Why the butterfly? A tribute to all people who share ideas

Teaching is a job that allows you to transform the lives of others.  However, it is often difficult to see the fruits of your labour as the impact of inspirational teaching develops over time, sometimes when the pupils have left school and beyond.  The butterfly symbolises the impact of a teacher’s work.  Read on to find out more.

We have all probably talked to a social media cynic.   One comment in particular stands out.  A teacher was once overheard saying that they don’t have time to use Twitter because they are too busy doing their job properly.  This person claimed that time spent on Twitter should be used for marking books.  The irony of this comment is that regular use of social media will probably help reduce your workload.  Shared resources, new ideas and smarter ways of working are all available to find on networks like Twitter.

I would describe myself as a newcomer to Twitter who has been a user for 4 months.  Within this period of time I would describe my teaching as more creative, it includes a whole range of new resources and my marking and feedback has become a lot better; without my workload increasing.  How has this happened?  Simply, by using ideas that have been shared by other teachers.  The social media platform is a tribute to all the hardworking, dedicated and passionate teachers that give up their own time to network and share ideas.

Unfortunately, beyond retweets and favourites, contributors will rarely see the true impact of a blog, resource or idea that they have shared.  The impact of your post/tweet can truly have a transformational impact on another or others.  It’s hard to visualise or believe this but a mathematical theory supports the concept that a tweet can become transformational.

Our teaching group has been established for over 7 years.  Over this period of time we have noticed that a small idea can have a transformation impact on others (see our example below).  The butterfly has become the symbol of the transformational impact.  This idea stems from the mathematical chaos theory.  Part of this theory is known as the ‘butterfly effect’.  This theory claims that a flap of a butterfly’s wings can set off a series of events that could cause a hurricane in another part of the world.  An example of how this can happen is if you imagine a giant tower of thousands of playing cards; a small gust of wind that blows on a key card at the bottom can cause a series of events that brings the whole pack tumbling down.  This idea can be applied to sharing an idea or a gesture of kindness.  For example, a shared idea can snowball into changing the teaching in a school, nationally or even globally.

So how does this apply to teachers?  The most important thing to think about is the impact that one small gesture of kindness or some words of inspiration can have on a pupil.  American actress Lily Tomlin said “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework”.  Politician, Paddy Ashdown said that his teacher persuaded him to join the poetry society and gave him a lifelong love of poetry, even getting him to write some for the school magazine. His teacher lit in him a fire for literature, especially Shakespeare, which has never gone out.

You can also apply the butterfly effect to sharing ideas with colleagues.  We did an experiment to trace back the origins of a teaching idea from one of our group sessions; this is what we discovered:

Butterfly Learning

The diagram shows clear evidence of the butterfly effect.  The idea evolved over a seven year period and was passed on amongst colleagues by luck and chance.  It started back in 2005 when our Curriculum Leader for Geography picked up the idea of the COWS group work model during a network meeting with a local secondary school.  A year later an English teacher walked into his colleague’s Geography room during a lesson because he had left some books behind whilst teaching there the previous period.  He saw groups of pupils using the COWS model.  He was so impressed with what he saw that he came back later in the day and asked the Geography teacher how to apply the COWS model in his lessons.  The English teacher started using it in his English lessons and over the course of another year the idea spread across the English department.  Another teacher in our school started using the model and was videoed using it during a lesson.  The video footage was shared at a whole school CPD.  The COWS model was also added to the pupils’ home learning planners so that students could clearly understand their group roles.  The Lead Teacher for music challenged the COWS model and thought that pupils should all be writers during group work.  He adapted the model and used giant whiteboards so that pupils could all write during group work.  His lesson was then video recorded and shared at a teaching and learning conference with another three schools.  Since then it could potentially have evolved in other schools and beyond.


The only reason that this idea evolved is through a chain of events which seemed near impossible until they happened.  The butterfly effect is real and it does have an impact.

The butterfly has become our group logo and is a symbol that reminds us of the special power that we have as teachers to make a difference to others’ lives.  Next time that you have a low moment in your career as we all do from time to time, a feeling that OfSTED far too often inflicts on teachers, remember that on this very day you may have set another person off on a life changing journey without even realising it.

Finally, don’t underestimate the butterfly effect’s power to transform the life of child.  However, treat your actions with caution.  Words can inspire but also cause damage.  Haim Ginott uses powerful words emphasise how pivotal a teacher’s actions can be:

Teacher decisive element

Do you have any inspirational stories of teachers starting a butterfly effect? Have you used a resource or seen an idea that has transformed your teaching?  This is an opportunity to say thank you, be thanked and share your stories.

Please share with us at #butterflyeffectedu

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