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The traditional approach to change [within organizations] is to look for the problem, do a diagnosis, and find a solution. The primary focus is on what is wrong or broken; since we look for problems, we find them. By paying attention to problems, we emphasize and amplify them. …Appreciative inquiry suggests that we look for what works… (Hammond, 1998, p. 6-7).

The initial data collection and drafting of this paper was completed by the first two authors between 2007 and 2009. Prior to beginning his dissertation study, the JDP candidate and the advisor each recorded what they thought the strengths were that they brought to the dissertation and advising process. The chairperson made note of these. Then throughout the next year, as the two interacted, time was set aside to reflect on what had worked in the last phase of the dissertation and what skills and knowledge each would bring to the next step in the dissertation process. While admittedly some problem solving did take place in determining next steps and new skills or knowledge that would be needed, the reflections emphasized the strengths that the candidate and the advisor could contribute.

Soon after the successful completion of the dissertation, the first and second author set out to synthesize their reflections made over the year. They identified several large themes. Both the JDP graduate and the advisor wrote about their perceptions and observations related to these themes which make up the “lessons learned” (or findings) portion of this paper. However, the first two authors wondered whether these lessons were idiosyncratic to that one advising relationship, and so, an earlier draft of this paper was set aside and not submitted for publication.

Two years later, the advisor had an opportunity to repeat the appreciative inquiry process with another doctoral student. While the ELSJ candidate was fully involved in reflecting on what was working (and not working to a much lesser extent) in the dissertation advising process, she was not asked to take particular note of her reflections other than to discuss with her advisor what was working for her. At the successful completion of her dissertation, the ELSJ graduate was asked to review the earlier draft of this paper to determine whether and how well the themes and lessons presented reflected her experience with the advising process. When the ELSJ graduate determined that the themes were appropriate and encompassed what she considered to be the major advising factors that supported her in the successful completion of her dissertation, she added her perceptions and observations as separate comments in this paper. This paper then reflects the lessons learned from two successful advising experiences.

Lessons learned

Common interest in school improvement

Advisor. While traditional wisdom in many doctoral programs is that the dissertation chairperson should be an expert in the narrowly defined field of study of the dissertation, we found that not to be true. I also cast aside the practice of many university professors to accept dissertation advising only for studies in which the professor was likely to co-author a publication. That was not my expectation or my interest; rather, I thought of advising as an opportunity to apply my expertise in research methodology and to explore topics related to educational reform.

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Source:  OpenStax, Educational leadership and administration: teaching and program development, volume 23, 2011. OpenStax CNX. Sep 08, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11358/1.4
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