Jotram Joannelep Elephant Conservation Center

After an intense week of late nights working and fast-paced assignments, several members of our cohort took a needed reprieve Saturday to visit the beloved and endangered Asian elephants.  We were aware that elephant population in Thailand has declined from 5000 three years ago to less than 2000 now.  This decline has resulted from mistreatment, neglect, or abuse by trainers or owners, often vying for tourist dollars.  We also know that poaching and devastation of the elephants' natural habitat have greatly contributed to their decline. We wanted to find a place where the elephants would be treated humanely.  Because the all-day visit to the Elephant Nature Park did not fit our schedule, we visited the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang Province, south of Chiang Mai.  This is a government-run establishment with a unique "elephant hospital" that nurses back elephants before they are returned to the jungle.

We also had an opportunity to appreciate the skills and intelligence of these magnificent animals in an elephant show. The show was a re-enactment of the work elephants would perform in the logging industry. They have transferred these skills to entertain an enthusiastic audience. Walking in single file, holding each other's tails, as they do in their natural habitat, the elephants enter the large corral. Guided by the 'driver' these enormous creatures perform their task with ease; pulling, pushing and stacking logs.  We were then treated to a musical performance and painting on canvas, done by the elephants!  Several of us purchased these paintings to hang in our homes.

Watching these animals demonstrate these amazing skills, our minds are drawn to the fact that there are similarities in what we have been experiencing as a leadership cohort.  We have all brought our unique qualities to this learning environment in an amazing country.

We have been encouraged by our teacher or 'driver' to perform many tasks, utilizing our inherent and transferable skills. We are all performing at a level we never thought possible! This unique environment allows us to open up to the possibilities of a new vision of leadership in the future. Our challenge is to bring this home and share our new canvas with students and staff in our schools.

JoAnne Motter & Minh Tram Nguyen

[JoAnne is Assistant Principal in the Tustin Unified School District & Tram is Principal at EnCompass Academy, Oakland Unified School District]