Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief

iThemba Projects

Fostering a sense of ownership amongst EDC practitioners: the Appreciative Inquiry approach

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Test population-based models of provision | 13 March, 2015 - 14:47


Project background

At iThemba we believe that the best way to impact the educational future of children is to equip their teachers. Our goal is to supply teachers in the impoverished semi-rural township of Sweetwaters, KwaZulu-Natal with the knowledge, skills, and motivation they need to provide excellent Early Childhood Education (ECD) to the children in their community crèches. Specifically, our Asidlale programme offers physical resources, curriculum support, and professional development opportunities for ECD educators.

Lesson learnt: the need for a “sense of ownership”

Over the past decade, we have learnt that when teachers and ECD practitioners at a crèche have a sense of ownership in their facility, and when they take charge to instigate and drive its change and development, they are able to establish better classrooms, better teaching methods, and improve their own personal qualities. The result is a more productive, higher quality-learning environment that produces happier, well-developed children.

Adopting an Appreciative Inquiry Approach

The Asidlale project aims to help crèche teachers in Sweetwaters develop their sense of ownership in their childcare facility and its programmes. In all of our programme activities we employ Appreciative Inquiry techniques, which are designed to facilitate a process in which individuals from poor communities narrate what has worked well for them in the past, and then imagine how life could be even better in the future (Corbett and Fikkert 2009).

This approach has two aims: (1) to involve the programme beneficiaries in the process of development, and (2) to help the beneficiaries recognise what they have to contribute to this process.

At every stage of our engagement with crèche teachers we adopt an Appreciative Inquiry model, using Participatory Learning Activities or Action1 tools (See the McKnight and Kretzmann article listed in the reference for more information on these tool*). The entire engagement process is participatory and inclusive, and it helps teachers develop their sense of ownership in the crèche.

Ways to help facilitate a sense of ownership amongst teachers

When we meet with the crèche teachers we carry out different participatory activities. Below, we provide three examples of how engagement activities that adopt Appreciative Inquiry techniques can facilitate a sense of ownership.

Example 1: Reframing the “expert” activity

In this activity, a sealed box is placed at the front of the room and different groups of participants are required to describe it and its contents. Four groups of “expert” participants examine it. The first group can only look at the box and then must describe it, the second group can shake the box before describing it, the third can feel the contents while remaining blindfolded before describing it, and the fourth can open the box up before describing the contents and showing it to all the other participants.

This activity is designed to prompt appreciative conversation amongst participants that challenge conventional understandings of who is defined as an “expert”. It illustrates how some individuals – i.e. those from the community at hand – may have more intimate knowledge about the resources, challenges and dreams of the community, than do outsiders. Thus it authenticates local knowledge and sets the stage for further activities aimed at establishing a sense of ownership.

Example 2: Resource mapping activity

This activity prompts the participant teachers to map out the resources they have available in their community. They are asked to list resources including those that are:

  • Physical (e.g. buildings, land, educational toys, supplies, etc.)
  • Social (e.g. personal and professional networks, relationships with parents, community members, other teachers, or NGOs)
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Professional (e.g. skill, training completed, qualifications).

The participant teachers are encouraged to look back at how far they have come since they first began their crèche, and to see if their pool of resources has expanded or shrunk. This activity is designed to help them to appreciate and reflect on what they do have, and then to imagine an even better future that builds from this foundation. It asks participants to critically “inquire”, or delve deeply into the facts of their reality and to imagine a future based on these facts, rather than on an imagined state of mind.

Example 3: Dream mapping activity

The final activity gives teachers a chance to map out their dream/vision for the crèche and the community with their co-teachers. It is a team-based activity that encourages an appreciate inquiry of ones own vision as well as of one’s co-workers’ vision. Thus it is participatory and democratic and allows the teachers to own their vision for the crèche.

The outcome of the activity is teachers who have a hopeful, clearer vision for their ECD centre. For instance, one teacher’s vision stated: “I’d like to have the cleverest children in Sweetwaters from my school, have a happy school, have a healthy toilet, and I’d like to have trained teachers.”


Appreciative Inquiry activities are structured to help teachers understand that improving early childhood development and the crèche environment in Sweetwaters is their responsibly; it is up to them; and not the task of outside organisations like Asidlale.

We’ve seen time and again that when teachers have their own dream for their centre—not ours—they become the drivers pushing for change and improvements in themselves, their co-teachers, and their crèches.



Corbett, S. and Fikkert, B. (2009). When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. Chicago: Moody.

*McKnight J. and Kretzmann J. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out. ACTA Publications (Provides a full explanation of all the Participatory Learning Activities tools and details about asset-based community development).

P.O.Box 765 Indlovu DC Winterskloof South Africa

 +27 (0)31 0200 200

In Short

In this learning brief iThemba Projects outlines three Appreciative Inquiry techniques that can be used to help EDC practitioners develop a sense of ownership in their childcare centre.

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