Bright Spots and New Learning Models

By Devin Vodicka

“When it’s time to change, we must look for bright spots — the first signs that things are working … We need to ask ourselves a question that sounds simple but is, in fact, deeply unnatural: What’s working and how can we do more of it?”

Don’t solve problems – Copy success

In Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath share the compelling story of Jerry Sternin, who took an appreciative inquiry approach while attempting to address a complex challenge of malnutrition for children in Vietnam.  Instead of identifying all of the obstacles, Sternin looked for positive outliers in the midst of challenging conditions.  Were there poor children that were managing to stay healthy?  How were they doing it? 

Sternin not only reviewed data, he went out into the field and spoke with many families.  He visited their homes and observed their behaviors.  Along the way, he found that the healthy children had families where the parents were mixing shrimp and crab into the rice that they fed to their children, thereby adding valuable protein to their diets that resulted in superior results:   “The solution was a native one, emerging from the real-world experience of the villagers, and for that reason, it was inherently realistic as well as sustainable.”  

After working intensively to incorporate these new practices within one village and validating the improvements (65% of children were better nourished after six months), Sternin then set about to have the villagers share these practices with one another.  By taking a collaborative approach, more than 2.2 million people were positively impacted by these insights.  

And it all began by wondering what was working and identifying the “bright spots.” 


So where are the bright spots in education? This was a question that surfaced in our work with the Texas Learning Exchange (TxLx) project in collaboration with Educate Texas and Getting Smart. We set about to first identify the dimensions of potential success, including outcomes, learning experiences, competencies and credentialing, wellness, and equity.  We then combined the insights from our teams who have the good fortune to have visited thousands of classrooms and partnered with hundreds of school systems across the United States to create lists of potential new models.  After mapping those against the dimensions of success, we published a list of 24 schools in the New Learning Models Library.  

The New Learning Models Library is a resource for school and district leaders to find a diverse framework of dimensions to innovate on. These models are found in various states and cities across the nation and include innovation opportunities that are not district specific but instead are school or program based and can serve as inspiration as districts and schools start their innovation strategy.

The focus of this work is the cataloging of networks, schools and districts and out of school programs to provide resources of inspiration for innovative systemic work across the nation and in Texas. These schools can be filtered by model/type (including magnet schools and part-time programs) as well as by context (elementary/middle/high school, rural/suburban/urban, etc.).  Each model has a description, tags to the dimensions, and links to additional resources.  There is also a link to the school website where you can find contact information.  

I encourage you to check out the New Learning Models Library and to reach out to one of the schools to learn more. We would also like to add to the list and you can email with your suggestions. I also recommend that you subscribe to Katie Martin’s Bright Spots newsletter for weekly inspiration.  

Finally, look for what has worked in your own environment.  Are there students that have been particularly successful?  Teachers in your school that have had breakthrough experiences? When you find them, the key is not only to learn from them but also to share.  

As we continue to emerge out of this pandemic, the need for us to reorient to an optimistic approach that builds on success has never been greater.  Let’s find the bright spots and use them to accelerate our collective progress for the benefit of all learners.  

“In tough times, we’ll see problems everywhere, and “analysis paralysis” will often kick in. That’s why, to make progress on a change, we need to provide crystal-clear direction — show people where to go, how to act, what destination to pursue. And that’s why bright spots are so essential: They provide the road map.”

Don’t solve problems – Copy success

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

Use #LCLeadership to share your ideas

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