Category Archives: Community Outreach

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National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign, each October to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”  We are proud to support this campaign. Learn more at www.dol.gov/odep/

Company of Experts had the distinct honor of working with Disability Rights Nebraska for the past few years.  Working with DRN has been a personal highlight for us. An outstanding organization who have a deep love and commitment to creating a just and equal community. We have so much to celebrate as our communities have changed for the good over the years in structure, processes and culture through awareness.  This is from the DRN Website:

Our vision for the future is clear: All people with mental or physical disabilities are valued in their community, have control over their own lives, and have the necessary resources to live a life of quality.

That vision is captured in three words: dignity, equality and empowerment.

We start the first year of our new Five Year Strategic Plan this coming year. Our strategic plan was developed using a process called Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry grounded by: 1) What you see, you find more of – the more positive and inspiring the strategy development, the more innovative ideas will be created and possibilities that can be explored, and 2) People commit to what they help create – the more participative the plan development, the more committed people will be to the success of the plan.

The process was focused on what our organization would look like if it were designed to maximize and preserve the themes lifted from those we interviewed – our internal partners and external allies.

Six priority areas emerged that captured the possibility of hope that was discovered from the interviews. These priority areas will be the framework for our efforts during the next five years:

  • Protecting and Advocating for Human and Legal Rights

Seeking justice for people with disabilities; ensuring safety, personal integrity, self-determination

  • Leading Change within the Community

Working with people with disabilities to create meaningful, authentic inclusion in communities of choice

  • Empowering Others to Achieve Full Participation

Always mindful of the motto: “Nothing about us without us”; really listening to others, acting with compassion, and building trusting relationships; supporting people’s hopes, dreams and things not yet imagine

  • Building Relationships in the Community

Maintaining our integrity through respectful, honest communication and teamwork; valuing connections with community partners

  • Valuing and Appreciating Diversity

Respecting the strength of difference and diversity Valuing the energy, creativity and enthusiasm others bring to achieving our shared vision

  • Cultivating Opportunities

Engaging in potent, relevant, effective, and expansive advocacy

 From the DRN website: http://www.disabilityrightsnebraska.org/about_us/strategicplan.html

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Last October I shared in our newsletter that “This will be the first time I will say “yes” on any a family medical history when asked about Breast Cancer. My sister was diagnosed with Breast cancer this year”. Update: Still cancer free, my sister is thriving. Our family is appreciative for the early detection and treatment that contributes to her continued health.  We cannot be more grateful to those who have contributed in the past and encourage you to visit the Breast Cancer Awareness site and see how you might join in any way possible to raise awareness. Most importantly outreach about the importance of early detection to those in your life. To learn more:  http://www.nbcam.org/

Let’s Generate Positive Dialogue for 2012 Election

Words Create Worlds® (WCW)
A series of short conversations leading up to the U.S. election in 2012 meant to enliven generative dialogue with a positive intent.

This past week, during a training, a request was made of us – please send a message out to encourage people to write to the White House, to politicians, as well as to others who are interested in constructive, positive dialogue about the future of the U.S!

These four days were devoted to our internationally recognized Four Day Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator Training©, an introduction to the Power of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and specifically to the Power of the Principles of AI — learning about the benefits of Positive focus and Positive language.

These are not trainings focused on politics; rather trainings for leaders and others who are seeking methods and models for organizational change and positive dialogue. Change that engages, seeks out the best in people and organizations, is collaborative in nature and focuses on the good in all of us. The people who attend this training want to feel good about their work; to work in organizations that they share values with; and to be in an organization that strives to do good for the world community.

This request for us to become leaders in the national dialogue is not new to this training. We are a small group of committed people seeking change and if we look to the words of Margaret Mead, we know that this is where change begins.  We are reaching out to our community now as we see the political rhetoric reach new levels of negativity.  Please write to the White House, President Obama, Governor Romney and any and all of your legislative leaders – in Washington D.C. or at the State Level. Encourage them to change the tone.

