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On-Site Staff / Opinion / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management



but·ter·fly ef·fect


(with reference to chaos theory) the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere


As an experiential educator and group facilitator working in the realm of social-emotional learning and leadership development, I am used to helping people “get out of their comfort zones.”  As educators, it is not only our duty to encourage people to go beyond where they are comfortable and into this place called “learning” but to model this process as well.  While I would say that I am pretty comfortable with the uncomfortable, I recently had an opportunity to be put WAY out of my comfort zone. During this experience, I was reminded and validated that sometimes saying “yes” to something that seems to be a stretch for us, is both important to do and can also be very fulfilling, both personally and professionally.  In fact, even though it may be just one small thing, it might just even have a greater and broader unexpected impact and positive “butterfly effect.”

A dear friend, and former (now current again!) colleague of mine, Dr. Marialice Curran, is the founder of the Digital Citizenship Institute and the DigCitSummits.  When she learned I was available to attend the recent DigCitSummit in Saint Louis, MO, she encouraged me to present a workshop session.  I immediately jumped at the chance and submitted a proposal and abstract for my analog “Social Network” workshop. I was excited for the opportunity to expand my circles of impact into this new and different realm.  Not to downplay the relevance or importance of my workshop, but it is not one that is out of my comfort zone; I have led it many times and for many divergent types of groups and reasons, including at the BOOST Conference in 2013.  The workshop has significance in the Digital Citizenship world, and was well received by the participants at the summit. However, my own workshop wasn’t the best thing to happen for me at the DigCitSummit, in fact, it was the unexpected opportunity that I was given that turned out to be my most exciting and biggest most valuable learning experience that occurred over the course of the #DigCitWeekend in Saint Louis last week.

Dr. Curran asked me to run a session with a group of people live and in-person in Saint Louis, while simultaneously working with groups of students in Texas, Mexico, and any other place I wanted to include virtually, meeting up using Zoom Meeting; a virtual platform I had never used and in a space I am already super awkward and uncomfortable in. Meeting online in the virtual space is not new to me. As the Chair of the Northeast Region Advisory Council for the Association for Experiential Education, I’ve used Google Hangouts for meetings on a monthly basis over the past several years. While I have gotten pretty comfortable meeting virtually with those folks, I still always feel super awkward and a bit out of my element. While I get to see and hear everyone online, there still seems to be a disconnect. Perhaps it’s because as a group of experiential educators, we are all used to “in-person” interactions, or maybe it’s just me! In any case, the opportunity to work with groups around the continent excited me and sounded like something I should do, and while I had no idea how it would go or how to even make it happen, I said “yes.”  While my initial reaction was to say “no,” given my newness in the DigCitSummit, how busy I was leading up to it, and my own self-doubt, I dug deep down, embraced the opportunity, and said “YES.” I am so glad that I did.

Leading up to my arrival in Saint Louis, I really stressed out about this upcoming session. I struggled with visualizing how it would go, finding my self-doubt voices and the negative “what ifs” creeping in, and worrying that I wasn’t equipped to host such a meetup. I followed the advice I have given so many people over the years, “Trust the Process,” and trusted that the techno-folks would get the tech working, and that, as in most of the group work that I do, the students would be the leaders. I  remembered that I just needed to set the vibe, create the space, and validate them to know that they were truly going to be the leaders here.

I also recently partnered with a remarkable man; a father whose 6-year-old son Dylan, was murdered in 2012 in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  Ian Hockley emerged from this awful, life-changing tragedy, like so many of the other amazingly strong and resilient families who lost loved ones that day, his life forever changed, yet resolved to transform tragedy into positive change. Dylan’s Wings of Change was founded in his son’s memory as a way to honor Dylan’s life, as well as to raise awareness for kids like Dylan, who had challenges connecting and communicating with other people. The Wingman program was created out of Dylan’s Wings of Change as a way to get kids connecting with other kids and highlighting the need for young people to reach out, to go above and beyond for each other; that everyone needs a “wingman” looking out for them.  Over the past few years, the Wingman program has grown to include Wingman for Dance, Wingman for Sports, and the Wingman for Schools programs, for which I am a Master Trainer.

