Seemingly Small Actions Can Have a Large Impact

One afternoon roughly sixty years ago, MIT meteorology professor Edward Lorenz initiated a computer simulation, chose to leave his desk for a cup of coffee, and accidentally altered the course of science. What he discovered, when he returned to his workstation, was a vastly different result than a prior weather model he’d run using the same data set. He soon realized he’d inadvertently rounded one variable from six to three decimal places—or from .506127 to .506—and this change had drastically impacted the weather patterns predicted by the program.

Lorenz had stumbled upon what he later coined The Butterfly Effect: a single, seemingly insignificant event that effects major changes over time. This concept has been applied to fields spanning from mathematics to sociology to pop culture to psychology. While reflecting upon this idea, I can’t help but draw parallels to Windward’s core value of impact.

Broken down to its simplest terms, The Butterfly Effect has a basic premise: Small actions matter, and we are all connected. What does this look like in practice? I see evidence of it everywhere at Windward. I saw it when our Kindness Crew at WMS greeted fellow students with encouraging signs to kickstart their fellow students’ days on a happy note. I see it daily as I witness our dedicated faculty and staff showing their students and colleagues care, compassion, and concern. I celebrate it when I observe it in action as our students show one another empathy and acceptance.

The interesting thing about making an impact is that even a small gesture can have wide-ranging effects, touching every person or interaction that it follows. Any time a Windward student has checked in on a classmate who was having a rough day, they were making an impact—whether or not they knew it at the time. Maybe that classmate’s day got a little better, and maybe they went on to brighten someone else’s day.

Anyone who has had a teacher that took some extra time to help them understand a concept, who took an interest in them as a person, or who encouraged them to keep trying until an idea clicked can attest: That teacher made an impact. I still remember the first teacher who took an interest in me as a learner, and that teacher changed the course of my life.

The Windward School’s bold ambition as an organization is to not only make a life-changing impact on its students but also the learning disability population overall. Making that kind of impact is a cumulative exercise; each effort builds upon the last, until, gradually, what emerges bears little resemblance to its starting point. It is the sum of these efforts—by students, by their families, by our faculty and staff members, and by our community—that shape the Windward experience. And when we talk about having a transformational impact, that is the heart of it.