Encourage our leaders to adopt a tone of hope, possibility, and encouragement. Encourage them to share with us their vision for our country, for our future. We need no less from our current and our future leaders. For wisdom, insight and guidance, search out the words of past leaders who have inspired our nation in times of challenge and opportunity.

There is sufficient data and research supporting the benefits of positive conversation. As people we thrive when our positive to negative words are at a 3:1 ratio (Positivity Ratio). We each want to thrive and we want our country to thrive. We need leaders who can lift the conversation, take decisive action toward a future that we can visualize and live into.

We recommend a book for each of us:  We Can All Do Better, by Bill Bradley.  It is well written, honest and understandable. Bradley sets the stage that “We The People” must engage in dialogue that is for the best for the Country. To set the tone.  “People see Washington irrevocably divided into two warring camps that care more about political advantage than about the Country” (Bradley 18).

The need for positive dialogue has reached a crucial level; we cannot make the substantive changes necessary unless we do. Join us for more positive dialogue by sending a letter or email to President Obama and Governor Romney. Don’t stop there. Send a letter or email to each of your representatives at the Local, State and Federal level. We each, no matter our political affiliation, have visions and dreams for the future. What do we really want? Like athletes at the Olympics last month, each of us can look at the greater good, focus on what we want more of. What would that look like if it were happening all of the time, right here, right now?

Email is a good way to start; writing a letter is an excellent way to really get their attention! Here is some contact information for:

Our intention is to spark positive dialogue. To be part of the dialogue about Appreciative Inquiry, join us on our LinkedIn group – Discovering Appreciative Inquiry. We also invite you to visit our website at http://www.centerforappreciativeinquiry.net or join us on YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter #WCW2012.

Transforming Education – Starting the Dialogue

As we prepare for the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2012 presentation, we have received questions, what is the WAIC 2012? What is AI? What is the World Conference? Why in Belgium? What will the presentation include? Where is Bibb County? What happened at the Bibb County Schools Summit? We know many of you are interested in this conference and what to know more – this is fantastic news. This is the first conference that we are attending. We are so grateful for the opportunity to be selected as presenters! We feel so fortunate to have so many of you asked us to share what we learn. We will update this blog post with more information as we go. Our plan is to share our experiences and what we learn in Belgium.

What is AI?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is not intended to be a tool or a strategy for a narrowly focused intervention. AI provides the ability to change our focus from problem-solving and deficit-based (find it and fix it) to a process of seeking out what has been successful and what is working well. Then, asking how can we do more of this? In this case, how can we capitalize on the strengths of teachers, staff, students and administrators? It is a change in the way we see the world. This is not as easy as it sounds.

What is the WAIC 2012? Why Belgium?

This 5th World Conference on Appreciative Inquiry emphasizes AI as a theory and practice of connecting people and generating new possibilities. As no other process does, AI helps us to understand, to build and to enhance interconnectedness. Based upon the principles of AI and social-constructionism, new business models and organization types will emerge, more powerful and more needed than ever. It is our common challenge to bring these experiences into mainstream business, transcending and transforming old structures into coherent, resilient networks of professionals that bring out and connect the best of their capacities. (From the WAIC 2012 website) This global conference is held every two years. The last one was in Kathmandu, Nepal.

What will the presentation in Belgium include?

The Bibb County Public Schools (BCPS) Appreciative Inquiry Summit will be presented at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Ghent, Belgium. We are going to tell the story of the Summit, not the outcomes of the Strategic Plan. The Destiny phase of AI is always the mucky one for people. The plan of action coming forth from the ongoing dialogue is emerging as more stakeholders join the conversation. What will be included in the presentation: What was the call to action? How instrumental was the Core Team? How did ten people facilitate a Summit of more than 4000 people? What were the high points for the Facilitators? What did we want more of? What did we learn? What would we do differently? We will share great stories impacting education in a positive way directly from the Summit and after.

Why is this story so important?

While the story has just begun, we believe the future opportunities are incredible. The economy melt-down of 2008 created a new normal for all school districts, cities and states in the U.S. That change yielded new opportunities to rethink and reform how public agencies operate. This seems like a time of “do more with less”. What the new leadership of BCPS saw was the urgent need to transform, to seek out the best we can be, should be and will be. As one person exclaimed at the need to radically change the system “We are saving children’s lives”.

