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The Philosophy Behind Appreciative Inquiry

“Others believe that there are many ways to succeed. They believe it is not better to be Picasso than to be Rembrandt, to be Mozart rather than Beethoven… We each have something unique to offer. To develop it, to offer it clearly, fully, and powerfully—is to succeed. Beethoven did not fail to become another Mozart; he succeeded at becoming Beethoven. Seen this way, success comes from developing your uniqueness. It is rare but not scarce. Every one, potentially, can succeed.”

Doug Lipman. The Storytelling Coach. (August House, Inc., 1995)

Appreciative advising, Bloom adds, is the “intentional, collaborative practice of asking positive, open-ended questions that help students optimize their educational experiences and achieve their dreams, goals, and potentials.” For her, she explains, the key word is optimize:

"Appreciative advising is about making the most of all the services and opportunities available for students to gain leadership experiences on our campus, as well as making the most of their in-class experience."

Jennifer Bloom, U of South Carolina

Bloom's recommended approach to academic success coaching is to use an appreciative inquiry framework and a case management model; in her published work, she has documented how this dual approach has proven impactful not only for high-risk or at-risk students, but for all students.

What Appreciative Inquiry Means for Academic Coaching

So what does this model look like?

An appreciative approach to academic coaching is all about inquiry – about asking questions, listening, and then co-creating a plan with the student. The approach has six phases:

DISARM: Recognize the importance of first impressions. Create a safe, welcoming environment for students.

Bloom explains: “This phase is about remembering the fact that although advisors, coaches, and university officials in general are really nice people, students don’t know that. It can be scary to come to a college campus for the first time. Pay attention to how you can optimize that first impression to inspire confidence.”

DISCOVER: Use 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.

Bloom comments: “Students don’t come in as a blank slate, they come in with a lifetime of experience. So it only makes sense to take a few moments to learn their story.”

DREAM: Help students formulate a vision of what they might become, and then assist them in developing their life and career goals. “What are their hopes and dreams for the future?” Bloom asks.

DESIGN: Help students devise concrete, incremental, and achievable goals.

“Once you know the student’s dream," Bloom adds, "co-create a plan with the student to make that dream a reality.”

DELIVER: The student follows through on the plan. The advisor or coach is there for them if they stumble, believes in them every step of the way, and helps them continue to update and refine their dream over time.

Bloom cautions: “It’s so important in this phase to realize that students are human. They are going to make mistakes. Our job as advisors and coaches is to help them learn from those mistakes and keep moving forward.”

DON'T SETTLE: The advisor or coach challenges the student, proactively, to raise the student’s internal bar of self-expectations.

Bloom remarks: “My friend John Wright says that our job as leaders is to help people become better than they think they can become. So that ‘don’t settle’ phase undergirds all the other phases of appreciative advising.”