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Using appreciative inquiry to create a sustainable rural school district and community

Raymond Calabrese (Educational Administration, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Michael Hester (Educational Leadership, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)
Scott Friesen (Educational Leadership, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)
Kim Burkhalter (Educational Leadership, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 30 March 2010




The purpose of this paper is to document how a doctoral research team applied an action research process to improve communication and collaboration strategies among rural Midwestern school district stakeholders.


An appreciative inquiry (AI) action research methodology framed as a qualitative case study using the AI 4‐D cycle over four consecutive weeks was facilitated with nine purposively selected stakeholders.


Findings suggest that the AI 4‐D cycle promoted greater respect and value of participants' strengths/assets through shared personal narratives; participants transformed their rural school district's culture from defensive, isolationist, and reactive to one that embraced internal and external collaboration, greater levels of trust, and hope; and participants increased social capital between the school district and community agencies as well as in the relationship among school district stakeholders.

Practical implications

Participants entered the process with strong expressions of powerlessness focused on school district and stakeholder deficits. They left the process empowered, with a plan to improve stakeholder communication, form district and community partnerships at many levels, and act immediately to initiate transformation projects. Participants became conduits of hope for their rural community and viewed themselves as assuming leadership roles to bring groups together to build generative capacity.


The paper highlights the importance of the highly participatory nature of school organizations as democratic institutions, and it demonstrates that educators are empowered when their focus is on a co‐constructed imagined future.



Calabrese, R., Hester, M., Friesen, S. and Burkhalter, K. (2010), "Using appreciative inquiry to create a sustainable rural school district and community", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 250-265.



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