Image: Edward Norton Lorenz’s strange attractor notion
In chaos theory, small causes can have a huge impact. This idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” when half a century ago, meteorologist professor, Edward Norton Lorenz suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado.
In 2013, Sir Tim Brighouse wrote an article for the Guardian ‘The butterfly effect in schools: sharing simple ideas can have a big impact’ where the ‘butterflies’ are the tips for teaching better. That same year, Alex Quigley followed up this article in Confident Leadership, when he wrote ‘The Butterfly Effect in School’ in which he discussed the conditions needed for the butterfly to thrive. I was particularly struck by the three questions that the butterfly analogy sparked for Alex.
What are the ‘butterflies’ in my school and in my classroom?
What conditions do I need to create for ‘butterflies’ to flourish?
What classrooms and teachers provide the most fertile conditions for learning? Can we shine a light on those teachers and share their ‘butterflies’?
To aid the identification of ‘butterflies’ it is useful to have a good understanding of what the research tells us ‘great teaching’ is. I recommend reading the following as a starting point:
Inspiring Teachers Perspectives and Summary Report [Educational Development Trust 2016]
What makes great teaching? [Professor Coe et al. Sutton Trust 2014]
Hattie Ranking: 195 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement [Visible Learning.Org 2016]
It is worth remembering that whilst teaching is an evidence based profesion, teachers are ‘actively’ gathering evidence every day as to ‘what’ has the most impact on student achievement for their children right now. Whilst, much of what is found is underpinned by the research – reassuring to know that ‘great’ practice stands the test of time – we must be mindful of a changing world and the individuality/complex needs of the children we are teaching today. What works with some children, may not work with others.
Some useful questions to ask prior to the collection of evidence of student learning:
What does success look like?
How will you measure success? E.g. Qualitative and quantitative data
How will you gather evidence of children’s thinking/learning prior to the teaching sequence, during and afterwards?
When/How do you and the children reflect on the impact of teaching/learning strategies? E.g. Reflective learning journals, daily/weekly
What direct/indirect evidence will you collect to evidence impact?
When/Where and to ‘whom’ will you share your butterflies?
There is nothing more powerful in schools than collective efficacy. Where there is an open-door culture. Where teachers are passionately ‘talking’ about teaching and learning and more importantly are empowered to learn from each other. Teachers respond positively, are more motivated and enthused when they don’t feel threatened by a fear of failure.
John Hattie discovered that teachers are far more likely to have a large and positive impact if they:
Are passionate about helping their students learn
Forge strong relationships with their students
Are clear about what they want their students to learn
Adopt evidence-based teaching strategies
Monitor their impact on students’ learning, and adjust their approaches accordingly
Actively seek to improve their own teaching
Are viewed by the students as being credible
How do you as leaders build collective efficacy in your schools? How many ‘butterflies’ are your teachers sharing?
Practical Strategies for Sharing Butterflies
1. Attend and present at TeachMeets
2. Teacher ‘Learning Wall’ in the Staffroom
3. Be brave and video yourself
4. Team Teach
5. Lesson Study
6. Keep a reflective learning journal
7. Feedback Forum
8. Connect with other professionals e.g. Twitter
9. Write a blog
10. Join a research project
Strategies from the Literacy Wagoll Blog
1) Speed dating – Staff members bring one short snappy idea that they use in their classroom. Each teacher sits facing another and they both share their idea, showing resources and explaining the impact it has on their children. Professionals rotate around until all ideas have been shared with everyone. Teachers can then vote for their favourite idea to take away and implement. by choosing specific themes, best practice can be share din focused areas that link to the School Improvement Plan.
2) Social Media Pages – One of the major barriers to sharing ideas is time. however, everyone finds time to flick through Facebook or Twitter. By creating a ‘Teaching and Learning’ page you can share best practice by literally putting it in their hands. Teachers will stumble upon new ideas that your social media page shares. These ideas can come from observed ideas from lessons or from external sources. As the page grows, you may find that teachers are willing to share their own ideas on the page when something has gone well in class.
3) 3 Minute Presentations – Before staff meetings take place allow an opportunity for a member of staff to share one strategy that works in their classroom. Their challenge is to explain and share within 3 minutes. This can occur at the beginning of the week, so that staff can be encouraged to give the idea a go in their own classrooms.
4) Ideas That Stick – A simple way to share ideas is by creating a teaching and learning display in the classroom. Teachers can stick an idea on a sticky note and post it onto the board. The board can have a variety of categories which help teachers navigate around the display to find fresh new ideas that are relevant to them.
5) The Market Place – Teachers can bring an idea that they use in the classroom and set up a small market stall displaying their best practice. Teachers can move around and talk to teachers about their ideas and the impact they have had on their children. This is a great event to invite other local schools to so that teachers gain new teaching strategies from outside their school.