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Leadership, Opinion

Accepting (beautiful) Complexity

The energizing impacts of appreciative inquiry

How fitting that I should have read Thomas King’s examination of creation stories You’ll Never Believe What Happened on the first day of 2016. How delicious that as I read it sunlight blanketed my shoulders and back.

The ideas of appreciative inquiry (appreciative mindset, growth mindset and the like) are all born from the stories we wrap around ourselves. Is it a world of chaos or a world of balance? Why do we, as King puts it, tell our kids that life is hard when “we could just as easily tell them that it is sweet”? (26).

I imagine I am an optimistic person – I think I couldn’t do the work I do with any other mindset. However, I just have to close my eyes to hear myself telling my daughters that life isn’t fair or to toughen up. I think I even said that today as we walked along the Fraser admiring the bald eagles and my girls got into a disruptive argument about something only a 2 and 5 year old could.

When we hear educators in any role talking about a class from a deficit perspective, when we hear ourselves do this, we need to stop and ask ourselves, “to what purpose?” Our own desire for simplicity? The bottom line often comes down to convenience and over-simplification, doesn’t it.

However, education and educating riddle with complexity. It’s so easy to refer to a class as being a “behavior class” or to that student as being a “behavior problem”. I wonder at the cost of this labeling – labeling which so clearly comes from a hierarchical and deficit stance. Obviously, the children about whom we speak lose something – surely we who speak that way lose something as well.

What I find about appreciative mindset/inquiry is that it is so energizing. And it takes time. Opening a meeting or class with an appreciative circle protocol, for instance, takes time; yet that time, in my experience, moves us into the meeting/learning with more strength, creativity, and possibilities than we would have otherwise experienced. We make up that time in effectiveness.

So perhaps we must resist simplicity and take a breath for a minute or two to set the context of our “behavior” class by telling what we appreciate about the class as well as what challenges us. Resisting simplicity in this way can open possibilities and therefore solutions we might otherwise miss. Rather than steeping in frustration or exhaustion about the “behavior” class, we might generate the energy to rumble with the challenge as we move forward.

Easier said than done? Maybe. But once you say something, you can’t call it back. So what we say might as well move us forward rather than boil things down to a staunch simplicity that simply doesn’t exist.

Meet the Expert

Brooke Moore

Brooke Moore works alongside schools as the Delta School District's District Principal of Inquiry and Innovation in BC.

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