Wingman for Schools is a student-centered, student-led program in which participating schools select a small group of student leaders and teacher champions who are trained to facilitate experiential social-emotional learning activities for their classmates. The Wingman for Schools activities includes deep discussions and dialogue about empathy and emotional intelligence, effective communication, making genuine, positive human connections with others, and positively contributing to our schools and wider communities.  It is a beautiful and powerfully meaningful project to be a part of and seeing the impact it has on the kids, the teaching staff, and their schools have been inspiring.

When asked to lead the virtual meet up from Saint Louis, Ian and I began to muse on how best to do this. We decided to approach it from a “Wingman” perspective and to host the meeting in a similar way as we might if we were right there in the room with everyone. I prepared a set of questions for each remote group to ponder prior to the meetup so that we could start our dialogue from an informed and thoughtful place. I also adapted an old adventure education activity to use as our icebreaker/connector, not knowing how it would work with this many people on screens. I am very used to reading the vibe of the room and the group in my facilitation, this was way out of my comfort zone.

Once we put the pieces together that there would be kids from the US and kids from Mexico, that this was occurring on the International Day of Peace, and on the cusp of the autumnal equinox, the time the annual migration of the monarch butterflies from the US to Mexico begins coupled with the symbolism of the butterfly already used in Dylan’s Wings of Change and the Wingman projects, we had great metaphor and symbolism to use, and decided to also invite students from a middle school and a high school here in CT that have Wingman Programs in their schools to join our virtual meetup.

The call began a bit clunky, some groups were unable to get the video or audio working, but “trust the process” rang in my head again, and those who knew how worked their magic and made it happen.  Ian joined the call from Edison, New Jersey with Beth Moroney, an amazing and inspired educator, and recently certified Wingman Trainer. We were also joined on the screen by four groups of kids from all over the United States and from Mexico! I am still awestruck by how communication technology has changed and in my lifetime!

Once the glitches smoothed out and the group activity began, everyone got right into it. It was as though we were right in the room with each other while being thousands of miles and countries apart.  The students were amazing! Their understanding of and ability to discuss empathy, the joys and challenges of their schools and communities, and their ability to connect on the commonalities and intersections of those joys and challenges between and among their schools and communities were remarkable. The groups joined together and came to consensus on their challenge to issue to the students of the world. They decided to challenge people of all ages to commit acts of kindness, both small and large, and document these acts using various social media, by broadcasting those out on the wings of the world wide web using the hashtag #ButterflyEffectChallenge as a way to see the positivity catch on and catch flight, and hopefully migrate across nations, much like the butterflies do each fall.

This experience was inspiring and reignited my faith that it will be the youth who will transform the current climate of conflict into a space where people of difference and divergent beliefs and experiences can have meaningful dialogue and work together to improve our spaces for everyone.

The metaphor of the butterfly is such a beautiful one.  These tiny creatures start out crawling (just as humans do), then metamorphosize, growing wings and then emerge, learning to fly.  These creatures are beautiful, delicate and fragile, while also so incredibly strong and resilient (just like humans!), and they make this incredible journey, all the while whimsically flitting into our spheres and seem to leave us feeling a little lighter than before.

Much like a butterfly, this recent opportunity whimsically flitted in and presented itself. It is amazing how saying “yes” to something that we know will ultimately be good, but is out of our regular way of doing things, can lead us to relearn that the “magic happens just outside our comfort zones.” This small “yes” led to an amazing session, newfound old friends, a really fun and meaningful new project, many new opportunities for me professionally, and some still unknown outcomes. A butterfly effect, if you will.

As I sit typing this, I am finishing my breakfast; a delicious dark roast coffee and an English muffin with PB&J. I will leave you with the challenge these awesome young people came up with: What are the things you can do right now, every day, that can have a positive impact on the people around you? Share them out!

Take the #ButterflyEffectChallenge and make someone’s day a little brighter and lighter. Share the good and pass it on! Play along and post about your positivity on your networks of choice using #ButterflyEffectChallenge. If you were a butterfly flapping your wings and ever so gently moving that air around you, if even in the smallest ways, what will be your positive impact?  What will be YOUR Butterfly Effect?

For breakfast, as seen above I had a delicious dark roast coffee and an English muffin with PB&J.

Author: @justinmcglamery

Justin McGlamery is Founder and Chief Locus Focuser for Focus Your Locus Teambuilding Training and Development, LLC and is a Master Trainer for Wingman for Schools, a program of Dylan’s Wings of Change, a project of a 501c3 registered charity.

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