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Step 4: Appreciative enquiry

Differentiation in Practice / Unit 3: Leading differentiation

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Step 4: Appreciative enquiry

This step focuses on how you can develop professional enquiry on differentiation within your team by using appreciative enquiry (AE).

AE is an enquiry process conducted over time. It is based on the work of David Cooperrider who proposed that for every organisation, group, team or individual something works well, which is worth building on and extending. The process focuses on accentuating the positive rather than eliminating the negative. It is composed of four stages, see below: 


1. The first of the four stages is Discover. This stage involves gathering evidence of what works.

Decide on your focus, whether that be differentiation as a whole or a specific aspect such as support or challenge and ask teachers and pupils to share examples or stories of differentiation practice that is known or perceived to have a positive impact on learning. Find out what the teacher and/or pupil did that helped. You might also gather quantitative progress data. From this evidence themes will begin to emerge.

2. The second stage is Dream.

Work as a group, for instance a curriculum team or a group of middle leaders. Work on envisioning an image of an ideal future which is grounded in reality and based on actual examples of excellence. The group needs to be innovative and creative: stretch your thinking. Capture this in a ‘provocative proposition’ (a short statement describing a desired future, that bridges the best of ‘what is’ with ‘what might be’).

3. In the next stage, Design, convert the provocative proposition into a tangible project, action or experiment.

There are seven important principles of appreciative design. The activity should be:

  • inclusive
  • aspirational
  • innovative
  • home-grown 
  • chaordic (working on the boundary of chaos and order).

It should also offer continuity (building on past successes) and include re-inquiry (making bets about what will work). These projects or actions should typically be shared with the whole organisation (via middle leaders).

4. The last stage is Deliver. This stage is about delivery or action (though it is often referred to as destiny).

Translate the proposition into strategies for implementation. At this stage managing and leading are important. Propositions may be tight and controlled or iterative and experimental. Teams are involved in the implementation and ideally volunteer to lead or oversee the changes. Evaluation of impact is important however that is formative rather than summative.


  • how could this process fit into the planning you already do as a team?
  • what would your dream be? What ideal future would you like to aim towards?
  • how could you sum this up into a proposition?

Actions moving forwards

You could use the outcomes of your activities in the first two steps of this unit to contribute to the Discover phase through this suggested timeline:

  • Introductory meeting to outline the process and plan the Discover activity (30 minutes).
  • Middle leaders spend time ‘discovering’ the most effective differentiation practice, such as observing lessons, interviewing staff and pupils (evidence gathered over 2–3 weeks).
  • Departmental/phase team meeting in which to ‘dream’ and ‘design’ (1 hour).
  • ‘Deliver’ over the next half term before coming back together to review impact.


Use the different units of this course as a resource that you can come back to over time in order to monitor and tweak your team's efforts at improving differentiation practice.

Step 4 question
Appreciative enquiry can help you to develop your professional enquiry on differentiation.
Checkpoint quiz: 
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