School districts are not islands that stand alone and succeed at random. Rather, schools are the center of each community. We are all responsible and accountable.

Schools are the single most important thing a community can do. It is about the quality of the experience, we have great teachers and the system does not allow great things to happen. It takes leadership who looks beyond their tenure to tackle the tough stuff to build for the future. (excerpts from the Charlie Rose Show, Mayor’s Roundtable, April 16, 2012).

BCPS has begun is that partnership, the necessary collaboration. No one believes it will be easy or quick. This decline in education has been ignored for too long. Tough decisions are ahead, what are the options? What are the costs? More importantly, what is the cost of kicking that can down the road again for the next generation? The dialogue has begun. The new transparency has brought new voices to the table. A good sign for BCPS.

What was the AI Summit?

Our work with Bibb County Public Schools began with an orientation and two day training with the Core Team consisting of approximately 60 employees. What I value about AI is that the people involved in the outcomes are involved in the planning from the beginning. We asked for people from all segments of the District – parents, students, teachers, principals, bus drivers, administrators and more. People stepped up; they offered their time and commitment for students, for the future. Working with these employees we designed the focus of what they wanted more of. It was decided, due to the time limitations to go into the interviews without any training or orientation on the process of Appreciative Inquiry.

On Day One of the Summit, participants paired up with someone new or that they did not know well, the questions were open to discover the “Best of What is” and to vision “What might be.” There was a sense of excitement as the day began as well as that of mistrust. During the interviews, it was clear that social, economic, literacy levels and racial barriers faded as people who may have never crossed paths or had never spoken to one another, shared stories that impacted their lives or touched their heart. The voices rose, people moved closer to hear, and the laughter of those shared moments and experiences began to be discovered. As facilitators we spoke to some who felt they could not participate, they were not sure why they were there and did not feel comfortable in the setting. We assured them that participation was voluntary; a number of people chose to sit with friends or co-workers rather than participate. With this new information, others sought out groups to join.

Day Two began the conversation “What should be” to find the shared stories and desired future that they wished to move toward. Following the Summit, these outcomes became the grounding for conversations around “What can be”. AI is not about the plan, it is the ongoing, fluid conversation to collectively choose the path.

BCPS staff have been busy working on the strategic plan since the last day of the summit – looking at best practices, incorporating their knowledge of Appreciative Inquiry into their work and their process. We have written about our Summit experience quite a bit. We learned so much about BCPS from teachers, parents, staff including those who work as bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, technology; we met the people who work at the Macon Centreplex, at restaurants, and at stores. We moved in a group of ten, so we were immediately spotted as “not from around here”. We also use Appreciate Inquiry as a way of being, in our conversations, our interactions and our approach. We ask people, wherever we go, questions such as what is the best thing that has happened to you recently? We also asked about BCPS and we heard excitement about working to improve the schools. We were asked “how can I be part of this”. BCPS advised us to invite anyone who wanted to attend and we did.

The question for BCPS is, if teachers are engaged, if parents are involved and students are learning (all of the time) “What will this look like?” And then how do “we make it happen”. The strategic planning process is a generative, collaborative, dynamic and creative endeavor. The concept of a book that sits on the shelf and is the definitive map is no longer true, if ever it was. It is not a road that is the only way, rather a beginning of new directions. The results of strategic planning with Appreciative Inquiry are endless.

Where is Bibb County?

Bibb County is in the State of Georgia, USA. In 2010-2011, BCS had a district-wide population of 22,000 students. Of these students: 7,914 were suspended; 703 dropped out; 493 were expelled; and only 44% graduated. Small, individual efforts made no dent in the statistics; in fact student success continued to erode. Serious innovation needed to be taken if Bibb County had any hope of serving its young people and in doing so rescue their community.

How can other school districts begin their transformation?

