Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a rather awkward term used to describe a powerful model based on asking positive questions to bring about desired change. AI holds that questions and dialogue about strengths, successes, values, hopes and dreams are themselves transformational—to both the parent and the coach! Therefore, throughout the coaching process, parents can shift their attention and energy away from focusing on problems, diagnoses, and deficits to discover their dreams for both their daughters and for themselves as parents. Then, in collaboration with the coach, they can take the necessary steps to make these a reality.
That said, this approach also incorporates a realistic lens about the limitations inherent in every situation. Thus, part of the coaching process involves identifying the steps necessary to minimize the impact of these obstacles in pursuit of the mother’s dream.
The questions posed fall into one of 4 categories which often loosely follow each other sequentially; however, the AI process is most effective when it flows organically rather than adhering to a rigid structure.
The first phase, called Discovery, involves the process of generating positive feelings and awareness to fuel the creation of an intentional and heart-felt dream for parenting the mother’s unique, gifted daughter. This phase will empower the parent to achieve greater awareness, acceptance and appreciation of both themselves and their daughters through guided introspection and reflection. By encouraging moms to analyze past successes and what’s currently working in selected areas of their lives, they will ideally unearth the treasures, wonders and boundless potential in themselves, their daughters and their families and use this wisdom to transform their lives.
The framework for the Discovery process generally includes focusing on the following issues, for both the mother and daughter (including the possible similarities and differences between them):
- Genetic/Physiological Characteristics (including physical traits/limitations)
- Socio-Emotional/Personality Attributes (including temperament, OE’s, learning style, relational style, creativity, stress response, perfectionism, imposter syndrome)
- Gender Traits and/or androgyneity
- Gifted Characteristics
- Motivation (inner-directed, outer-directed)
- Environmental Aspects:
- Home – Including mother’s background, parenting style, family dynamics, father’s relationship w/ the daughter, the daughter’s birth order, socio-economic class, racial/ethnic background
- Community/Culture – including society’s focus on female appearance and gender, economic realities, resources, career opportunities, sexism, anti-intellectualism, influence of media/Internet/digital world
- School – including educational options both within the school and community
- Chance – opportunities, resources, historical context
In the Dream stage, the goal is to identify the mother’s preferred future. During this process, the mother is encouraged to talk about what matters most to her, to focus energy and effort on what she truly values, expanding the realm of potential possibilities for her life and the life of her daughter as well as the lives of other family members. The parent and coach will build on the exploration of the Discovery Stage that uncovered the potential in the mother and her daughter to create their preferred future.
The Dream phase is both practical and generative. It’s practical in that the Dream must be grounded in the present reality and the history of the parent. It’s grounded in those things that have been brought into awareness during the Discovery phase which included the strengths of the parent and the mother’s competencies and talents, the resources and limitations in the situation, the abilities of the daughter, and the family’s support network. It’s generative in that the Dream seeks to expand the possibilities for greater growth and expression. (Source: The PCI Course One Manual)
By becoming more self-aware and also gaining greater insight about her gifted daughter and finally giving voice to her longings for the future, both the mother’s Dream and her Dream for her daughter will begin to emerge. Achieving this clarity of vision is a critical part of the Dream phase. As part of this process, the mother will be asked to be reflective and courageous and go for identifying a future that elicits her energy and passion. Working with the coach, she will then flesh out images of what her ideal life would look, feel, be and function like if those exceptional moments and the high points of her past and present became the norm rather than the exception.
However, it may be necessary for the parent to reach beyond the limitations of her past to envision other possibilities. Some mothers may have a history of being silenced or may have been taught that speaking about their achievements, successes or giftedness is inappropriate or even ‘unladylike’. In this case, the mom needs to focus more on positive memories rather than negative ones from her past and value her resilience and ability to thrive in what was a less than nurturing environment.
The process of imagining one’s preferred future (the focus of the Dream phase) is actually a dynamic and on-going process that continues throughout one’s lifetime. The coach will present the parent with an approach to structure this process both during the coaching process and in the future. The objective is for the mother to make proactive and conscious choices about what she desires in her parenting future and to uncover her deeper wishes and hidden possibilities. The coach hopes to motivate the mother to dream big by defining her highest and most desired ideals because no matter how big one’s ideals may be, they all come with built-in limits. Therefore, it’s important for the coach to encourage the parent to dream as big as she can, in part, by encouraging her to remember the talents, abilities and successes identified during Discovery and to understand how these traits will enable her to achieve her desired future.
