By Lurene Kelley
The red pen.
Aside from the apple, it’s the object most emblematic of teaching. The red pen that relentlessly sniffs out errors and makes snarky comments in bright, scarlet ink! But that is our job, right? How else can students improve if we don’t point out what they are doing wrong?
What if the key to improved student outcomes, though, isn’t about identifying problems and trying to help solve them? Perhaps there is equal or even greater value in focusing on what students are already doing right.
That’s what’s behind Appreciative Inquiry, a model that positions transformational change as possible when we help people develop a positive mindset through the inquiry process. According to the model, this is accomplished with “powerful questioning” to locate a person’s hidden strengths, help envision a successful outcome, create a plan to get there and shepherd the student along the way.
You may already do much of this in your interactions with students, but what makes Appreciative Inquiry a unique approach is its grounding in you, the advisor. It is dependent on you maintaining an appreciative mindset with every student, no matter how hopeless their situation seems or frustrating their personality or lack of progress. Your sincere acceptance of the person before you and your unyielding belief in their potential… is at the core.
“Appreciative Inquiry seeks out the best of what is to help ignite the collective imagination of what might be.” (Cooper Rider & Whitney, 2000).
Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational management change model developed in the 1980s (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). It is largely associated with the corporate world but has since been adopted as an approach for academic advising (Bloom & Martin, 2002).
As a CBU advisor, you may think that helping a student develop a “new mindset” sounds like quite a bit to expect out of 30-minute advising sessions, especially when many of you have dozens of students to advise each semester!
But first, take a moment to apply Appreciative Inquiry to yourself – have you ever advised a student who later told you that you changed the course of his life or helped him through a difficult time?
If that question brings a student or even dozens of students to mind, then you know you are already capable of bringing important, positive change through advising. This one powerful question allowed you to identify times you were successful. Now we can develop a strategy based on your strengths to enhance your advising with Appreciative Inquiry!
This is exactly how Appreciative Inquiry works in an advising session – powerful questions allow you and your student to unearth past successes and then develop strategies around those strengths to produce positive outcomes.
The Phases of Appreciative Inquiry
An advising session guided by Appreciative Theory would follow its five phases: Define/Disarm, Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver/Destiny.
Source: Coaching Psychology Manual, 2012, www.wellcoaches.com
Bloom and Martin (2002) provide specific suggestions for improving academic advising through four of the phases of Appreciative Inquiry:
- Believe in the goodness of each student who walks through your door. Treat him or her like you would want your son/daughter/best friend to be treated.
- Utilize positive open-ended questions to draw out what students enjoy doing, their strengths, and their passions. Listen to each answer carefully before asking the next positive question (Discovery phase).
- Help students formulate a vision of what they might become and then assist them in developing their life and career goals (Dream phase).
- Give students a clear idea of what they will need to do by devising concrete, incremental, and achievable goals to make these dreams come true (Design Phase).
- Be there for them when they stumble, believe in them every step of the way, and help them continue to update and refine their dreams as they go (Destiny phase) (Bloom & Martin, 2002).
Bloom, Hutson & He (2008) have since expanded the model to six phases and refined the Appreciative Theory model for advising. Bloom developed this guide with specific actions and questions for each. The Bloom Appreciative Advising Guide.
Appreciative Advising Online
All of this can be adapted to advising online learners. Even more than your on-campus advisees, students learning entirely or primarily online can feel disconnected from CBU. As an academic advisor, you can often provide that critical connection that increases engagement and allows a student to feel a sense of belonging.
Just like their campus counterparts, online advisees need your expertise to guide them through majors and to opportunities to improve their chances for success after graduation. But applying the lens and phases of Appreciative Inquiry can help academic advisors truly get to know online advisees – particularly through phone or via webcam sessions. It’s these interpersonal moments with a student that can make follow up email contact more meaningful to both you and the advisee. (This link will take you to the CBU WebEx web version. You just log in with your CBU email and contact a student to get started!)
It would be an unexpected and, likely, welcome moment for an online student, if an advisor asked the student to share an accomplishment that made the advisee feel most proud. Most online students simply expect advisors to tell them which classes to take and how to stay on schedule for graduation.
Asking powerful questions produces answers that inform the advisor about an online student’s strengths. Those questions also allow the advisor to get to know an online student on a more personal level and give the student the sense that the advisor wants to know him as a whole person, not just a name on an academic record.
Obviously, note taking is a critical aspect of Appreciative Advising for both online and on campus students. This allows the advisor to add to and follow up on stories the student has told about herself at each advising session, as well as track the progress of the plans the advisor and advisee have developed together.
Want to Get Started?
As part of a course at the University of South Carolina on academic advising, Dr. Jennifer Bloom, one of the authors who first applied Appreciative Inquiry to advising, had graduate students submit articles to an academic advising journal. This piece provides academic advisors with a reflection exercise based on the phases of Appreciative Inquiry, while also demonstrating how this approach to advising works with students. Genius! Truschel (2007) also provides examples of “powerful questions” here that can help you identify your advisee’s strengths and past accomplishments.
We know that as professors, academic advisors, scholars and colleagues – you are already wearing many hats. It may feel that a more intensive advising approach only adds to that weight. But know that as the Online Student Success Specialist, I’m also here to help with online students who might need more assistance than you can offer or with whom you’re having difficulty connecting.
So, please, feel free to refer students facing difficulties with their online experience to me. And, of course, for those students facing challenges on campus, CBU’s Academic Services and the Student Success Center are always there to help and they value your student referrals.
Online Student Success Specialist
Lurene Kelley, PhD
Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes.
Bloom, J. and Martin, N.A. (2002, August 29). Incorporating appreciative inquiry into academic advising. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 4 (3). http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/020829jb.htm
Cooperrider, D. L., & Srivastva, S. (1987). Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In Woodman, R.W. & Pasmore, W.A. (eds). Research in Organizational Change and Development (Vol. 1, pp. 129–169). Stamford, CT: JAI Press.
Olson, N. S. (2009, July 10). Appreciative advisers: Be advised. The Mentor: An academic advising journal. Retrieved from https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/090710no.htm
Truschel, J.H. (2007, July 6). Using Appreciative Inquiry in Advising At-Risk Students: Moving from Challenge to Success. The Mentor: An academic advising journal. Retrieved from https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/070706jt.htm
Lurene Kelley is the Online Student Success Specialist for OLET.