Collaborating for sustainable practice & the role of Appreciative Inquiry

I write from Sydney airport, en route to Adelaide, returning from 3 days in New Zealand.

Over the last 3 days I have had the privilege of sharing with, and influencing and being influenced, during the dialogue that underpins the teacher only days at Epsom Normal Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand.

This was the 4th time I have been with the staff for the ‘start up’ activities for a new year. It is a school that I have been researching in terms of its organisational development from the arrival of a new principal 5 years ago. I have a publication which is ‘in press’ with the International Journal Of Organisational Analysis.

Over the last 3 days I have observed a senior leadership team which is committed to sustainable praxis. Sharing their thoughts together, and debating priorities, leads to a distribution of key tasks. The distribution of tasks is not always pre-determined, rather discussed in terms of the person responsible for an event, such as a staff meeting, and the supportive role the other team members will play during the meeting.

In another meeting, the leaders / facilitators of the individual staff member’s ‘impact projects’ were enthusiastically engaging with me about greater clarity over an ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ progress that is foundational underpinnings of these projects. I introduced the school to appreciative inquiry 4 years ago and they are running with it in their leadership, impact projects and curriculum development. I listened to teachers’ stories of children’s transformational learning experiences and their excitement in their own professional learning – so satisfying. [For more information on Appreciative Inquiry and links to relationships and relational leadership, see my website]

Staff discuss the difference between busyness and the need for perspective on their practice. They engage in a way that results in shared commitments and expressions of collegiality that excite me.

These discussions happen in other educational contexts, including Flinders University School of Education. The discussions are happening internationally. Perhaps a re-humanising of education is hope-full, given the relational call between collaborative sustainable dialogue and praxis.

I read once that the virtues of an educated person are humility and hospitality: I saw these virtues fleshed out among the staff.

Thanks for having me Epsom – very inspiring!


Broadening a concern for sustainability.

Sustainability relates to our ‘busyness’ as much as it does to the space we regularly maintain for ensuring we have ‘perspective’ on the moments we find ourselves in. I would argue that being less busy does not necessarily result in greater sustainability. Similarly, a life style focused on gaining a perspective on our current context, without attending to the administration and activity of influencing, building and growing people and organisations is mis-guided.

Pragmatic solutions are needed to lessen the burden of busyness, AND regular space needs to be prioritised for sustaining perspective on our ‘work’.

Sustainability, dialogue and intellectual rigour

I am noticing that ‘sustainability’ appears to be limited to a positive expression. For example, sustainability is seen when our experiences are great, when issues are lessened, when consensus exists amongst individuals.

This is not my understanding or use of the work. I would argue that the term and aspiration of sustainability is a matter of intellectual rigour and debate. In other words, sustainable outcomes might be more readily realised in a ‘charged and contestable’ context, where aspirations of collective sustainability are grappled with. Debate and dialogue are necessary and critical to shared understandings.

My point is that sustainability is not a ‘fair weather’ ideal, rather an aspiration that is located in the reciprocity and mutuality of people living with intentionality in relationship; in community. Sustainable outcomes then will always be in flux, dynamic and changeable, and in need of an authentic appropriation to a local context.

Still wondering ….

Some other thoughts on crafting a sense of ourselves and the organisations we work in

Isn’t it ironic that thinking about sustainability is often initiated from concerns with the management of risk? Similarly, should decisions regarding the management of risk end up being a new ‘to do’ list of behaviours (or survival strategies). It seems to me that sustainabiliy is more than a once off or annual ‘fixing’ of particular situations. While attention to particulars is critically important, the focus of our concern should be ‘sustainability in dialogue’. After all, ‘the flip side of relationships is dialogue’. A serious concern for personal and organisational sustainability needs to occur within the relational context we share with others. Such a concern moves away from solitary stresses of ‘fixing’ ourselves to broadening our shared dialogue to a concern for how we ‘release’ each other into greater expressions of what Patrick Blessinger terms ‘meaning-centred’ lives.

As a School of Education, for example, we have an aspirational statement around 3 dimensions: Intellectual rigour, sustainable practice and social justice. These dimensions need not be lifeless nor silent in our relating. They might be the basis of dialogue between staff, for instance, what does social justice look like in the way we relate in the context of allocating responsibilities or in the distribution of workloads? Similarly, should a way of being that involves sustainable practice ever be an individual outcome? In addition, have we limited intellectual rigour to teaching and learning processes that need no more than rationalist thought? Where is the space for, what Martin Heidegger calls, those thoughts that ‘find’ us from deliberative and contemplative inquiry.

