A mosquito in the tent

Since the IBSG2018 there’s been a buzz around disrupting school as it has been, by IB educators calling ourselves the “IB rebel alliance” provoked into action by Taryn BondClegg. Some of the big ideas that have brought some welcome, refreshing disruptions to the model of schooling come from Studio 5 at ISHCMC. The new blog Educator Voices and Sam Sheratt describe some of its exciting work.

In the wake of Taryn’s challenge to be “rebels not robots” and take action to redesign our schools, Sonya Terborg sent me this in reply to a comment that “Tiny disturbances can change the system.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 14.56.14

It may seem sometimes that when educators speak about the change that is necessary to bring voice, choice and empowerment into schools that they sound like annoying little mosquitos in the tent. A large slap could end that buzzing. As Teresa Tung explained it, an administrator’s “But…” could subdue or even extinguish teacher agency.

Large systems seem like daunting monoliths for a teacher to move. Like being a mosquito in a tent (watch out for that hand!).

Rosa Parks was one person. She was a tiny disturbance in a large system. Her one action of refusing to move from the white-only section of the bus led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a lawsuit, and finally a widespread awareness of social divisions.

Here’s another story about how one tiny disturbance changed an ecosystem.

Leadership from heads and teachers can result in a trophic cascade, a natural phenomenon in which introduction of actors in an ecosystem result in dramatic changes in the whole ecosystem.

We do not need to wait for all elements to be perfect in order to change a system. If we do, nothing much will happen. We need to start. We need to introduce a tiny disturbance. With a tiny disturbance, the system will have to respond to regain equilibrium.

To create those tiny disturbances, we do need courage.

Courage comes in many forms in our schools.

It’s the open-mindedness of a head of school to listen and work alongside teachers to make change happen in small or big ways.

It’s teachers who give themselves permission to experiment, iterate, fail, innovate, fail, persevere.

We have colleagues who let go of the comfortable and enter into unfamiliar ways of being teachers, leaders, critical friends.

We can have students who tell the director and the principal that we need to create a culture of reciprocity.

And the list goes on.

And imagine what might happen after a classroom of students have spent a year learning with an innovative teacher. Might they then expect of their schooling the same empowerment, engagement and ownership in their own learning? And how might the system have to respond?

Once you make the disturbance, the system cannot go back to the way it was before. It will adjust to the new and change in response to it. This is the power of one voice, one classroom, one rebel.

There are many disturbances in our systems, and many courageous rebellions are not necessarily large and visible. We honour them, the stars and the quiet rebels, all.


Photo credit:

Domino cascade By aussiegall – [1], CC BY 2.0,

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

6 thoughts

  1. Hi There.
    Great blog posting.
    Can you make 1 correction?
    It’s Studio 5 at ISHCMC… Level 5 is in Shenzhen….
    Both doing amazing things in education but in different ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.