John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at www.FlourishingSchools.com, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.
John's articles are here.
“We must look for what is good in an organization before we move forward. Where the organization wants to be is based on higher moments of where they have been.” David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney
The Appreciative Inquiry process, developed by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, is a positive way to incorporate change in an organization that focuses on the “high moments” of people and which values this complexity. AI can help people develop healthy relationships by mobilizing and building high quality connections between students and students, teachers and teachers, teachers and students, parents and students, and teachers and parents.
When affirming past and present strengths, appreciative people are open to potential and possibilities. This leads parents, teachers, administrators, and students toward a shared strengths-based model that opens dialogue and further inquiry.
Appreciative Inquiry is made up of four component parts:
- Discover—uncover the good that already exists
- Dream—envision what might be
- Design—dialogue about what should be
- Delivery—innovate what will be
Two Examples of Appreciative Inquiry in Action
Example 1: Nancy McKinnis, a leadership instructor at Culver Girls Academy, wanted her juniors to formulate a vision for following year when they would be senior leaders. Instead of asking them to identify the problems they needed to fix, she had asked them reflective discovery questions such as “When have you felt best about the dorm?” Nancy observed that by celebrating the best of who they are, students could better dream, building their vision of what the dorm and its residents could be like. Within their goals and objectives existed solutions to the very adversities that would have previously been defined as problems. In fact the students came up with similar goals to the ones adults were already thinking about.
Example 2: I was asked by the superintendent of a north central Indiana public school to facilitate a modified AI process with his administrative team. The A-team was made up of members of the school committee, the elementary and junior/senior high school principals, athletic director, transportation director, custodial-facilities, chief financial officer, and director of technology. We had some productive discovery conversation about their strengths-of-action (Strengths Finder 2.0). In fact, two school committee members had an epiphany when they realized how one’s strength of “competition” appealed, or didn’t appeal to the other’s “harmony” when dealing with hot-button issues.
We were in the design state of setting a goal of “upgrading facilities.” Several participants echoed concerns that realizing this goal may be difficult because it requires asking for taxpayer’s money from residents who haven’t had children in the system for years. A pause came across the group, and after what seemed to be an eternity, one of the school committee members, who had been relatively quiet for most of the session, declared: “To reach this goal we need to develop better relationships with them, just like we are doing with each other today. We need to have smaller open-forums to carry on the discussion.” At this moment, the head nods were going up and down, where before some were going side to side. We were launched into the delivery phase.
Appreciative Inquiry is not magical, but by following the process, it provides a different pro-active angle of vision for school stakeholders to rise to the occasion by bringing out the best in each other.
Appreciative Inquiry Commons, a sources of materials and discussions on the practice of Appreciative Inquiry.
Cooperrider, D. and Whitney, D. (2004) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. and Stavros,J. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, 2nd Edition (Book & CD) . Brunswick, OH: Crown Publishing, Inc.
Ludema, J., Whitney, D., Mohr, B., & Griffin, T. (2003). The Appreciative Inquiry Summit: A Practitioner’s Guide for Leading Large-Group Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.
Orem, S., Binchert, J. & Clancy, A. (2007). Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change (Jossey-Bass Business & Management). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Gallup Press.