In our book, co-costructing a relational aproach to educational leadership and management (Giles et al, 2012 [Cengage]), we stated that the enduring themes surrounding leadership remain as:
‘ – leadership involves life long formation
– leadership is always relational and contextual
– leadership is a critical and humanistic endeavour
– leadership needs to be strengths-based and sustainable’.
These themes are born out of phenomenlogical research and are no different for teachers, administrators, those in governance, in early childhood, primary or secondary schooling, tertiary education, or departments of education, teacher registration boards, schools of education and the like.

In an educational context founded upon an ‘ethic of care’, we must enter into, and sustain the priority of sharing aspirational endeavours that work to ‘release’ the best in ourselves and others.

Till later


Crafting a sense of ourselves within our organisational roles

I made it! I have got to the end of my first week back at work after the vacation.

During my first 5 days, I have deliberately spent time exploring additional and alternative strategies for sustaining myself personally and professionally within the demands of my organisational role. I’m not talking about empty resolutions but rather a deliberate dialogue within myself and with those beside me, such that the year holds hopes and possibilities.

I like to think that these strategies can be shared, and that we can offer to others within the organisation thoughts and observations for their consideration, as they take their place for the ride that will be 2014.

Haslam suggests we live in a process of “crafting a sense of us” as we ready ourselves for the next months. This is true for the organisation. There is a sense that our availability to our colleagues and the intentionality of shared aspirations allows the growth of an organisation that knows itself. As Matt Megerson said, “The primary task of being a leader is to make sure that the organization knows itself”.

All the best for 2014

Holding aspirations in an open hand alongside our opportunities

On vacation, my day to day activity slows down significantly.
In the process, I’m noticing how others can make decisions that impact on my holiday aspirations.

Let me illustrate:

‘Fishing’ – I’ve been waiting with enormous excitement for a fishing charter. On the first occasion, the weather was too stormy, so the trip was called off. On the second occasion, this morning, I was up at 630am for a 830 launch, had extra clothes on in case of cold or wet weather, had my suntan lotion on, my lunch packed, water packed, had an early breakfast (so I didn’t need to use the loo at sea – an important consideration). It’s 730 and my excitement is building. Pauline and I discuss her plans and my pick up given that our mobile phones have no reception in the area. Getting closer to driving to the rendeveux at the boat ramp. And then the knock on the door. Breaking news (in more ways than one); the others booked in for the charter had pulled out and so the trip was cancelled!

‘No power’ – I’m sitting on the floor having celebrated the Aussie wipe wash of the English in the ashes cricket series. Next up is Leyton Hewitt versus Roger Federer in the final match of the Brisbane tennis open. Hewitt wins the first set – unbelievable! It’s 4 – 2 in the second set and the TV goes completely blank. What timing! I check other power sockets – nothing is working. We knock on the door of the owners of the Bed & Breakfast. The switchboards are checked; the remedy is not close at hand! We decide to go out for tea as the owners work on a solution. We return from tea and nothing has changed. Must be a job for an electrician, so I guess we must wait for the morning despite what we think about the situation. I wake in the morning and call to Pauline, “it must have rained in the night and there is water on the floor. Did you hear the rain?” There was no rain (besides, the door was shut). I am beginning to wake from my usual muddled waking state. With no power, the fridge had defrosted over night; the sequel to having no power! An immediate solution, in the car for a coffee at the local cafe in the hope of fully waking and to contemplate these happenings.

What should be told is the 2 stories above happened at the same time!! Yes, water on the floor and no fishing!

So here we are; no fishing, wet floor, no reception for our phones, 2nd to last day of our holidays.

It’s nearly lunchtime. We have had a lovely drive and walk along the water front – great for getting perspective and considering the opportunities we have (rather than the circumstances we find ourselves in).

What opportunity do we have ‘within’ the current circumstances? In short – lots! While walking, my darling shares her disappointment for the cancelled fishing trip and suggestions to take up an alternative charter when we get home (hows that!). I also notice a new fishing spot I haven’t tried (oh yes!) and plans are made to return to the spot in the afternoon :-).

Others make decisions, but it is our responsibility to proactively engage with our aspirations in the light of the opportunities we can now see individually and collectively. Our opportunities are possible paths to ‘relate’ with and in our circumstances.

Must go – lunch is up, and fishing follows.

O 4 fish

Holiday aspirations

I have 2 particular strategies for un-winding – driving and fishing.

Yesterday, we completed the 7 1/2 hour drive from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, the seafood capital of Australia – Strategy 1 – completed.

Yesterday, I booked into a 1 day fishing charter leaving from Port Lincoln, followed by a 1/2 day charter from Coffin Bar (40 km west of Port Lincoln) – Strategy 2 – officially ‘in progress’ until the fish are on board!

I have been missing fishing, so my mission is fishing for those things I’ve been missing.

Wish me luck!

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