Ever heard of appreciative inquiry? While it may sound like a gratitude exercise, it’s actually a collaborative, mindfulness-driven process of improving an organization. And appreciation does play a big part; if appreciative inquiry is done well, you and your whole school will without a doubt have a renewed sense of gratitude for your students and colleagues.
Here’s how it normally is. Every day, no matter what job we work in, (but especially in schools) we are problem solving. Our careers can seem like one long series of to-do lists passed to us from managers, students, parents, everyone. I’m willing to bet that most of us feel like we have little agency in the organization and leadership of the institutions in which we work. We may just feel like cogs in a machine that someone else is driving.
Appreciative inquiry redistributes power to all its members by asking them a simple question, “How can we be better?” When leaders ask this question, something amazing happens – people speak up with great ideas, become more engaged in their work, and feel a greater sense of ownership in their school. Here we introduce the five principles of appreciative inquiry to allow you to see how it could be used in your classroom or entire school to drive growth and positivity.
The theory behind constructionism is that what we say has a huge influence on what we do, and the things we say are in large determined by the types of relationships we have. By inquiring into the nature of a school’s relationships, we can help people envision what a more effective and enjoyable school community might look like. It’s not about criticism; it’s about seeing relationships for how they really are.
The principle of simultaneity states that as we look into relationships and ask tough questions, we plant seeds of improvement. The very act of asking questions is a form of awareness that allows us to begin noticing behaviors, both our own and of others, that may have previously existed in the background. Themes will arise from this inquiry and the school will begin to consolidate its focus on the most persistent issues.
The life of a school is encapsulated by the stories that we tell, whether it’s what a student said yesterday or something funny that happened in the teachers’ lounge. In this way, the story of the institution as a whole is a work in progress authored by all of the staff who work there. The principle of poeticism states that we must choose our words carefully because they add to a narrative that affects everyone. By speaking in a way that inspires and constructs rather than chastises, we can enliven the best in our students and colleagues.
The present sets the stage for the future. What we do now will create tomorrow. An essential part of appreciative inquiry involves the visualization of an ideal future. Through the artful creation of positive imagery, a school can anticipate a new reality. This can take the form of guided meditation and skilled appreciative inquiry facilitators will use anticipation as a powerful mobilizing force of change.
A group stuck in a cycle of negativity will be resistant to collaboration and progress no matter how objectively dysfunctional or effective their school may be. The principle of positivity states that positive emotions like joy, hope, excitement, and kinship are essential for building momentum towards sustainable change. Cultivating these positive emotions can come from all sorts of places, like practicing mindfulness, or just working to spread happiness like a virus.
Although I’ve introduced appreciative inquiry as a school-wide approach, it can also be done within a single classroom. Your students, no matter what age, are perceptive and have ideas about how they could make themselves happier and more successful. Nevertheless, actually undergoing an appreciative inquiry is a significant endeavor and is best done with guidance. Check out this list of resources to learn more or set up a free consultation with us!