One term I use a lot with schools is "action research". I think appreciative inquiry is very much like this as it promotes change. We ask questions to help schools see some of their challenges in new and innovative ways. At the heart of appreciative inquiry is the understanding that something works well in all school contexts and our aim is to discover what this is, what energises all stakeholders in a school, and what is it that they care about and that motivates them: everything here is a positive assumption or affirmation as opposed to the previous approach which was more of a deficit model to find and analyse issues or problems in order to help a school move forward.
As I plan for each of the meetings on a visit I draw heavily on my skills as a cognitive coach - asking the right questions is important! I always like to start with the successes or strengths that the school have already identified, and to acknowledge their achievements and existing good practices that have developed over the past 5 years since the previous visit. Of course we do acknowledge the challenges they have faced as well - every single school I have visited recently has spoken about the impact of Covid and school closures on students' communication, social and self-management skills. A focus on what they have achieved despite these difficulties creates a feeling of enthusiasm and hope, and helps people to expand their thinking into what could be possible.
The model of appreciative inquiry has sometimes been called the 4D model:
- Discovery - exploring "the best of what is"
- Dream - articulating and discussing "what might be"
- Design - working together to develop "what might be"
- Destiny - collectively experimenting with "what can be"
Image Credit: Peter Durand on Flickr shared with a Creative Commons licence