Appreciative Inquiry

Today is Thanksgiving.

Actually, it’s still Wednesday in America as I write this, but since I can have WordPress schedule to publish this when it’s Thursday in America, I’m going to say it again.

Today is Thanksgiving.

I couldn’t think of a better time to write about Appreciative Inquiry (something I spoke about in an earlier blog post) and how it comes into play at MBIS.

Appreciative Inquiry is “based on the realization that improvement is more engaging, more fun, and more effective when the focus is on what is already working rather than what is broken” (Henry). It is the idea that encouraging people is more effective to enhance learning and better outcomes than negative criticism. The principal here, known only to me by his first name Cole (which, as a side note, is something really interesting as knowing a principal solely by his first name is almost entirely unheard of in America) is a firm believer in Appreciative Inquiry.

This is seen clearly through all of the relationships and interactions in the school. The assistant principals are constantly–and I mean constantly–smiling and looking for ways to support and help the teachers. All of the teachers know them on a first name basis and are comfortable chatting with them over morning tea, which is another thing that is particularly amazing.

Morning tea is perhaps the greatest thing ever just by the nature of the institution. Every morning after an hour and a half of class, there is a twenty minute break where students have a snack, and teachers congregate in the staff room to grab coffee, tea, and a snack and catch up. Halfway through morning tea, one of the teachers leads the announcements. This entails them asking if there are any “Welcomes,” “Farewells,” or “Notices.” Notices are typically announcements about fundraisers or concerts, brags about interesting lessons, or praises of and thank yous to other teachers. That’s right teachers publicly thank and praise each other here, and nobody rolls eyes, nobody phones in the clapping. They are actually appreciative of each other’s work. Today Mrs. Toller was thanked for organizing an Eighth Grade Pizza Party by another teacher, and everyone thanked her individually afterwards. It was weird compared to my experiences in American faculty rooms.

From what I have heard from my peers who are student teaching, as well stories from professors, there is no faculty room in America that comes even close to this. Even the faculty room from my American student teaching experience, which I thought was particularly noteworthy in its sense of camaraderie, falls short of the daily thanksgiving spirit in New Zealand.  When I brought this up and mentioned some of the darker, more negative things that have been known to happen within American faculty rooms, Ginny was absolutely shocked.

“I can’t even imagine a group of teachers gathering around to [New Zealand idiom I can’t remember but gathered that it essentially means to mock] one another.”
“It happens,” I assured her.
“Well, there are personality conflicts to be sure, but we usually keep it to ourselves. No sense in not being polite.”
“Yeah, especially since it just makes you look worse.”

Ok, this said: Not every faculty within America is abysmal and petty, I’ve already acknowledged that above. Also, I’m certain that not all schools are like this in New Zealand, as Ginny attributes MBIS’ positive aura with Cole and his Appreciative Inquiry, but let’s look at it this way: MBIS has achieved is the ideal, so let’s take a page form their book, if not just to make work a better place to be, but because it raises student achievement. My conversation with one of the assistant principals, she mentioned the positive trend in the data they have gotten back.

So yeah, even if we can’t have morning tea in America–which is an absolute tragedy, let me just say that–we can at least incorporate bits and pieces of Appreciative Inquiry in our work relationships. Instead of bad talking a fellow-teacher to downplay his or her success, be the first to acknowledge and praise them for it. While it may be easy to be frustrated with and give up on a fellow teacher, or even a principal, doesn’t seem to understand where you’re coming from at all, support him or her and encourage him/her to make the right choices. Appreciative Inquiry starts with you, and it’s so absolutely easy, I think it’s something I will incorporate in all aspects of my life, starting right now on this Thanksgiving.

To see a list of things I am thankful for, see my related blog post!

Featured image by Stu Willis.

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