Education, K-12 Education
This story is an example of how easily Appreciative Inquiry (AI) can be utilized by young children.
What We Did
This takes place in a kindergarten class in a private school in Michigan. I had a conversation with a kindergarten teacher that in her classroom the young children were expressing fears of transitioning to first grade. The teacher found it odd since the kindergarteners had no contact with the first-graders who were in a different part of the school. The first grade through fifth graders did not interact with the kindergarteners at all.
In a conversation with the teacher, I simply asked her what she wanted to accomplish if we used AI to help the kindergarteners. She answered, “I just want to help them not be afraid of entering the first grade.” Then, I asked her to frame it in a positive expectation. She said, “I want them to be excited and come to school that first day with smiles and happy dances into the classroom.”
Next – we discussed the essence of AI and how we can do a dialogue with the first graders. It was decided that we would pair up first graders with kindergarteners; that would be fun and unusual for the kids and teachers. We also decided to bring in parents of the kids to help the little ones stay focused on the task. We were fortunate to have all the teachers, parents, and the principal in support of this event.
This event started in the kindergarten classroom because it was designed for group activities. We created questions that focused on discovering the children’s best moments in school, their favorite activities, and the new learning adventures they are looking forward to in their next grade. This way the first graders and kindergarteners would have the same questions in the dialogue. The parents were instructed to keep the focus and also to point out the similarities between the kids and the new adventures that await them in first grade.
On the day of the special event, there were 21 kindergarteners and 18 first graders.
The inquiry was primarily designed to discover:
- What are some of the best things that you did in kindergarten and first grade? Of all these best things, what was your favorite and why?
- What’s possible in first grade (i.e. what are new fun things that first graders get to do)?
- What’s so great about first grade?
- At the end, the kids asked each other why are you so lucky to go to school? What do you want to be when you grow up?
As in a typical AI 4-D cycle, the kids did a discovery interview in pairs with four questions. Then, they join another team in the dream phase. They had to draw and color on paper a picture of what first grade looks like and explain it to the group. In the design phase, the kids had colorful note cards, and each parent wrote three things the kindergarteners would do to get ready to go to first grade. Then, the parents asked the kids in their groups, what are three things that the first grade teacher could do to get ready for the new first graders. During the design phase, the first graders gave advice to the kindergartners and the parents. During the group work, the classroom was very loud and filled with giggles and lots of shout outs. You could sense the kids squealing in delight with the new first grade friends and now visions and hopes for the new school year were designed. In the destiny phase, the first graders took their kindergarten buddies on a tour of the first grade classroom and a special treat awaited all the kids. The first graders could also show the kindergarteners that their second grade classroom was just across the hallway.
The goals for the kindergarten and first grade gathering were met and they were to combine creative energies to:
- Discover the best of times in school,
- Dream images of what first grade will look like,
- Write sound-spelling sentences that will have each kindergartener embrace first grade, and
- Continue to create a positive and nurturing learning environment for the students.
The parents used the attached questions to help the kids guide their conversations (the first graders were coached to ask these questions of the kindergartners).
Impact on The Organization
As I reflect on this classroom project, I remember most the excitement and fun of the kids sharing stories and creating the future in the dream and design phase. It was hard for parents to contain the energy in these groups so the kids could get back on task to help them create the colorful cards to carry them through the summer. I also like how the kids held hands with their new buddies and practically skipped to the part of the building that housed the first through fifth graders.
What made it work was that the inquiry was brought to the level of a kindergartener and first grader and that we could literally see, hear, and talk at the same level. The parents were coached to just gently guide the conversations and the collaborative work so that it could be creative and generate positive energies and visions for first grade.
As an AI-practitioner – I knew by the level of energy in the room that each phase of the process was working at its best!