The Butterfly defect…why lots of flapping does not help!

When I was at University of Leicester (1972-75), studying Biological Sciences and Psychology, lots of ideas we now take as read in those days were ‘cutting edge’.  My personal tutor was directly involved in cracking the genetic code and working out how to sequence Chromosomes, which of course led to DNA fingerprinting.  As part of my Ecological studies, we learned about Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect.  Here’s what wikipedia have to say on that early idea:

Chorinea amazon 0821-001aSensitivity to initial conditions is popularly known as the “Butterfly effect”, so called because of the title of a paper given by Edward Lorenz in 1972 to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., entitled Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?.[ The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.

Schools form part of that group of most complex systems known to man, see a previous note of mine here http://wp.me/p1i7wC-yc.  Rather like the weather, storms and sunny weather come and go, and schools large and small have to cope with the change in climate that they face.

However, in the last month we have had to face an extraordinary buffeting of ‘Flapping Wings’ from Government and their quangos about Education. Not a day goes by without another centrally created crisis becoming a news-bite for the national and international media to feast upon. And for what?  Is this how complex systems should be run?  Would any adult with an understanding of what’s meant by emotional intelligence seek to name, blame, game and shame in every speech they gave about the sector that they supervise?

Ouch – this litany of daily failure might herald the end of the world as we know it. The crescendo of discontent though is very much driven by journalists and politicians alike. Their Flapping continues to cause a chain of events that is destablising schools and the professionals who work therein. Add to that talk of ‘Trojan Horses’ and ‘Religious Extremism’ and it’s no surprise people are running scared. And yet, none of these stories seem to apply to the world of education in which I work.  Sure stuff happens, but what we are about is creating a daily ‘cut and mow’ second to none, a rhythm of educational life that ensures that practice happens and opportunities are taken at every turn.

The Independent Education Sector is renowned internationally for the quality of our all-round provision. So it’s no surprise to learn that if ISC schools were a country, we’d be found at the top of the PISA rankings. The fact that our athletes disproportionately represent the country in the Olympics and World sporting achievements should be no surprise. That we are over-represented in the Universities, professions, parliament and even dare I say the higher echelons of the Military and Judiciary again should not come as a surprise.

I am writing this blog at 6pm, Wednesday evening, and the Cricketers, Rowers, Tennis players and Sailors are still hard at work.  The girls’ Tennis team came back from the ISA National Tennis championships last Friday with a hat-full of medals, and they are back out practicing again. The top 3 school quads (Rowers) are out training at Henley, preparing for qualifying events this Friday prior to Henley Regatta. The 12 strong Sailing team depart Sunday for 3 days of International Schools sailing on Rutland water on Sunday. Every day now for the next 3 weeks, children young and old alike are stretched and challenged beyond compare.  Sports Days, Drama showcases, Community Research projects, Work Experience and even Google Apps showcasing fill the calendar.   Oh, and there will be a host of boys and girls out on expedition in the Chilterns, New Forest and moorlands between now and September as they learn how to look after themselves under canvas and navigate challenging terrain in remote and wild country.  We are a day school by the way.

The Royal Ballet school and Yehudi Menuhin School are specialist providers; no surprise that so many of their graduates fill our ballet and orchestral companies. Of course they are Independent Schools, of course they charge Tuition fees, and of course they also have state-funded places so that those of real talent and ability whatever their means can apply and be supported through their specialist education.  And post school, no-one can learn to fly a plane without going to a specialist flying school; the last thing you want is that training left to a generalist organisation.

Claires Court is a specialist provider too; from academic study through to personal development, we have mapped programmes developed for decades that give rise for those that pass through our school brilliant opportunities for them to become excellent in their field.  Our multi-sport disciplines approach to developing physical excellence is recommended across the world as the best way of developing the best sporting super-stars. Our Libraries and classrooms bristle with books, and children make informed choices as to whether use ink-based or virtual print. Specialisation too early prevents the overarching development of the all-rounder, so we look for the Goldilocks effect – not too much, not too little, just right. Like-wise our teaching programmes do not propel children pell-mell (disorderly confusion, reckless haste) into early academic specialisation. That’s an outrage that even Ofsted and Gove say should not happen.

My title alludes to the negative effects that panic and agitation bring.  Be very afraid if you hear too much of such fuss around children.  They pick up upon people running scared pretty quickly, and that will shape how they think and act. If they only learn how to behave when adrenalin flows, that’s really not great.

By practicing lots and lots, we become what we repeatedly do, skilled under pressure, calm under fire and creative when something outside the box needs to happen.

“Fly like a butterfly, Sting like a bee, Work like a Trojan, That’s a guarantee!” with apologies to Muhammad Ali – one of the greatest sportsmen in History.

P.S. From the promotion of British values to the provision for excellence, you can read how we do that here – http://www.clairescourt.com/news-and-media/news/inspectors-recognise-maidenhead-private-schools-excellence-/

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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