Appreciating the Details
We live in remarkable times defined by innovation that has dramatically shifted the manner in which we view our world. Over the last few days, we have witnessed the pioneering spirit reignited by those testing the boundaries of space travel. While the opportunity to take an eleven-minute ride to the edge of space may stretch beyond our pocketbooks, the symbolism and inspiration embedded in such a moment speaks to the attributes that drive strategic change. Whether entrepreneurs reaching for the stars or facilitators digging for the depths of understanding, the self-awareness and commitment to engage such ventures give us a glimpse of the appreciative inquiry at the heart of bringing a vision to reality.
The sustainable future of an endeavor is linked to the ability of leaders to learn and build intellectual capital in an organized manner (Wells, 1998). Appreciative inquiries provide the structures that facilitate such attributes. Models like SOAR or the Five D Cycle allow individuals to facilitate, adapt, reimagine and innovate. Choosing to employ such models allow organizations the capacity to harness strengths while proactively addressing challenges. From the vantage point of S.A.G.E., these inquiry tools foster the adaptive features necessary to ensure viability across time. We have found these processes well-suited to tracking and measuring our initiatives by creating a living document that invites learning and reimagining through a positive framework.
Appreciative inquiries can offer a depth of analysis to any strategic planning, as it affords the positive space to examine possibilities. One of the unique elements brought forward by Wells (1998) is the notion that frameworks are the questions that allow innovative minds the structure to organize and center thoughts. While we contend that meaningful analysis demands introspection, the inquiry models bring contemplative thought to action through a solutions-oriented approach. As expressed by Stavros (AI World Inquiry Project, 2019) these inquiries allow organizations to take charge of their destiny.
Reading the Market to Discover Organizational Opportunity
From business to education, developing an understanding of the landscape is essential to meeting a vision and uncovering entry points within each sector. Moreover, such a process creates clarity to the contributions that can be offered to advance innovation or address a market need. Creating a broad and comprehensive understanding allows boundaries to recede and innovative ideas to emerge (Wells, 1998). In each arena, whether climbing to the edge of space or the depths of potential, a clear and focused approach in responding to challenges allows a team to effectively frame their mission. Furthermore, we would suggest that in responding to market need, authenticity, brought about by self-awareness, serves as the mechanism for the open-minded dialogue that allows for such exploration. With a willingness to understand self, we have found a depth in our ability to clearly read the market which in turn has magnified the understanding of our role within it. Such an individual mindset has naturally established the organizational practices from which we attempt to lay the foundation of a school.
Appreciative Inquiry and Innovation
Although in the very early stages of our endeavor, we recently conducted a SWOC analysis as a way to test our vision and refine our mission. To that end, we can attest to the authenticity that framed the process and facilitated the coherence that offers reliability and builds trust. In evaluating our internal apparatus in the context of sector need, we continue to employ what Bryson (2018) defines as incrementalism. Committed to exploring all avenues, we have the benefit of employing a deliberative process across all phases we engage. As we attempt to treat the problem and not the symptoms, a long view allows us to stage each element of the process in a logical manner. As Olson and Simerson (2015) have presented, reinforcing commitment, testing strategic quality, and the resolve of the team is essential to ensuring feasibility, and more importantly, the sustainability of innovative thought.
Leadership Challenges in Strategic Planning
As stakeholders, we appreciate Olson and Simerson’s (2015) sentiments regarding the multidimensional nature of challenges. In reflecting on our analysis, the themes of bias and finances are two areas for which a proactive nature must be employed. While we are confident that introspection and dialogue will assist in managing bias, the realities of budgetary concerns always loom large. Fundamentally, as leaders, we want to ensure that our vision is never compromised, and that our tactical/operational goals are reflective of the slow and deliberative approach that frames this endeavor. To that end, even in these early stages, we must attend to what Bryson (2018) suggests is the strategic thinking that organizes hope into a reasonable plan.
Proactive Measures to Ensure Sustainability
The benefit of having time on our side, and a deliberative framework from which to operate, will assist in influencing the budgetary directions that Bryson (2018) views as an opportunity for incrementally-minded ventures. As individuals who have seen the ramifications of reactionary policies in education, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to addressing this perpetual challenge through proactive budgeting. We would contend that critical to such a commitment is Bryson’s (2018) advice that strategy formation and execution be addressed by the same individuals. As this will be the case for S.A.G.E., it will also serve to address and manage the bias that feeds assumptions. While we are confident and passionate about our approach and the future we envision, Wells (1998) cautions entrepreneurs about blindspots, and the importance of creating assumptions through uncertainty within the sector. As authentic leaders with a collaborative approach, we have a foundation well-equipped to remove boundaries presented by the internal and external challenges that will undoubtedly come our way.
Advice: Through the Simplicity of Pausing comes Possibility
As we prepare for the upcoming academic year, we continually reassess our practices for deconstructing the assembly line mentality that has been ingrained in the learners that will enter our respective classrooms. Over time, a thriving group of learners will understand the importance of slowing down to deliberate upon the personal and collective reflections that are essential components to drive the learning necessary for their strategic thinking/planning. Moreover, they will uncover the power of trusting in the moment and being patient in order to create the space for the integrative thinking necessary to face challenges with the confidence to adapt. In particular, students will employ the 5D Cycle as they engage learning opportunities and structure their thinking routines. While they will not be changing the course of the world, they will be charting a course towards growth. If ten and eleven year olds can generate such a space, so to can the minds charged with the vision and mission of the district. However, for this to occur, we need leaders who are movers; visionaries that Olson and Simerson (2015) suggest apply creative thinking with a willingness to adapt. Individuals who recognize that changing academic, administrative, and budgetary practices require a shift in culture. Perhaps employing the 5D Cycle can be the first step in offering districts the opportunity to bring these processes in alignment with vision and mission.
Bryson, J. M. (2018). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations (5th ed.).Wiley
Olson, A.K., & Simerson, B.K. (2015). Leading with strategic thinking: Four ways effective leaders gain insight, drive change, and get results. Wiley.
Ortynsky, S., Marshall, J., & Mou, H. (2021). Budget practices in Canada's K‐12 education sector: Incremental, performance, or productivity budgeting? Canadian Public Administration, 64(1), 74-98. https://doi.org/10.1111/capa.12402
Wells, S. (1998). Choosing the future: The power of strategic thinking. (1st ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann.