By Dr Vicki Hargraves
In our webinar, Dr Chris Jenkin (AUT) explained the benefits of taking an Appreciative Inquiry approach to a range of activities from internal review to professional development, with a particular focus on strengthening teams and team engagement, and enhancing practice through action planning.
The key insights from the webinar include:
Appreciative Inquiry has four stages. After choosing a focus for review or discussion, Appreciative Inquiry into that topic involves:
- Inviting people to share stories of good practice, what has been working well, or something they are really proud of (as a whole team or in pairs)
- Identifying the key values within those stories of good practice
- Creating a vision from the collective stories and values underpinning them
- Determining what action is needed in the short and long term to achieve that vision
For example, in an Appreciative Inquiry into bicultural curriculum, a teacher might share being proud of singing a waiata without looking at the words. Knowing te reo can be identified as a key value, and one part of a vision for bicultural curriculum might be for each staff member to be confident in a certain set of language skills. Long- and short-term planning can then be determined in relation to this goal.
Appreciative Inquiry builds from teachers’ own stories and strengths. Teachers can build confidence and motivation from identifying their achievements, special strengths or knowledge in relation to the focus area. The whole team can be encouraged to identify the values in the stories that teachers tell about their proudest moments and use these as a source of discussion. Rather than starting from a deficit position and focusing on what is wrong or what needs to be changed, starting with current achievements and strengths, and seeking to enhance them, builds motivation, excitement and positive energy.
Appreciative Inquiry strengthens engagement, collegiality and leadership. A strengths-based approach builds a sense of collaboration and appreciation for the different strengths of members of the team. Team members build mutual understanding through hearing about each other’s stories and values. As teams establish their strengths base and build on it, hidden strengths and talents begin to emerge and the whole team starts to flourish. Different teachers can take on and lead different aspects of the action plan, gradually taking ownership and responsibility, which is important if changes are to be sustained long-term.
It is important that there is a consensus decision about the choice of topic for Appreciative Inquiry to ensure buy-in from team members. It is possible to frame an inquiry question around the chosen topic with something as simple as: ‘in what ways can we enhance …?’. The small and specific details will come in the action planning.
Problems can be solved from a strengths-based perspective. This means looking at the strengths that the team has and how they might help to solve a specific problem. Where there are difficulties with a particular team member, teams might look to appreciate the strengths that that teacher brings while also articulating what it is that is not working well, and then working together to think about how it might be resolved from a strengths-based approach. When there is a clash of values or philosophies, teams might look at the strengths that two different perspectives bring and consider ways in which they might co-exist.