Peer-to-Peer: Appreciative Advising

Dear Colleagues:

This coming Monday, September 28, the Postsecondary Completion community will start a new series titled, “Peer-to-Peer.”  The purpose of Peer-to-Peer is to allow us to hear from our colleagues about techniques, practices, and ideas that they have found important and helpful in their work.  Our first outing in the series is titled, “Peer-to-Peer:  Appreciative Advising.”  Nia Davis from Delgado Community College will be sharing her experience supporting student success using this technique.

Nia is the Transition Education Coordinator for Adult Education and Instructor in College and Career Success Skills at the college.  She has presented on this topic at the 2014 NCTN’s Effective Transitions Conference and 2015 COABE Conference.  She will be discussing her work throughout the week.  Her PowerPoint for the 2014 NCTN conference is available here.

Thank you for joining in, Nia.  "See" you all next week.

Cynthia Zafft

Postsecondary Completion Moderator



Dear Colleagues:

Greetings and welcome to this week's peer discussion.  Nia Davis will be posting on the practice of appreciative advising, a practice she uses in her work at Delgado Community College.  Nia, would you tell us a bit about your college and program and what appreciative advising looks like?

Cynthia Zafft

Postsecondary Completion Moderator

Greetings Colleagues!


Thank you LINCS COP for the invitation to share about my work. My name is Nia Davis and I currently serve in the role of Transition Education Coordinator in the Adult Education Department at Delgado Community College (DCC). I came to learn about “Appreciative Advising” during my previous role as a Success Coach for our Accelerating Opportunities initiative at DCC. Appreciative Advising was cofounded by Dr Jennifer Bloom and used by many institutions as a means to retain students and increase student success. The Six phases of the model utilizes a series of open ended questions and empowering actions purposed to allow students to feel comfortable to dream big and develop plans to achieve their dreams.


The Six Phases are:

Disarm-build rapport; create a safe environment

Discover-draw out strengths and passions

Dream-assist to formulate a vision & a plan

Design-devise concrete and achievable goals

Deliver-coach/support as plans are implemented

Don’t Settle-set high expectations


I implement these principles in both individual and group settings within my current role as Transition Education Coordinator in the Adult Education Department at DCC.  I came to use this technique because I am one who believes wholeheartedly in the pursuit of dreams. I have the pleasure of working the job of my dreams and I support others in their pursuit of those dreams. In speaking with NCTN staff about my work, I was informed by Ellen Hewitt that I was utilizing elements of Appreciative Advising. When I researched the practice, I then began to add all the principles of Appreciative Advising to my work.

Hi Nia:

The first phase, Disarm, has such a provocative name.  How do you create a safe environment for students?  Could you give us some examples?  And, I'm wondering how other members of our community help students that are defensive lower their guard so they can learn.


Thanks for the question, Cynthia! I take every opportunity to create a safe environment by keeping things positive. I also share a personal story about a mistake of mine or detail what happened in my life when I gave up on my dreams many years ago. Being personal helps to establish the rapport and that we have a shared similar experience. After doing those things, students generally see that I seek to uplift and challenge them positively. 

Hi Nia:

I was going through your presentation PowerPoint again and reading the definition of appreciative advising from Bloom, Hutson, & He (The Appreciative Advising Revolution, 2008).

"Appreciative Advising is the intentional collaborative practice of asking positive, open-ended questions that help students optimize their educational experience and achieve their dreams, goals, and potentials."

Are there open-ended questions that you typically ask students when you first get to know them?  Other questions that you ask when students are in a jam and trying to figure out what to do?  So, I guess my question might be, do you have questions that seem to be effective helping most students reflect and integrate what they are learning about themselves?


Sorry, colleagues.  I meant to include this in my earlier post:

One of the questions that I have found has been particularly helpful when students are stalled and stressed is:  "What would you like to see happen?"  Then, we talk about that and see how to move forward.  They seem to be able to picture what they want to have happen...just can't figure out how to get there.




This is a very good question. As I haven't given much thought into the questions that I ask. By nature, I am a very inquisitive person. To this end, I'm rarely short of questions. :-) I typically ask students to tell me about themselves and while listening I come up with a series of questions for them. In general my questions are centered around asking them what they want out of life and what would they'd like their life to look like in 5 years. I then also ask them to tell me what skills, training, or characteristics do they think are necessary to help them get to that goal. 

I hope this was helpful to you!


Hi Nia:

I especially like the "five years out" idea because it allows students to think beyond to a new or expanded vision of themselves.  It reminded me of a very old article on Possible Selves (Markus & Nuvius, 1986).  I wonder if other members of our community think about this concept as they talk with students about their hopes, dreams, and fears.


Nia and Cynthia, thank you for sharing excellent strategies for advising students in transition, along with the list of Phases you apply.

My question deals with advising students who might be uncooperative for different reasons, but particularly those on drugs. How do you handle the "difficult" ones? Do you simply tell them to come back when they are "clean?" Refer them? Go ahead and complete the six phases with them?

Thanks. Leecy

Thanks, Nia, for spending time with us last week. I really appreciate you contributions.  And, I can't help but notice that drawing on students' strengths, hopes, and dreams is also the foundation of this week's discussion on the framework of positive psychology that is going on in this group and in the Disabilities in Adult Education group.  I hope you will continue along with us and share more of your experiences.



Thanks for your question. My experience has been limited to only those students who are in recovery and not an active substance abuser. So my response to this is purely hypothetical. I would do my best to connect this student with resources to help them get clean. If they follow up with my suggestion, then I would advise them based on the recommendations of their case worker or sponsor. Some students need to focus on getting clean before resuming their studies, so I would want to be guided by what works best for that student. During my interactions with this student, I would continue to utilize the Disarm, Discover and Dream phases of the "Appreciative Advising" model. Once the student reports stability in their recovery, then I would proceed to the last 3 phases of the model. I hope you found this helpful!