If we focus on the problems and issues, that is all we see. At the end of each day share with your children, friends and family something good you heard, saw or did. Ask your children what was the best thing that happened. We know from experience that this might be difficult at first. Practice, the next day, and again the next until you have a new habit. Soon, you will find that you are LOOKING for good stuff to share. The best part is when your children begin to look for the good things and see more possibilities for them. We too are filled with negative news and information on a regular basis. We don’t ignore problems. But, we can choose how we focus on that problem.

Are you ready to begin to explore AI? Begin with appreciation of teachers, students and the district. Be open to new ideas. Be a listener. Ask questions that are open-ended to allow the space for conversation. Initiate collaboration. Look at problems as opportunities to solve. Invite others to share their ideas about practical and creative solutions that look at the “big picture” of Bibb County, Georgia, USA and the World. As a community, explore how you might use, and support the use of conversation to create opportunities for BCPS to find the opportunities that the new.

Bibb County Schools Are Like So Many in the 21st Century

Bibb County Schools are like so many in the 21st century, struggling with children in poverty, educational standardization, declining economic status, changing demographics, and other challenges. At the same time, the Bibb County Schools Board is working to achieve a radical change that is unique among most large American school districts and is positioned to create a positive learning environment in the decade to come.

How then can it capitalize on the upcoming economic and population growth without leaving critical segments of the population behind?

This was one of the key questions at the heart of the Macon Miracle Summits held with Superintendent Romain Dallemand and approximately 4500 teachers, principals, custodians, secretaries, community members and parents in September and October 2011. And it is the ongoing dialogue that remains focused on the positive outcomes for students and their learning achievements that will create the foundation to sustain changes for the greater good.

The Summit served as an opportunity for the Superintendent to comprehensively lay out his vision for the “Macon Miracle” and to provide the public discourse to identify and begin the design of an educational system that address the school district’s core opportunities and challenges in depth. A packed Arena of more than 4300 people participated in the two day-long Summit using an Appreciative Inquiry Model for positive and generative change.

Here is how Superintendent Dallemand introduced his vision for the “Macon Miracle” at the Summit:

We stand at a crossroad in education in Bibb County, Georgia, and the United States. We can either continue down the path we are on now that has led us to a 44% graduation rate or we can select a path that will ensure every child is receiving a high quality education that prepares them for the possibility of a 4-year college degree and leads to a successful life.

This is your chance to express how we can best meet the needs of our students and help them succeed and maximize their potential. Our children must be prepared not only for the world they live in now, but also the one they will enter in the future. It is up to every employee, every parent, and every member of this community to provide them with the education, tools, resources, and support to be lifelong learners and to be globally competitive.
 
Our education system is not currently designed to prepare them for a world that is changing on a daily basis. We need a different system, and we have the wonderful opportunity to work together –with the students—to design a system that meets their needs today, tomorrow, and in the future.
 
With a new system, we will bring the best of what we do to help students discover their intelligence and their gifts to improve our community, our state, our nation, and our world. You are a part of something miraculous: creating a better future by improving the lives of children today.

 

(We as AI Facilitators were at this point so excited yet resolved that our facilitation would be mindful, relaxed and allow their voices to flow.) Using Appreciative Inquiry as the framework for bringing together the voices was a strategic planning decision that Superintendent Dallemand made. Appreciative Inquiry brings about decision making and actions.

Participants generated an impressive set of statements and structured focus areas from these areas. These provided both excellent insights and astute guidance for what the School District and other stakeholders could consider doing going forward.

To view pictures from both days of the Summit, click – Macon Miracle Day 1 and Macon Miracle Day 2

While 4300 participated in person, others viewed the work on facebook, twitter and via live online, followed by continuous conversation and engagement by face to face meetings at schools and community locations, the school intranet and other online options and with additional surveys designed to gather student input.

