Appreciative Inquiry

I attended a workshop yesterday that explored the practice of Appreciative Inquiry in education. This is not an area of study that I have had much exposure to, so I thought I would explore the educational approach. I found this interesting article from Johns Hopkins School of Education. While this particular article did not speak about Appreciative Inquiry in terms of how that approach might work in the area of Aboriginal education, because that is my area of interest, I wanted to explore this further.

In a broad sense, my understanding of Appreciative Inquiry refers to the concept of focusing on what is working, rather than on what is not working. I particularly like the quote taken from the Johns Hopkins article "What we focus on increases." This is true of life, and certainly seems a sensible approach when we look at education. One of the case studies discussed in the article examined a group of 22 students who had failed state proficiency exams three times, and who were invited to participate in a five week, five hour per day program which incorporated Appreciative Inquiry into every aspect of learning including math, science, language and study skills. At the end of the five weeks, 19 of the 22 students passed the proficiency exams and all said that they were going to college.

As I study Aboriginal education policy, sometimes the challenges identified with the current system seem monumental and one is tempted to wonder where to begin and how long the process will really need to be. One can tend to overlook the very real success stories that are evident in some Aboriginal communities as they move forward with control of their education. One of the case studies that was discussed in a recent course was that of Whitefish Lake First Nation in northern Alberta. Working with the province, this First Nation community has achieved great results, in part due to strong leadership from educators, and in part because of strong community support and involvement in the school. While Appreciative Inquiry is not mentioned in this particular case, there is no doubt that what this community has chosen to focus on, the positives, has increased.