Nerf guns and change: The power of collective action

Jody Britten
Jun 12 · 4 min read

I’m a mom, which means I have had the joy of Nerf gun battles. I have learned the hard way that the amount of ammunition you stuff in your pockets and the number of people willing to jump in and help results in a win or an exhausting loss.

So yesterday when I had a glorious few hours with teachers and leaders to plan our upcoming ISTE presentation it is no surprise that Nerf bullets were scattered around my work space (we met at my in-home office).

As we were discussing our upcoming presentation, which focuses on community inspired change, I had a thought.

“What would happen if we approached change like we approach Nerf battles?”

Confused? I was too. Until I grabbed the two Nerf guns I had in my mind and snapped a picture.

Here’s the thing. These two Nerf guns demonstrate a dichotomy in the way we approach change: we can create change with one or with many.


When we think about change we often go with the “silver bullet” and “single shooter” approach where we choose our weapon of choice (usually a dreamy vision of perfection that is focused on one component of our full community).

The results of this approach to change are rather “blah.” Why? Because honestly what fun is it? And truly, how purposeful is it?

But sadly this approach is too commonplace.

When you have a bunch of single shots, change takes too long. When there’s just a few people thinking and acting you quickly learn that just when you arrive at the promise land of your dreamy vision, its outdated and lackluster.

Change (especially change that impacts a community) cannot happen effectively or expeditiously with that single shot approach. (Sorry, you grabbed the wrong Nerf gun.)

If we are going to make change meaningful and with any kind of shelf life (school change, organizational change, etc.) we have to think differently. We have to go at it with empowerment of our community at the center.

That means collective vision, collective action, and most assuredly collective celebration.

We have to go after change with the better option. That equates to a Nerf gun with multiple rounds and a few different trigger options.

Why? Because to get things done it takes a shower of actions hitting the target from all sides.

It’s like when the kids collectively attack me during a Nerf battle. I get hammered from all sides and they take me down.

By working together with a shared goal (eg. take mom down in a blaze of glory) they achieve a quick and effective win. Because they went after it from their own vantage points.

Community-engaged change is about everyone leading from where they are, giving energy in their own way, and turning actions into collective progress. It takes a collaborative and empowered spirit to do this work; because one voice doesn’t drive the outcome. It is about progress, negotiation, understanding, and above all your collective goal(s).

When I look at those Nerf guns and I think about the positive outcomes of collective action; I’m not only inspired by the sheer force of the possibilities, I am in absolute awe.

Prepare for change just like you would a Nerf battle; with as much ammunition as possible and a tribe that is as passionate and invested in the collective win as you are.

Change can be a fun experience, let it be.

And if you have forgotten how to have fun with hard change, drop by for a Nerf battle.

Get put in your place by a bunch of eight year olds with super-powered Nerf guns and you’ll remember the power of collaboration and the importance of our choices.

Choose the right Nerf gun folks, if change is happening you might as well have fun. Be in it together, not alone.

Jody Britten

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fierce mom, constant learner, writer, speaker, researcher, thinker, designer, gadget queen, advocate for learning that matters & public ed, lead with my actions