Reframing Problem Solving with the Appreciative Inquiry 4 D Cycle

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Appreciative Inquiry
Photo Credit: Angela Stockman

Have you ever noticed how, as leaders, we’re often far more sensitive to people’s weaknesses than we are to their strengths? And once we’ve targeted a weakness, do you ever notice how common it is for us to slide into problem-solving mode?

Lately, I’ve been experiencing daily reminders of how this inhibits us from recognizing what people are good at and helping them use their strengths to serve others. I’m reminded of this every time I watch a teacher slide into editing mode before she provides a learner narrative feedback.  I’m reminded of this every time I watch an administrator rush to make judgments about the observations gathered during a lesson study. And I’m reminded of this every time I listen as two people on opposite sides of an issue fail to practice active listening or check their confirmation bias.

Appreciative Inquiry enables change through a process that is different from problem solving. Rather than identifying and attending to what is wrong, Appreciative Inquiry helps us identify the best of what is working, define what is possible, and plan to make our vision a reality. Appreciative Inquiry inspires us to see with new eyes and to affirm the best qualities in any situation, system, or human being.

Here’s the gist: in growing what works, we remedy what doesn’t.

Professor John Hayes explains more here:

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have a very courageous conversation with a district administrator who began recognizing how often he was focusing on all that was wrong inside of the system he leads.

“The nature of my work requires me to spend most of my time working only with those who struggle,” he said. “I’ve always thought that it was my job to notice and remedy all that is wrong. I’ve deluded myself into thinking it’s up to me to fix problem situations and problem people. Maybe the real problem is the way that I see them. I wonder what would happen if I started paying more attention to the unexpected gifts they bring. I wonder how we’ve been cheated by my failure to do so over the years, too.”

This was probably one of the more hopeful moments of my entire career.

We’re teaching and leading in very challenging times. There is no better learning to be had. It’s cliche, but often, I find myself thinking about how we can let this moment in history destroy us or define us.

Practicing Appreciative Inquiry may be a game changer that makes a real difference.

Interested in learning more? Join the #AIChat on Twitter, read one of these articles about Appreciative Inquiry,  or take in another video.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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