and holistic wellness. 

I was appreciative of Sean’s exposure to a different perspective.  I don’t really like dandelions and haven’t really said too many nice things about them.

That same evening, I noticed how that same onion and dandelion protrude awkwardly over spring’s early arrival of a precious commodity, the grass in my lawn.  In fact, our entire property seems a bit out of proportion – grey trees dominating skeletally in one sense, yet at the other extreme, exposing much-too-much of the adjacent subdivision. Our ground is still more a patchwork of straw and clover, than anything attractive.

The point is that while things often look a bit out-of-proportion and even a bit rough around the edges, an overarching “plan” seems to be in place, serving as a harbinger of good times to come.  That is, if we have the patience to allow it.  The forgiveness.

As I’m reminded in K-12 of the gangly looking, pubescent child sprouting awkwardly into a teen or the B-film actor turning into a werewolf one protruding limb at a time, my thoughts are, as usual, with leadership.

Whether leadership in our schools, businesses, or among children on a playground, how often do we stop to appreciate the elegance of inelegance, the beauty of one’s leadership development when it looks a bit raw, a bit out-of-proportion, and even to some, a bit ugly.

What does this look like in schools?  A rookie principal trying on a new leadership “suit” for both size and style, or that late-career teacher fumbling haphazardly with instructional technology, or even a brand-new Board member micromanaging the details of every instructional supply purchase, much to the chagrin of one’s business manager, when we know the real agenda is to fire the soccer coach.

“What a pain!” some may say.  

While craggy on the surface, these disproportionalities, when viewed by those a bit more seasoned and forgiving, appear instead a predictable phenom of natural development of unnatural things, and thus, are deserving of a chance to make their own way.

Can we forgive inelegance in advance?  Reminds me a bit of John Legend’s perspective on giving one’s all to something or someone else, when he sings, “Love your curves and all your edges. All your perfect imperfections.”

Similarly, can we give our all to developing leaders by appreciating the elegance of their disproportionality, and meanwhile, forgive in advance the proportional inelegance of those who do not, so that they can learn from our example?


Dr. Ryan Donlan is a bit disproportional, himself, at times and can be reached for comment or conversation at (812) 237-8624 or at  He would love to have a chat.

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