Communication Currents

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How to Use Appreciative Inquiry to Coach Students for Academic and Professional Development

July 24, 2018
Instructional Communication, Organizational Communication

Instructors have a role to play in coaching students for academic and professional development, and in a new original teaching idea essay in NCA’s journal Communication Teacher, Rose Helens-Hart outlines a classroom activity for consideration. According to Helens-Hart, appreciative inquiry (AI), an intervention tool that asks individuals to focus on strengths and successes rather than problems and failures, can be applied to the classroom to help students practice positive reframing, appraise and identify their strengths and skills, select goals, create action plans, and take responsibility for their progress.

Activity Setup

  • 20-30 minutes during four separate class periods; five minutes for follow up in subsequent classes
  • Worksheet for each of the four stages of the coaching process
  • Small peer groups (to be maintained through all the stages)

Coaching Stages: The Four Ds
The appreciative coaching process works through four stages: discover, dream, design, and destiny. The entire process is designed to counter negative self-talk that can damage students’ beliefs in their ability to do well in school and beyond. “As the authors of their action plans, students are more likely to commit to improvement and take responsibility for moving toward goals,” writes Helens-Hart.

The first step in the process is selecting a topic to focus on through each of the four stages. Students should write a positively phrased topic related to academic or professional improvement (e.g., better participation in class, or being proactive about their job search). The author notes that “the use of positive language is important at this stage to reduce defensive and defeatist attitudes.” Students should share their topic statements in their peer groups to rephrase negative language before entering the four coaching stages.

  • Discover: 25 minutes
    • Students should explore their past successes and identify skills and strengths they used to achieve them. Instructors should ask broad questions to “tap into students’ hidden motivations and values.”
    • Students discuss answers in peer groups to more clearly articulate successes and skills.
  • Dream: 25 minutes
    • Students should write out goals related to their topics to pursue using their skills and strengths. The more specific, the better. Again, discuss in peer groups.
  • Design: 20 minutes
    • Students should draft an action plan with specific steps to reach their goals. Helens-Hart emphasizes that the plans must be plausible. “It is important for students to draft steps they truly believe they can accomplish.” Breaking down the plan into smaller steps makes it easier to commit to and more manageable.
  • Destiny: 5 minutes
    • Instructors should follow up with students in subsequent classes to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments. Students should be noting their progress and checking in with their peer groups for positive reinforcement and recognition. The author writes, “Recognition can affirm students’ sense of control over life.”

The Results
After implementing AI coaching with multiple classes, Helens-Hart observed that students experienced “diminished career preparation anxiety, increased self-confidence, and better relationships with their instructor and peers during end-of-semester course debriefings.” Further, despite having identified modest goals, students felt they had more control over their academic and professional progress.  

“Since AC is designed to empower individuals through identifying how to leverage their strengths to achieve goals, it is important students be invested in the process,” concludes Helens-Hart. She provides some alternative options for executing this activity, such as completing it via a journaling exercise, or giving more individual feedback to students, rather than using the strong peer group element. She also suggests integrating positive reframing exercises into daily classroom activities to allow students to practice positive thinking on a more regular basis.

This essay was translated from the scholarly article: Helens-Hart, Rose. (2018). “Appreciative coaching for student academic and professional development.” Communication Teacher. doi: 10.1080.17404622.2018.1459758

About the author (s)

Rose Helens-Hart

Fort Hays State University

Assistant Professor

Rose Helens-Hart