NAIS Conference Begins – Find the Bright Spots

Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual conference put on by the National Association of Independent Schools and, along with a few books I had read prior to this conference, I was inspired and propelled to make some major changes in the way I taught and viewed education. The limits of this change, however, were something I wasn’t prepared for. Change is slow and I’m impatient. What I need to do is focus on the bright spots.

The general climate for teachers in general is not a great one at the moment. Rather than focusing on bright spots, most education policy makers around the country seem to be focused on the dark spots. Could this be a consequence of No Child Left Behind, the recession, state budgets, teacher evaluations, or other factors?

Last year’s conference provided each of its participants with the Heath Brothers’ new book at the time, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I read the book right away, wrote a post about it, and put it aside. Whether it be for personal change or institutional change, Switch is a good book to revisit and reflect upon.

One of the authors, Dan Heath will be speaking at one of the general sessions of the NAIS conference tomorrow. I hope one of the four people from our school heading to the conference this year will attend his session. Why is change hard? Here’s a quick reminder of the book’s central ideas.

1. Decisions are usually made by our overpowering emotional element – it is, however this emotional side that provides us with the energy to get the job done.

2. While we like to think we are logical, this rational side almost always plays second fiddle to our emotional side.

According to the authors, in order to direct our rational sides while still being able to use our emotional energy, we have to:

1. Find the bright spots.

2. Script the critical moves.

3. Point to the destination.

And we can ‘feed’ our emotional sides by:

1. Finding the feeling.

2. Shrinking the change.

3. Growing your people.


Change in education is hard, which is one of the many reasons education reform across this country is in the state that it is. Of course, when autocratic decisions are made that do the opposite of the above, for example, growing the change and shrinking the people while focusing on the dark spots with no clear destination in sight, it’s easy to see why there is a lot of tension among teachers. Michelle Rhee made a huge splash in the papers in the past year, but slowly, there are many stories highlighting the flaws in her own pursuit to change education (rather than looking at ways to grow teachers, she fired many that she deemed ineffective). Again, if you look at the headlines across the country, teachers have been made out to be the bad guys and there’s something wrong with this picture.

Change is just one topic amid a myriad of others, but it covers many of the other topics in education: innovation, technology, motivation, citizenship, and so on.

With my students, I know that finding the bright spots has been an excellent way to engage and help them learn. Rather than fixate on a child’s poor spelling, for example, looking at what makes them come alive and shine in sharing their stories with others has done wonders. By giving that child more opportunities to share their writing, they have self-identified the need for proper spelling in order to communicate more clearly.

I’m interested to hear what my colleagues take away from this year’s conference. You can click on the ‘nais link’ on the sidebar to learn more about what’s going on, and who the other featured speakers are. Here’s a short video of Dan Heath speaking about finding those bright spots. According to the Heaths, focusing on the biggest problems is the wrong way to go about growing. It only fosters mediocrity.


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