The Butterfly Effect

My last post described where I started with all of my work, and gave a better understanding for the reason I am working in this field. This post, I need to bring you not back in history to where it all began for me, but where I am lucky enough to be today.

I just recently graduated again. In fact, the ink is probably not yet dry on my paperwork. The past 12 years (which made me shudder to think it has been that long), I have been picking away at my graduate work in Educational Administration, all the while having three boys and raising them up to where they are now – a sixth grader, a fourth grader, and a second grader – full of energy and the masters of my schedule, and of my heart. Just recently, my 7 year old asked me, as I sat in front of my computer, “Is anything on that website about us, Mommy? You have been working on that so much, but is there anything about us?” To this I said, “It is all really about you, as well as a whole lot of other kids too.” He looked at me confusedly, and then ran off to play with his cars.

As much as the past 12 years has been about them, there are parts that have been completely about me. I have had the luxury of spending that time thinking deeply about my practice, a rare commodity within education. One part that I have realized about my work in recent years is that reflection IN and ON our work as teachers is pivotal in our bettering ourselves and the experiences we provide to our students. Taking the time to reflect on what is working in schools, being aware of what doesn’t, and addressing the needs that exist, one step at a time, is a solid place to start a change.

Through the course of my graduate work, there are many things that I walk away knowing that I hope to share with you eventually, one post at a time. One such thing that I learned is showing appreciation every day. Within the schools that I work, and the teachers that I work with, a virtue as simple as showing appreciation in meaningful ways becomes a foundational piece of the school culture that bolsters the people within it that can’t be underestimated. This can look like an administrator dropping a simple note in a teacher’s mail box, or saying thank you to one teacher publicly in front of another colleague. Or this can look like a teacher pointing out something great that a student did during the day, especially for a student that doesn’t hear positive feedback very often. It makes all the difference in the world, and it is infectious. Schools are places, unfortunately sometimes, that move very quickly from day to day. It is easy to get swept up into the “dailyness” of the profession, the ins and outs that just have to happen without much thought or consideration. Showing appreciation in very real and purposeful ways helps create a positive school culture and combats the day to day routine-driven madness that is often symptomatic in our profession.

I have experienced the effects of showing appreciation and what good comes from it in schools, from a woman that I have had the opportunity to learn from, work with, and model after. My academic advisor and mentor, and now very dear friend, Dr. Jennifer York-Barr is one of the world’s greatest teachers. Many of the things that I know about schools and how to create collaborative school cultures, where the teachers are learning and engaging together just as much as the students they teach, comes directly from Jen teaching me about it. They say that the best teachers are those that model what they believe from day to day in very real ways. Again, I say that Jen is one of the finest there are in this respect.

Her understanding of teacher leadership, reflective practice and how teachers can work together collaboratively to meet the ever increasing needs that exist in schools is astounding. Thankfully, I have spent the last 12 years studying under her wing, watching her work, and hearing her talk about her understanding of the adults and youngsters within the walls of schools. We have researched together, taught together, written together, and had many reflective conversations about why all of the people in schools (adults and children) behave the way they do. She believes, as do I, that it is all connected. My graduate work was in Educational Administration, with an emphasis on effective staff development and school change. Her understanding of teacher leadership and how to start conversations that matter for learning in a school – not only for the students, but for the adults as well – has given me a focus going forward to create living systems that work in schools.

One thing that stands out from my learning with her is the use of metaphors to think about our practice as teachers. One in particular that she likes is the metaphor of teachers and butterflies. Whether you think about it as a teacher being a caterpillar that becomes a beautiful butterfly, and connecting that to individual or school improvement, or thinking about the idea from quantum physics where one flap of a wing of a butterfly can start a storm across the world – each of us as individuals can create a meaningful change in the way schools operate. Be positive, do good work, and show your appreciation…that is what she taught me.

Thank you, Dr. Jennifer York-Barr…also known as my advisor, mentor and friend. I appreciate you today, and every day – and hopefully, there will be many schools and people within them that will appreciate the butterfly effect you have created in me as well.

4 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect

  1. Robyn

    Feeling gratitude but keeping it to yourself is like wrapping a gift and never giving it away. Gratitude can change lives!
    Nice posting Jennifer.


  2. Karen

    A very real and fresh perspective to start the New Year… thank you! It is the simple things that can get away from us so easily amidst the workings of daily life. The little tokens of thanks and appreciation are like money in the bank. You need to build the reserves before you can make any withdraws needed for redirection.
    Happy New Year to you and your family!

    1. Jennifer Sommerness Post author

      Happy New Year to you and your family as well, Karen! For a person such as you in a school – that crosses so many boundaries, classes and teachers – I think it is especially important to remember the little things during the daily-ness of life. You touch so many by going from place to place and teacher to teacher, that you are one person in a pivotal spot to be dropping rays of sunshine throughout a school.

      My only hope is that people let YOU know how much you are appreciated daily! You very much deserve it!!


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