Visualize an enormous cement structure with three story high ceilings, no tables, flip chart paper on the floor in the middle of each circle of 8 and up to 2,000 people in an “area” with one, maybe two microphones! It was a humbling experience for the Center for Appreciative Inquiry Design and Facilitation staff to see so many people leaning into the conversation while sitting knee to knee in circles of 8. They were ready to tackle tough issues, and to do so with grace, patience, and intensity. So many people at the end of the day were exhausted, happy and energized. What an extraordinary two days it was for Bibb County Schools. Day two brought new energy as people clearly understood that each voice counted. From the first question with a positive focus: the conversation, the depth of what is and what could be was clear to all of us. The sense of commitment to the children, to the community and to each other was authentic and people found alignment with others that they had not known before.

The feeling to togetherness, sharing achievements and identifying goals are shaping a new and inspired view of the future of education in Macon County. This heighten sense of collaboration and open conversation has continued to provide a background and support for Bibb County Schools as they reach out to the entire community to engage them in “what legacy do we want to live into.”

If you are interested in learning more about Bibb County Schools, check Dr. Romain Dallemand’s Blog and for the Strategic Plan to find out how they are planning for the Macon Miracle, please click here.

For more information about Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning or the Center for Appreciative Inquiry, please contact Kathy Becker by email or phone (702) 228-4699 for a free consultation.

Author: Kathy Becker, Certified Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator and Trainer.

Thousands Develop Bibb County’s Strategic Plan

On Monday, October 10, the Bibb County School District hosted its second Strategic Planning session involving more than 4,000 people, including parents and community members and every employee.

“We must believe in our children and in ourselves if we are going to be successful,” says Superintendent Dr. Romain Dallemand. “We must think outside of the box to generate the revolutionary ideas that will help us move our community forward and make sure our children are successful. We must think radically and consider things like year-round school and school choice for the entire District, and our children must be fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese, and technology.

Working with the Center for Appreciative Inquiry,large and small group sessions were used to facilitate discussions about the future of the District and community, as well as to begin identifying the goals, ideas, and strategies that will define “The Macon Miracle.” After the first session on September 19, feedback about areas that could be improved in the District was used to identify commonalities and themes. At the second session on October 10, the community attended themed breakout sessions to generate ideas about how the District could improve student achievement.

“Our District and community must decide where it wants to be 20 and 50 years from now, and that journey begins with building a new education system that meets the need of all children,” says Dr. Dallemand. “The new system will be built with the engagement of our entire community because that is the only way in which it will be successful.”

This process is a new method by which a school district defines its work and goals. Instead of a small group of educators and community leaders developing a plan that is handed down to the employees, Dr. Dallemand invited this larger group to join the process. Additionally, a survey was made available to every middle and high school student to provide similar feedback since they are at the core of the District; the survey was also available to parents and community members that did not attend the sessions.

To view complete information about “The Macon Miracle,” Bibb County’s Strategic Plan. Featured on the page are stories, videos, photographs, and media coverage from these momentous events.

To stay connected with the District throughout “The Macon Miracle,” check the site above regularly and visit Dr. Dallemand’s blog and our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

Written By: Chris Floore, Director of Public Relationships for Bibb County School District
Chris invites you to contact him if you wish to learn more about the changes being made in Bibb County. You can email him at cfloore@bibb.k12.ga.us or call 478-390-8258.

Macon Miracle Update

The excitement from the crowd at the Macon Centreplex was palpable as more than 4,200 community members, parents, teachers, Board members, local businesses, and dignitaries from Macon, Georgia convened on October 10, 2011, to complete part two of a two-day appreciative inquiry strategic planning summit designed to reinvent Bibb County School District and ensure that every student flourishes.

Superintendent Dr. Romain Dallemand envisions becoming the best school district in the nation. Deemed the “Macon Miracle,” Dr. Dallemand contracted with several facilitators from the Center for Appreciative Inquiry to reinvent the school system by hosting a two-day appreciative inquiry summit.

During the first day, held on September 19, 2011, more than 4,000 participants met to collaboratively discover the best of “what is” in order to create a shared image of their preferred future. They interviewed each other and shared stories about peak experiences, strengths, and opportunities to discover their positive core. By developing bold possibility statements, and then sharing them with each other, the participants began to envision a future state where every child succeeds.

