This is an exclusive excerpt from a new ebook called Exceeding Excellence: An Anthology of Appreciative Inquiry Stories in Education from Around the World. This book can be downloaded for free on the publisher’s website.
One of the authors, Lori Geismar Ryan, first introduced us to the book Appreciative Leadership in 2011 and since then the tenets of the book have become core to our approach to #Shifting the #Paradigm.
By Lori Geismar Ryan and Louise Cadwell
The conversation today begins with Lori’s excitement as she explains that she is using the book that we read together just months ago and agreed to “unpack” in phone calls, notes and musings via email. The book, Appreciative Leadership, by Whitney, Trosten-Bloom and Raeder, is the basis for a seminar that Lori is teaching in Denver. Educational leaders will read the book together and offer one another examples of how they have used the principles of Appreciative Leadership in their practice. For example, they will share the positively powerful questions that they are asking and how these questions illuminate experiences in their schools that express community and cultural values. Shared reading and unpacking examples of practice in action are among the components that we continue to weave into our work. Lori tells Louise that this book has had an enormous influence on her recent work as a coach and educational leader. She is thrilled about sharing and supporting this work with others and is grateful for its effect on her growing understanding of AI.
Reading together is a foundational practice for us and is mirrored in the work that we do with others. Engaging educators in reading of books, chapters and articles invites us to be scholars together, to open the school to the perspective of thinkers outside of the school environment, sometimes drawing on resources outside the field of education. Over the years, the collection of references has grown and many remain as classics. The intent of shared reading is to have meaningful conversations among teachers and school leaders, and in some cases with parents, prompted by thoughtful questions that invite broad and deep interpretations of text. AI questions invite readers to seek connections to their own experiences, make meaning together, and project a future for the school community and their own practice.
In 2011, as a part of a long-term community partnership, Lori coached a shared leadership team of parents, teachers, and school leaders at the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center in Denver, Colorado as they engaged the full school community in a study of kindness and compassion in the everyday lives of children. One hundred copies of Susan Dermond’s book, Calm and Compassionate Children (2007), were purchased for teachers and parents who participated in the shared inquiry. Informal and formal conversations took place throughout the months leading up to an end-of-year evening gathering where a large social hall was transformed into a candle-lit, calm and compassionate space. Ten tables, each covered in fabric, held tent-cards with powerful quotes and experiential materials set the stage for an appreciative conversation led by a dyad of a parent and professional leader.
Parents and teachers who joined the “Nature Awakens Feelings” chapter group sat at a table beautifully composed with smooth stones, textured bark, daffodils and tulips. Baskets of healthy snacks were shared. One tent card featured Dermond’s quote, “You never know what experience in nature will touch a child’s heart,” and the other, a quote by contemporary Jewish scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
Appreciative questions set the stage for dialogue. “What do you remember from your experiences as a child in the natural world? How have these experiences influenced you as a person? Thinking about your life today, as a parent or teacher, how might you share those experiences with the children in your life?” These kinds of questions mirror the AI cycle. They invite participants to discover meaning based on their past experience and to dream about and design their future relationship with children. The evening’s conversations concluded as chapter facilitators invited each person at their table to share a take-away, for example, a new insight, a different way to look at children, or a question that they wanted to pursue.
In reflection, leadership team members recognized that they had created an evening filled with rich conversation that would ripple out in meaningful relationships with the school community. The year ended with a feeling of shared commitment to an ongoing study of kindness, compassion, and empathy and a dedication to better understanding our roles as teachers and parents in nurturing these characteristics in the everyday life of children.