Tag Archives: the butterfly effect

Ripples through time


This week at The Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). 

A river? That brought to mind two ideas:

ripples, and

that you never step into the same river twice (from the Heraclitus quote).

You are probably familiar with the terms “the ripple effect” and “the butterfly effect”. Both terms refer to the effects, which can be far-reaching and unintended, of small changes or events which may seem insignificant or even go unnoticed at the time.

In his book The Ripple Effect Tony Ryan shares many stories about small actions having a positive effect on the lives of others. He has a firm belief that each of us makes a difference with our everyday actions be it through a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. He says,

“you must believe in your personal power to create ripples that spread out and change the world. In fact, if it is not you who is going to do it, then who else do you think is likely to make the effort? Remember that every change on this planet begins with a human being somewhere, somehow. It may as well be you.”

None of us can ever know the full impact of words and actions.  The potential for teachers to create ripples is powerful and this knowledge, for them, can induce as much anxiety as it does joy. While I am always the first to acknowledge my shortcomings, I hope that positive effects far outweigh the negative.

Readilearn bookmark

Sometimes expressing an opinion that differs from the status quo can be considered ‘making ripples’ or even ‘making waves’. On his blog Theory and Practice, Matt Renwick is making waves this week talking about assessment and standardised testing. (I have expressed my thoughts on the subject here and here, for example.) I wish Matt’s waves a long journey with school-changing effects.

Matt summarises five articles about testing, including one by Noam Chomsky from which he quotes,

“All of the mechanisms – testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring – that force people to develop those characteristics… These ideas and concepts have consequences…”

The consequences, the ripples, are not always the ones we want: stressed and anxious students afraid of trying and of failure are just part of it. The effects reach further: inappropriateness of tasks, reduced equity, mis-placed funding, teacher dissatisfaction . . .

Matt’s voice is not alone. He expresses what most teachers know. Unfortunately teachers are not the ones writing policies and setting procedures about what happens in schools. Often they are not even consulted. The companies who have most to gain by sales of their testing programs can be very influential.

Matt concludes his article saying,

“I think this information needs to be shared over and over again.  . . . To not advocate is to concede our authority as the experts in our profession. We are in the right on this one. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I agree with Matt. We must advocate for the children, the students, their education and their teachers. So many administrators are talking about data, proclaiming that data is what is important. Now there is even “data mining”, big data mining, as explained in this article by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Check out this great new tool for use in mining data! Don’t they realise the children, their curiosity, wonder and creativity, are the treasure!

And as for the quote that you can never step into the same river twice because you will have changed and the river will have changed. Well I think it’s possible that that situation doesn’t apply to schools. What happens in many schools probably doesn’t look all that different from what has happened for at least the last two hundred years: children sitting in rows chanting meaningless lists. Harsh? Maybe. Reality? Pretty much.

And now to finish in a more positive way with my flash which combines both ideas: the life-changing consequences of a seemingly insignificant event at precisely the appropriate moment, and the difference in the person and the river on two separate occasions. And the person? None else but Marnie.

Richmond Bridge 1825

Ripples in the river

Marnie paused on the bridge and gazed into river.

“My life began here,” she thought.

. . .

More than twenty years before she’d stood there, begging for release from torments she could no longer endure; when a gentle voice beside her said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” and stood there with her in silence a while before asking, “Care to walk a little?”

. . .

Marnie flicked the agent’s card into the water and watched momentarily as it carried away the last remnants of that other existence.

“I wonder if Miss still lives there,” she smiled. “Must say hello.”


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.