On day two of the summit, held October 10, 2011, participants reconvened to identify methods to bring their future dreams to life. They developed strategic proposals to bridge the best of “what is” with their ideas of “what can be.” Each of the strategic proposals included key concepts necessary for successful implementation. As participants shared their proposals with each other, the excitement and energy in the arena grew exponentially. In the final activity, participants began designing the action items and ideas that would be necessary to bring their dreams into fruition.  Together, along with input from the students, Dr. Dallemand and his leadership team will finalize their five-year strategic plan early next year.

Kimberley Seitz, PhD
An Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator on behalf of Company of Experts, Inc. for the ‘Macon Miracle’ project.
If you wish to contact Kimberley Seitz, PhD, please click here.

The Macon Miracle

Loud cheers and unbridled excitement are not unfamiliar sounds for any sports arena; however, the noise generated at the Macon Centreplex Arena on September 19th reverberated far beyond the arena walls.

The voices and enthusiasm of 4,500 Bibb County Schools stakeholders quickly rose as they began discovering the best of ‘what is’ in order to construct a positive future for their students.  The stakeholders included bus drivers, teachers, custodians, secretaries, administrators, elected officials (City and state) as well as parents.

This is the largest Appreciative Inquiry Summit that we have ever been involved in. The visionary Superintendent of Bibb County Schools, Dr. Romain Dallemand, sees a new dawning of education for the 21st century. From the beginning of his tenure, Dr. Dallemand has sought input from teachers, community members, and other decision makers – posing the question, “What can Bibb School District do to redesign education and create an example that ensures all students have the opportunity to learn?”

After a powerful opening message by Dr. Dallemand and keynote speaker Dr. Anthony Mohammed, participants were divided amongst six breakout rooms, including the arena floor of the Centreplex. Chairs in each of the rooms were assembled into circles of eight. No tables were present – providing participants with the opportunity to get closer to the individuals in their circle as they conducted their paired interviews. As participants began their appreciative interview, the energy in each of the rooms quickly ignited. Conversations consisted of laughter and tears and as time progressed, people moved closer to one another as their stories unfolded.

Through the use of technology, the positive core and the word image for the entire group of 4,500 was able to be electronically captured. The information collected was sorted and common themes began to emerge. These themes will be used to design and create a new destiny for Bibb County Schools. The Design and Destiny phase, of what is being called the Macon Miracle, has been scheduled for October 10th in the Macon Centreplex Arena. As the day concluded, participants were excited about the future – of what ‘can be’ for Bibb County Schools; they realized change starts with them. You could see, feel, and sense hope in the room. It was powerful for all in attendance.

Our great facilitator team consisted of: Cheri Torres, Kathy Becker, Jim Pulliam, Charles Miller, Melissa Robaina, Annette Vaillancourt, Eileen Rohan, Joan Trottier, Trevor Warner, and Kimberley Seitz.

We will keep you posted as the Macon Miracle blossoms…

View our photo album from the first Summit here

Celebrating Earth Day 2011!

Heather Henson (left) and Melissa Robaina (right) are all smiles as they partake in a local cleanup in celebration of Earth Day

On April 22, 1970 over 20 million Americans rallied in the streets, parks, schools, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. According to earthday.net, “Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values”. That day in 1970 is one to remember. As a result of everyone’s efforts, Congress enacted the United States Environmental Protection Agency in addition to passing the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

Company of Experts got down and dirty in celebration of Earth Day. The Company’s Social Marketing Director, Melissa Robaina, along with their student intern, Heather Henson, joined Get Outdoors Nevada – an interagency volunteer program – in its fight to preserve the desert ecosystem. Together they spent hours picking up trash in a remote area east of the Las Vegas strip that is often used for illegal dumping. More than thirty volunteers from around the Las Vegas helped join the cleanup efforts in order to restore the desert landscape to its beautiful, well-kept state.

When asked to reflect about the cleanup event Melissa replied, “This experience has been humbling and has ignited my desire to find additional ways to ‘go green’. I am very thankful to work for the Company of Experts’ whose principles not only value the people we serve, but the world for which sustains us all.” Heather’s response was brief and to the point, “Life is a garden, dig it.”