The Power of “Entanglement”: Implications For School Leaders

Recently I was listening to a January 29, 2015 episode of Invisibilia, a podcast about the invisible forces that affect us without us being aware.

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Specifically, the reporters narrating this episode were talking about a phenomenon known as “entanglement.”

They began by describing a physics experiment where scientists have been able to isolate atoms in separate locations, change the molecular structure, and cause the two separate atoms to become one atom in separate locations.

That’s right. In one experiment, an atom contained in a box four feet away from itself in another box was demonstrating simultaneous responses in both boxes. These atoms are not mirror images of one another; they are one another. Separate but one: a phenomenon known as entanglement. Charles Q. Choi from Live Science explains that scientists theorize entangled atoms may stay connected even if a universe a part!

Scientists are able to explain how to make this happen, but they are still unable to explain why this is possible.

So, why am I fascinated with this idea of entanglement?

Well, before I answer that question, let me describe another entanglement phenomenon. This may seem common sense, but Invisibilia reporters also explain how psychologists have proven that a person’s behavior is unconsciously influenced by his or her environment—a kind of social entanglement.

In one example, an unsuspecting individual was placed on an elevator with groups of people who had pre-determined certain movements (like facing the wrong direction or taking their hats off at the same time.)

Over and over again, and with multiple test cases, individuals would follow the movements of the group—even to the point not just mirroring their movements but following them simultaneously.

For instance, an individual wearing a hat would be joined by a group of people wearing hats. Without any advanced notice, the hatted folks would reach up and remove their hats, and the unsuspecting individual would follow suit–often without any hesitation and sometimes simultaneously!

Their explanation for this phenomenon? Entanglement.

So why is this important to educators or school leaders? In some ways, it confirms what we’ve always known: our surroundings influence us more than we often recognize. We may be connecting with one another in ways more mysterious than we’ve ever imagined. In other ways, it opens our eyes to incredible possibilities.

So, here’s my simple application…If you take the idea of entanglement to its logical conclusion, you must seriously grapple with the power of your position as a school leader and ask yourself some questions:

  1. What persons or ideas am I consistently surrounding myself with, and how is this affecting who I am?
  2. How am I purposely and intentionally influencing my home, work, surroundings to bring about the most positive outcomes possible?
  3. In what ways am I taking time to intentionally provide positive feedback to students and teachers?
  4. How am I tailoring messages through lessons, conversations, announcements, newsletters, assemblies, concerts, ceremonies or social media?

As school leaders, we cannot ignore how incredibly (and sometimes mysteriously) significant a part we each play in the environments of our schools. This can be done in many ways, but I can’t think of more powerful way than by the messages delivered by the teachers and staff who touch our students for the majority of their day.

And as a school leader, it is your responsibility to positively influence the message students are consistently receiving. But you are a small part of a web of entangled messages and influences; how can you keep the part you play meaningful?

Entanglement has many implications. Scientists ask if it is possible for bits of ourselves to actually be present in the places or people with whom we are entangled–like the same atom present in two separate locations? But regardless of how mind-blowing those implications may be, one of the most powerful takeaways is simply that the people and places all around us are consciously and unconsciously entangled.

Be intentional today about influencing the entangled environment of your school. Do your part in making it the kind of place you would want your own children experiencing life everyday.

Now It’s Your Turn
What are some ways you are intentionally working to keep your environment positive? Share with the rest of us! See a previous post I did on 20 ideas from fellow admins on ways to positively influence your school. Share it with others and start some positive entanglement today.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker