The Butterfly Effect

Posted by Diane Hale on 1/4/2019

It’s January and that means many people make “resolutions” for the new year. In terms of the school year, January is the half-way point. Now, that doesn’t mean it is not a good time for resolutions, or new habits, or goal setting. Of course, it is a great time for all of that. As a very goal-focused institution, schools are ripe for taking stock in successes and establishing new habits for the remainder of the school year in January. However, this year, I’d like to challenge you to consider the “Butterfly Effect” when setting out to make positive changes.  


The Butterfly Effect is a nickname for the chaos theory. It describes the idea that a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. The name comes from the extreme suggestion that the tiny flap of a butterfly’s wings could affect the climate in another place and time. Let’s take that idea and apply it to the conditions we create daily for young learners. Tiny tweaks in a system as complex as a school, or any learning environment we create for an individual learner can have large effects down the line.  


The freedom of the Butterfly Effect is that we do not have to decide now what that effect might be. Different than a resolution, or even a goal, the Butterfly Effect allows us to act in the now and simply pay attention to the slow but impactful change that might occur.  


What if small changes to a child’s bedtime routine, to the physical set up of a classroom, or to the wording of adult questions had big impacts on a child’s future? Consider any of the following seemingly insignificant adjustments and see what happens.  



  • Choose a different location for homework  
  • Lay clothes out the night before school  
  • Spend five minutes every day playing number games 
  • Use time in the car to spell words 
  • Give a non-sugary treat as a reward for hard work  



  • Play music as students enter the classroom 
  • Spend five minutes every day sharing compliments  
  • Start a lesson with a game or joke to set the mood 
  • Gather student input in short written responses instead of raised hands 
  • Speak out loud as you problem-solve to model the process for students 


Of course, these are all just simple suggestions, but take a minute to think about some tiny things you could do differently in 2019 and remember to do it without any expectation or assumption of the possible outcome. Just be pleasantly delighted as you see children reap the benefits of the tiny adjustments you have made.