Empowering staff using strengths based approaches
Cranmer Primary School is a large three form entry primary school located in the London Borough of Merton. The organisation has approximately 100 staff members and 710 pupils. I have been the Headteacher of this large primary school since September 2015.
The aim of this case study is to encapsulate the approaches I am taking to move the school forwards. It provides useful examples of staff empowerment and engagement that can be used and developed by other organisations.
“…. the co-operative co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organisations, and the world around them….. it involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate and heighten positive potential” – Cooperider, Whitney, Stavros, and Fry, 2008
When an organisation is in need of improvement it can be tempting to provide a quick fix, troubleshooting approach in which staff are given a mandate or directive.
As the newly appointed Headteacher of Cranmer Primary school I decided to use a very different approach – Appreciative Inquiry – to set the direction for my leadership of Cranmer.
The essence of an Appreciative Inquiry approach is that it focuses on highlighting existing strengths within an organisation; even when, to all intents and purposes, outcomes are poor.
The development day at Cranmer primary school consisted of using both an Appreciative Inquiry and World Café approach to enable staff to talk and listen to each other about their desired outcomes and future for the organisation.
During the day I facilitated discussion of a series of questions, and reflections on our conversations. I organised the training space in a relaxed and convivial way so that staff felt at ease discussing and sharing their differing perspectives. This spirit of inquiry was the beginning of a journey in which staff views and perspectives were given value across the organisation.
The approach I took gave a clear message to staff that as a leader I was going to listen to them and value their contributions. This was fundamental towards reinvigorating the morale of the staff team. I have continued to embed this conversational approach over the past two years. Opportunities for conversation and reflection are purposely planned for. Staff have many opportunities to ‘imagine’ (the ‘Dream’ stage of AI) the school operating at its very best. The belief that the school can be outstanding and is on a journey permeates the organisation.