By sharpening the parent’s image and expectations of her preferred future, she will actually begin to direct her mind and energy to create what she has envisioned. To nurture this process, the mother may want to carry out various activities suggested by the coach. Possibilities include writing down the details of the Dream in a journal, creating a mind map, coming up with a phrase to capture the spirit of the dream that she can then use as a mantra, walking through a guided meditation filled with images of the Dream, or making a collage with pictures that highlight her Dream.
The following questions posed by the coach may help point the mom in the direction of a future desire or ideal…..where she will become more self-actualized, peaceful and fulfilled:
- What are the most energizing and exciting possibilities for you as a parent in the future?
- What excites you most about raising a gifted daughter?
- Jump into the future (one, five or ten years from now). What do you envision? What are you doing? Who are you with?
- Where are you living? What are you excited about?
- If you could have 3 wishes granted to enhance the vitality and quality of your life, what would they be?
- Describe a peak experience or high point in your life so far?
- Looking into the future, who are you called to be? What work are you called to do? What gives your life meaning?
- What do you notice about yourself when you dream of your future?
- “Five years from today you’re receiving an award. Why?”
- If you could communicate with yourself in the future, what questions would you want to ask yourself? What would you like others to ask of you?
- What would your mentor (your mom, teacher, best friend) wish for you in your future?
- What are you doing specifically in your parenting that brings you great joy?
- What does your daughter most value about your parenting?
The focus of the Design phase is to give form to the parent’s Dream by encouraging the mom to make choices and act in ways that begin to make her preferred future unfold. Some Dreams may be large, so it’s important for the parent, with the help of her coach, to determine her priorities, break her macro-vision down into micro-propositions, and outline the sequence for those aspects of her preferred future that she would like to commit to, and take action on, throughout each step of the Design process. Intentional choices must precede execution, so it’s critical that the efforts the parent undertakes are thoughtful and directly related to making her Dream a reality.
Once the mom has identified her priorities for incorporating the key elements of her Dream into her daily life, it will be beneficial for her to spend time describing what it looks, and feels like, when she’s successful at achieving them. This will help motivate her to continue pursuit of her Dream. Some questions important to consider for the Design Stage include:
- What 3 big accomplishments would make you feel as though you have come close to your Dream?
- What have you done before that you could do again to move toward your preferred future?
- What do you need to pay attention to so that you feel supported and so that you are taking care of yourself as you embark on this journey?
- What have you already started putting in place? Where is your attention going now as you think about the things you want to do?
- What are small actions that you would like turned into new habits?
- What smaller aspects of your dream could you experiment with right now?
- What makes you feel proud and capable today?
Per Gloria DeGaetano of the Parent Coaching Institute, the Destiny phase involves recognizing change and celebrating the growth in the situation. It involves allowing the growth to take place, in one’s self, in others, and in the total life situation; recognizing evidence that the Dream is becoming reality; and accepting the life changes that have brought the Dream into the present. The core task of this phase is to embrace the emerging Dream and to focus the parent as much on being as on doing. A critical aspect for the mother during this phase is to understand the natural pacing and rhythm of the growth that is emerging and to celebrate it.
As stated in Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change, “ For some, accepting their capacity to create their future can feel immense and sometimes even frightening.” Marianne Williamson, the author and speaker, writes that people are not really afraid of their inadequacies, but of their own power and light:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
It’s important that mothers become aware of their power and acknowledge it. They are encouraged by the coach to see glimpses of their light throughout all the stages of AI.
Through Discovery, the parent becomes aware of, and appreciates, her own brilliance, strengths and talents more clearly. In the Dream and Design phases, mothers enlarge their outlook and courageously stretch to embrace an engaging future. In Destiny, they enjoy the full manifestation of their individual power by acknowledging evidence indicators of their preferred future becoming reality.
The purpose of the Destiny Stage is for the parent to internalize and live the reality of her Dream—to hear her voice expressing her desires for the future, to feel the power of living proactively, and to see her light shining brightly. The following are things mothers might say that demonstrate this:
- “I can see that this is possible.”
- “I am spending more time doing what I want.”
- “Maybe if I tweaked this a little, it would get me closer to….”
- “I’m feeling pretty confident that I can….”
- “I’m really conscious of this now.”
- “Things just seem to be falling into place.”
The objective of the Destiny phase has been achieved when the parent can feel herself represented by the image of a woman standing on a mountain, flinging her arms out in front of a stunning sunset—feeling empowered, standing before her life, and joyfully embracing it.