Fox, Owl, Sheep Or Mule?

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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What type of political animal are you?

Politics in the workplace is a fact of life. Schools have their own political ecosystem and whether you consider yourself political or not, you are part of the political make-up, like it or lump it. Some play the system, some throw spanners in the works and some connive whilst others play it safe.

David Bancroft-Turner in his book Workplace Politics Pocketbook says the key question to ask ourselves is, “What political animal am I?”

He says that there are four distinct political animal types each with their own characteristics:fox, owl, mule and sheep.



Foxes are clever animals with high political intelligence. They pursue their personal goals and can be skilful at placing blame and/or responsibility on others.


Owls are wise animals with high political intelligence. They work in ways that are beneficial both to the organisation and themselves and are unlikely to undertake activities in pursuit of their own interests.


Sheep are animals with low political intelligence. They pursue organisational goals and their own interests simultaneously and tend to be innocent in terms of their blindness to power and organisational decision-making processes.


Mules are animals with low political intelligence. They put all their energy into pursuing their own goals and tend to be determined individuals who stick resolutely to their own goals.

To find out which type of animal you are David says that we need to measure ourselves against two important criteria:

1. Goal alignment – to what extent do you work towards your own goals or do you put energy and effort into working towards the goals of the organisation and your own goals?

2. To what extent are you politically intelligent? Are you clear about the different agendas that exist in school? Do you know who to influence? Do you know who the key players are? Do you understand how decisions are really made? Can you read what is happening within school? Do you think like a chess player, plan ahead and anticipate moves?

Image result for david bancroft-turner political animal model

(Image: PocketBooks)

Who Am I?

Where would you put yourself on the animal grid? Have a go at the following ‘just for fun’ questionnaire created by Mike Clayton

Look at the following six groups and select the one that describes you best.

A:  Clever

B:  Observant

C:  Determined

D:  Trusting


A:  Adaptable

B:  Swift

C:  Sure-footed

D: Loyal


A:  Vicious

B:  Ruthless when necessary

C:  Bad Tempered at times

D:  Gentle


A:  Cunning

B:  Wise

C:  Hard-working

D:  Innocent


A:  Resourceful

B:  Silent

C:  Noisy

D:  Naive


A:  Sly

B:  Aloof

C:  Put-upon

D:  A follower


If you answered:

Mostly As, then count yourself as a sly old fox.

Mostly Bs? That will make you a wise old old.

Mostly Cs, then you’re a head-strong mule.

Mostly Ds … makes you a trusting sheep.

You might find you are definitely one type but we can often be a combination of one than one type. Where do your colleagues fit? Is there an animal you’d rather be?

Animal Instincts

School politics, especially staffroom politics, can be messy and you might find yourself in the thick of some humdingers and intense situations that can make your job and life even harder.

Fox, owl, sheep or mule…we must always behave with integrity and mutual respect – pupils aren’t blind to what goes on around them and can easily pick-up on political vibes between staff.

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