Effective change agents identify and celebrate those individuals, and their accomplishments, already moving in the direction of the desired change. Teachers know the value of providing exemplars to their students in order that they can see what success looks like. The same is true in the change process. Leaders celebrate and make known to all stakeholders exemplars of where the change is taking us.
Individuals drive the change needed and every individual makes a difference. Trusted leaders celebrate any member of the school community who demonstrates a positive example of the change required. By placing in the light, and drawing focus to those examples repeatedly, the school culture gradually becomes defined by those examples and others will seek to either follow them, or determine that the school is going in a direction they cannot support and typically move on.
The practice of identifying exemplars of a desired future, and drawing intentional attention to those behaviors, combined with individual and public appreciation for the same is actually a management philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a philosophy of change management that recognizes words have power and there is corporate strength in keeping an intentional focus on the positive. It is about changing paradigms and ways of thinking. Our default as sinful human beings is focusing on the negative, so it takes intentionality to change our way of thinking. In the New Testament we read, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8). Our thoughts matter. We become what we think, see, and speak.
One study concluded that the key to AI’s transformational influence on stakeholders is “a focus on changing how people think instead of what people do.” Obviously, the goal is changed behaviors and actions (i.e. what people do), but the focus of AI is guiding stakeholders to develop internal motivation and solutions through asking positive questions. Focus first, on what people think, and then the changed actions will follow.
This approach successfully guides schools to discover solutions to a wide range of challenges. For example, in one study, the practice of AI resulted in developing greater teacher collaboration for the inclusion of students with disabilities. Another study demonstrated how the use of AI assisted in developing stronger relationships between schools and universities. The results from this study suggest, “That approaching school-university partnerships through an appreciative inquiry theoretical perspective creates an environment for building trust, sharing knowledge, and increasing bridging capital, thus benefiting both the school and university.”
Note the resulting increased level of trust. This supports another study, which took place over an 18-month period, involving eleven school principals nominated for their expertise in capacity-building, an essential in change management. Among other elements, it revealed that repeated positive reinforcement of teachers resulted in greater levels of trust in their leaders.
© Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved
- David Horsager, The Trust Edge
- G. R. Bushe, “Appreciative inquiry: Theory and critique,” The Routledge Companion to Organizational Change 2008, (2011): 87-103.
- Rachna Sharma, “Celebrating Change: The New Paradigm of Organizational Development,” ICFAI Journal of Soft Skills II, no. 3 (2008): 23.
- G. R. Bushe, “When Is Appreciative Inquiry Transformational?: A Meta-Case Analysis,” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 41, no. 2 (2005): 161.
- Peter L. Kozik, Bernard Cooney, Scott Vinciguerra, K. Gradel, and Joan Black, “Promoting Inclusion in Secondary Schools Through Appreciative Inquiry,” American Secondary Education 38, no. 1 (2009): 77-92.
- Raymond L. Calabrese, “Building social capital through the use of an appreciative inquiry theoretical perspective in a school and university partnership,” International Journal of Educational Management 20, no. 3 (2006): 173.
- S. Cosner, “Building Organizational Capacity Through Trust,” Educational Administration Quarterly 45, no. 2 (2009): 248-291.