Have you ever heard the story about the butterfly effect? I am not going to explain it perfectly, but ultimately the story describes how a light flap of a beautiful butterfly’s wings on one side of the world can make weather patterns shift and change enough to cause a catastrophic weather event on the other side of the world. One small action can lead to a great world-changing event.
I thought about this a lot this week as I watched several events unfold on both a personal and professional level. Ultimately what I came to realize is that as a parent, a teacher, a coach, or as a mentor, every action we take and every word we say can change a child’s or student’s course on their path of life.
As an education major, I was asked to write my philosophy of education, edit it, and perfect it until it became the foreword to the book of my teaching career. I can tell you clearly that I always started my educational philosophy by telling the story of my middle school years. In elementary school, I was a below-average learner. I received extra support in reading and was always in the low reading group. I knew this to be a fact- I wasn’t smart. That is until my 8th-grade year. I remember clearly sitting in the school desk, you know, the one where the table is connected to the chair. Yep, that one. The one with the basket under the chair. The teacher was handing back papers to the students and there it was a big red D- right on the top of my paper. I knew the teacher hadn't really expected me to do any better. Remember, I wasn't smart. Or was I? I vividly recall the self-talk I did right at the moment, “Nicole, you know, you are just as smart as all of your friends. You know that you could perform exactly how they do in school. You could earn A’s. It's about time you prove to these teachers that you are smart!”
And, on that day, I changed. On that day, I made the decision to change my course. See, up to that point I was living by what some people call the self-fulfilling prophecy. In education, it is when a student performs to the expectations of their teacher. If a teacher believes a student is a high performer, they are likely to teach them as such and therefore, the student excels at high levels. The opposite is true on the other end of the spectrum. If a teacher knows a student to be a low-level learner they teach them as such, and hence the results are not great. I decided at the moment in 8th grade I WAS NOT going to be a product of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, at that time I didn’t know there was a name for it. I just knew I wanted to prove the teachers wrong. (Proving the teachers wrong was kind of a middle school brain thing.)
But, you see, not very many students understand this about themselves, can think this deeply about their abilities, even care enough to prove their teachers wrong, and definitely don’t know how to use self-talk. Most young people just come to be what their parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors expect them to be.
So, join the self-fulfilling prophecy with the butterfly effect and hence EVERYTHING we do- our words and our actions, impact the path that our children and our students are on. A smile and a good morning to the shy girl in the back the room could let her feel noticed for the first time this week. She then smiles in the hallway and is noticed by another teacher who calls her out by name to say “That smile looks good on you!” Imagine how those simple actions (flaps of the wing) change the course for that young lady for the rest of the day and perhaps the rest of the week. Unfortunately, I did say that sometimes a butterfly flapping its wings can cause catastrophic events, so when a coach calls out a player in front of the rest of the team with a sarcastic comment such as “You’re too dense to ever get what I am saying, just forget it” the path could take a devastating turn for that young player. I like the positive effect better so let's go there again. Picture this: a young person not overly socially accepted, gets a visit by one of the favorite teachers in the building at lunch time. The teacher sits and converses with the student for a few minutes while lots of other students look on curiously. As the teacher leaves the lunchroom, those around the table hear the teacher say, “I am looking forward to seeing you in class this afternoon.” Today’s path is looking quite clear and sunny for that young person.
This puts a lot of pressure on us as parents, educators, coaches, and mentors. We are not always going to get it right. We aren’t always going to notice the quiet girl in the back of the classroom and we are going to call kids out unprofessionally at times by mistake but, most importantly, we must ALWAYS remember that what we believe about our kiddos they will manifest and every small action we make or word we say impacts their course of life. This makes the jobs we do matter and matter every single day, in every single way. Every belief we have, every word we say, and every action we take muddies or clears the life path for the young people in our life. I believe you’ve got this, sweet butterfly! "In a world where you can be anything, be kind." Mrs. H