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Taking an Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Learning Design: Pathways to Deeper Learning

If noise level and body language are “uncommon measures” of engagement, educators beginning the Pathways to Deeper Learning (PDL) Fellowship hosted by the Center for Innovation in Learning Design were definitely engaged. Participants were leaning in to contribute to table conversations and individual paired interviews. Folks were slapping post-it notes on the whiteboards and working together to group similar ideas. Most importantly, teachers and school leaders had the opportunity to talk teaching and learning, with students at the center.

Williamsburg-James City County teachers, curriculum developers, and school and division leaders gathered at the William & Mary School of Education to embark upon their journey through a new blended online and face-to-face professional learning fellowship experience focused on project-based and deeper learning.

This collaboratively co-designed PD experience, led by Dr. Mark Hofer, Dr. Lindy Johnson, and Dr. Meredith Kier is iterative in nature, grounded in appreciative inquiry to use feedback to shape the face-to-face and online work together.

Appreciative inquiry is a design approach that builds on strengths, using empathy for students and each each other to guide innovation, rather than the all too common deficit-based approaches common to many PD experiences.   Appreciative inquiry acknowledges that participants bring a wealth of opportunity and vision to the table that can be leveraged to imagine a brighter future.

The first activity of the day had participants interviewing one another about the best experiences they’ve had with PBL projects either as a participant or as an instructor, thinking specifically about the positive or engaging aspects of that experience.  This led to some reflection on the values that matter most to them as teachers and how PBL might reflect those values.

The next activity had participants imagining some of the factors and strategies that would result in success.  What would we see, hear, and feel if we walked into a classroom in the year 2022?  The purpose behind this was to practice imagining where we want to go and the student behaviors we’d hope to see, so that we then can plan how to best get there.

After creating a vision for the future together, participants discussed the importance of developing empathy for their students as a key starting point in the process. Johnson and Kier led the group through an empathy exercise using GROK empathy cards, designed by the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

PDL fellows spent time writing a true story about an encounter with a student whose behavior challenged them in some way. In a back-and-forth process, the participants expressed their feelings of the experience through the GROK feeling cards, received feedback from their empathy partners through the GROK needs cards, and then switched perspectives to tell the story and repeat the process as if they were the student in the same situation.  This built on the earlier activities where we built empathy with one another, extending empathy to the student experience.

Inspired by their vision of the future, grounded in student empathy, participants began to explore how essential elements of deeper learning could be used as building blocks for the design of a PBL unit. Over the next several months, fellows will work together, both face-to-face and online using appreciative inquiry as a design process to bring their visions for deeper learning to life.

As we wrapped up, nothing could speak for the experience better than hearing attendees voices ringing out in unison YES, YES, YES!!