Category Archives: K-12

School District Engages 4,300 in Creating Future Through Appreciative Inquiry

The Macon Miracle initiative to be shared during global AI conference

Participants at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) will have the opportunity to learn about the largest known face-to-face Appreciative Inquiry summit held in a school district in Macon, Georgia.

Called the Macon Miracle, the Bibb County School District used Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to bring together 4,300 people in creating its strategic plan.

Dr. Romain Dallemand, superintendent of the district, championed the effort. He was hired in February, 2011, and wanted to design a new educational system with the community’s collaborative efforts.

The strategic plan was intended to guide change and improvements for the next five years. These changes are centred on ensuring all children receive high-quality education to prepare them to be competitive and successful in a global economy.

Judy Godfrey, Bibb County School District director of professional learning, was involved with the whole process and says she was “totally” new to AI.

The first thing she noticed about the strengths-based approach to organizational development was how it helped ensure communication was thorough and timely, she says, which is an important part of any change initiative. Read Full Article>>

Together We Can Raise the Bar

For those of you who are in education and attending the WAIC in Belgium, I encourage you to attend the session on the 4500 person summit that Bibb County Schools (Macon, GA) hosted to develop a strategic plan to design a new education system that works: The Macon Miracle.

This effort is highly controversial in the city where it is happening. It is charged to begin with because the new superintendent, Dr. Romain Dallemand, is creating transformative change–people resist radical change (that’s natural). It is further charged by politics and race–in case any of you have seen or read the news coming from Macon, GA, USA.

The superintendent and his team are truly working for a miracle in systems change. They are leading at the systems level and Appreciative Inquiry and self-efficacy and positivity are at the heart of implementing evidence-based educational strategies, engaging the whole, and empowering students, teachers, parents, and administrators. But when people don’t understand the concepts that are behind the changes, fear drives their actions. This is threatening a lot of folks, scaring a lot of folks, and totally confusing many.

If you’re in education and looking for radical, systems change, connect with those at WAIC who are like-minded. If you’re not attending, connect with the speakers for the workshop and share what’s working for you.

Let’s join Bibb County–and others who are raising the bar with new systems– and start a revolution in global and local education!! Perhaps if the world starts watching and acting, starts supporting and embracing, with an intention to open the hearts of those who are fearful around the changes being called for in the world today, we can move without violence towards new systems that works for all–in education, in government, in economics, and in communities.

Author: Dr. Cheri Torres, Innovation Partners International

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.

Let Me Think!

Recently, I read an article regarding Performance Funding for many of our Nation’s K-12 Schools and Community Colleges.   One continues to read that during a time of financial limitations we need to hold  the “Systems” accountable.   Accountability is a benchmark for success.  In addition a practice of fiscal prudence has always been important as the finite resources we have allocated toward learning have been limited.

The term Accountability, in most cases, equates to some form of measurement regarding a learner’s performance.  In “short” what has the learner – learned and how much did it cost?   Shortly, after WWII an American by the last name of Deming assisted the Japanese Government in rebuilding their public and private agencies.  Today, Deming is revered as a key in rebuilding the Japanese Economy.   The key components of Deming’s teachings were process, measurement and performance.

In the late 1960’s the United States Government selected a total of fifty  K-12 American Educators  to “remake” our school systems.   The fifty educators selected came  from various geographic regions throughout the country as well as a multitude of disciplines.  In a very competitive process I  was one of the fifty selected receiving a year and a half  of Graduate school with fees and living expenses paid   The funding for the program  was an allocation by Congress  under the American Defense Education Act.   The intent was to measure determined outcomes for both the learners and teachers.  We studied topics such  mathematics, measurement, PERT Charting, Functional Flow Block Diagrams, Performance Requirements etc.   During that time I remember being in a meeting with  group of visiting  Japanese Scholars  that came to the States to meet with “our group”.   In our conversation one of the  visiting Japanese Scholar’s  asked, why are you doing this?   He stated,  “ we came here to learn how you  encourage learners to be imaginative,  creative and innovative  The American Educational System and teachers have always excelled in those areas.  We know how to measure things.”

Accountability, cost effectiveness and performance are important but let us not lose sight on what we do well.

In this Autobiographical Notes, Albert Einstein writes, “ it is, in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of Inquiry.”

As it has always been, it is up to us.  All of us.

Author: Jim Pulliam, Certified Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator and Trainer. Email Jim.