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Education, Leadership, Teaching

The North Star Effect: Improvement by Degrees

Circle of stars in Death Valley

cc flickr photo by GlacierTim

The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.  ~ James Whitcomb Riley

Results.  Terms like academic rigor, data driven, common core, and standardized assessment dominate current educational vocabulary — all intended to drive and measure results.  I am not suggesting that all of these are inherently bad, but providing our students with a quality education goes well beyond what can be easily measured.  In fact, the true effects (good or bad) of an educator’s efforts may not be evident for years.

At last spring’s ASCD conference, I had  the privilege of hearing Peter Reynolds — the founder of Fable Vision Studios — speak about fostering creative learning environments.  During his keynote address, he discussed what he described as “The North Star Effect.”  As Reynolds explained, historically, navigation by the north star was common practice.  If a travelers bearings were off by just a few degrees it may have had minimal impact over a short distance, but over a significant period of time, a difference of a few degrees could lead one to an entirely different place.

Every day, we make decisions, and take actions, that impact our families, friends, students, colleagues and organizations.  When our intent is to make a positive impact, a difference in the lives of others, we want to see results–know that we are making progress.  As educators, we have to accept that we may not see the immediate, or tangible results of our work, but that doesn’t mean we are not effective.  We should adopt the philosophy of The North Star Effect.  Improve a given situation, even if only by a few degrees, and we may see substantial gains in the long run.  We can do this by being mindful of our daily actions, interactions with others, and attitude.

Don’t underestimate your ability to make a difference, or be discouraged by what appears to be a lack of progress.  More often than not, positive change and improvement is a matter of degrees, not leaps and bounds.  Stay the course.


About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


3 thoughts on “The North Star Effect: Improvement by Degrees

  1. I totally agree…day by day…step by step…as are so fortunate as educators to have the opportunity to affect a life in a meaningful way every day. We sometimes become overwhelmed and forget this. Well said.

    Posted by thadhaines (@thadhaines) | October 22, 2011, 6:22 pm
  2. Someone once told me that persistance and perseverence are omnipotent. So, that Riley quote resonates with me.

    Would have loved to hear Peter Reynolds speak. I am an admirer of his and his work inspires me. If you have not read his books, I highly recommend it.

    I agree. Sometimes I think, for whatever reason, we overcorrect and overcorrect again. Before you know it we are way off course. This business of education and nurturing students takes time. And time is not what some want to hear or be reminded of. This post leaves me encouraged to keep promoting positive incremental change. Thanks.

    Posted by marty | October 22, 2011, 6:37 pm
  3. I would have really enjoyed that speech by Mr. Reynolds on the North Star Effect. I am in the military and know what a difference in a few degrees can do when you are doing land navigation. So, I can definitely understand the analogy when it comes to education. Teaching is so much more than lectures and testing. Some of the best teachers I can remember from growing up are for so much more than what they were required to teach me. It was what they didn’t have to teach but made a point for me to remember when I moved on into my adult life. I had a history teacher in 6th grade that gave us this project to create our own country. We had to name it, draw it, and come up with all these different ideas to create the culture of it. I loved how passionate she was about history and it has inspired me ever since to be a history teacher. All I have to say is her passion is the one important factor that has me where I am today. I always look back at her as the reason I have always wanted to teach. I appreciate your inspiring post!!

    Posted by Owen Gill (@gill_owen) | October 30, 2011, 12:58 pm

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Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
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