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Finding and Learning from Bright Spots

By Patti Slobogin, PhD, Coordinator

I have been thinking a lot about something I read two summers ago in the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. In a chapter titled Find the Bright Spots, they tell the story of Jerry Sternin, who went to Vietnam for Save the Children, and was given six months to develop a solution to the serious problem of malnutrition in children in rural communities. His conversations with experts on the topic focused on the many obstacles--poverty in the villages, ignorance about nutrition, poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. Sternin labeled these facts TBU, “True but Useless”. He acknowledged these obstacles, but knew that if he concentrated his efforts on solving poverty, ignorance and failing infrastructure he certainly would not solve the problem of malnutrition in six months, and maybe never. Instead of trying to develop solutions to highly complex problems, Sternin decided to spend his time identifying children in the villages who were bigger and healthier than others and studying the nutritional practices of their mothers; the Heath brothers call these mothers “bright spot” mothers. Sternin and his team created structures that supported other mothers in replicating the practices of bright spot mothers and, within 6 months, 65 percent of the children in the villages were better nourished. when researchers came to Vietnam later to gather independent data they found kids in Sternin’s villages were still healthier, including those who had been born after he left. Sternin’s team succeeded in creating lasting changes in practices that resulted in positive and important measurable change. In six months!...

This month’s Bright Spot comes from Karen Kushnir, Megan DiDomenico, Amy Cohen and Cynthia Giumarra from Byram Hills.  Teams from Byram Hills have been attending the Student-Directed IEP book study series.

What were students able to achieve?

Students with disabilities in Byman Hills are setting their own learning goals, monitoring their progress towards achievement of those goals, and engaging in self-advocacy to ensure they receive the supports they need.  They are able to identify and articulate what instructional strategies and supports work for them.  As the team says, the students are taking ownership and becoming more invested in their educational planning and annual review meetings.

What practices or systems made this possible?

Here are just a few of the practices that Byram Hills staff are putting in place:

* Teaching self-awareness and goal setting to students as early as Kindergarten

* Involving all student in understanding their current IEP goals and brainstorming ways to achieve them

* Explicitly teaching students how to advocate and how to ask for help

* Recognizing the responsibility educators have to prepare their student to be independent learners, thinkers and active members of society

What can we learn from this Bright Spot?

Here’s what two of the teachers had to say:

“When a student’s voice is heard and they are part of their own educational planning in a developmentally appropriate manner, they are invested in their own education and become more self-aware and self-confident.”

“Students are the “I” in IEP.  Their role is an integral part of the process.”


A Technical Guide for Alignment of Initiatives – June 2018

“In many districts and schools, educators are faced with the challenge of having to implement, sustain, and evaluate several different innovations, initiatives, programs or practices at the same time....In some instances, new or existing initiatives may actually be in conflict…

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