Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Systemic Change and the Starfish Story

You probably have heard of the Starfish Story as an allegory to an individual's value in making a difference. If not, here it is:

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a boy going back and forth between the surf's edge and and the beach. Back and forth this boy went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the boy continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the boy he said, "You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference." The boy looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, "It sure made a difference to that one!"

What is important for educational leaders to hear is the rest of the story. Cue Paul Harvey:

"No, I'm sorry," the man said. "That's not what I meant. Of course you are making a difference one by one. Here, let me show you."

And with that, the man got out his cell phone and called the lifeguard tower. Within minutes, three lifeguards riding on ATVs with attached beach-combing buckets on the front began to scoop up large parts of the beach, letting the sand sift out the bottom. Then, they turned to the ocean and dumped the bucket full of starfish out into the ocean.

"It's good to make a difference," the man said. "You just make a bigger difference with a plan and connections."

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