Rolling Snowballs Downhill

If you want to make a giant snowball, the worst thing you can do is to try to reach down and grab all of the snow at once. You’ll lose most of it as you lift it and the rest will fall apart. A far better approach is to grab a manageable handful and then shape it and compact it into a nice solid ball. You add a little a more around the edges and then set it on the ground and roll it. If you’re lucky enough to be by a hill, you can roll it down and the momentum will build. The hardest part is overcoming inertia and getting it rolling in the first place, so that’s why it’s best to start it rolling while it’s still small. It doesn’t matter that it started small because it will gather and pick up snow as it makes its way down the hill.


The best way to make a giant snowball is also the most effective way to change the culture of your school or district. Cultural change isn’t something that is announced from the podium or simply declared in a vision statement. The leader who tries to just single-handedly lift his staff to excellence or to a cultural paradigm shift will inevitably see it crumble. Change is created by starting small and building powerful relationships with a committed but often small initial group. This group can then hit the ground and start moving forward. They will find it easier to overcome inertia because they will not be weighed down by the naysayers, the reluctant, and the largest group of all…the comfortable. They will be free to build momentum unencumbered by the resistance and friction that so often dooms forward progress in projects that try to bring everyone along for the ride from the beginning.  As they build speed rolling down the hill, they will attract others to the cause who want to now get involved with a successful and positive movement. Eventually, the size of the snowball reaches the point of critical mass, drawing in all around it and becoming an unstoppable force for change and progress.


By the way, the initial snowball doesn’t have to be formed by only those with leadership “titles” on your campus. It can be formed by administrators at any level, small groups of teachers, classified staff, or perhaps most powerfully, by combinations of all three. A recent example of this was the fantastic back-to-school welcome event held by the South Bay Union School District this year. An eclectic combination of classified staff members, teachers, and administrators created the day from scratch. I was honored to be asked to deliver the keynote address and can attest to the positive energy created by the event.


For movements like this to work, it takes enlightened leadership willing to let go of the reins and support progress no matter who in the system is generating it.  One of the most powerful roles that district and site leaders can play is to seek and find the “snowball makers” on their campuses and find ways to support them and to help them start the ball rolling.


No matter what your position, you can create change. If you are struggling to do so, maybe you’re trying to pick up all the snow at once. Just grab a handful, pack it tight, and then start pushing. Change is a lot easier when you’re rolling snowballs downhill.


Dave Burgess


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Rolling Snowballs Downhill

  1. Isn’t this the premise of CUE Rock Star Teacher Tech Camps. At least that is how I have used it in the past couple of years. I first saw that “Shirtless Dancing Guy” a couple of years ago A movement starts with one crazy dude and after the first person follows him, a “movement” is created.

    I have learned some really cool things and brought the excitement of my learning back to my school and introduced some of my colleagues to the flipped “koolaid”. We are slowly building capacity for teacher learning. Every time we return from an experience, more and more people are invited to partake.

    I love your analogy of the snowball. Thanks for using such an understandable metaphor!

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