In any successful school it is fundamentally important that students are invited to flourish and students are provided with opportunities and means to grow as individuals. A key element of our vision at Clarkson Community High School (Perth, Australia) is a focus on Invitational Education: A practice to create, maintain and enhance human environments that invite people to realise their potential.
Invitational Education has driven school reform at Clarkson Community High School for the past five years. At the outset, Invitational Education was adopted as a simple and easily understood scaffold for school improvement. The starfish approach at its simplest is easy to remember and creates awareness of the importance of people, processes, programs, policies, and places that should underpin all planning and improvement. As familiarity with the concept developed in our school, it also became very clear that the synergy of the five parts is far more powerful than can be communicated by a simple starfish motif. This type of approach of employing ‘simple complexity’ to transform systems has a history of success in addressing problems of practice associated with better systems thinking, as posited by Senge. Or as Michael Fullan refers to this as simplexity.
We are not alone in seeking to drive school improvement. In recent times in Australia there have been significant supports provided for educators to refine their practice. Examples include the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL); National Professional Standards (NPS); the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER); National School Improvement Tool (NSIT); and the Australian Curriculum. What makes Clarkson different is that we have made meaning of these frameworks by viewing them through the lens of Invitational Leadership theory and we have been able to see a coherent theory of practice and, simultaneously, a language of transformation that centres on inviting students to learn. An additional important benefit of this approach is the flow that comes from the Four Corner Press (Purkey & Seigel 2003).
We have seen the benefits of our focus on Invitational Education at Clarkson. Csikszentmihalyi states that ”people who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close any of us come to being happy…”.
As a consequence of this embedding of Invitational principles, there is a clear upward trend in student attainment of effective literacy and numeracy outcomes at Clarkson; and a. clear improvement in student behaviour and engagement, -- both areas that were major challenges before we adopted Invitational Education practices. In addition, 2015 suspension data has fallen sharply and is in a constant downward over the past five years.
The power of Invitational Education lies in its simplicity of approach that translates into complex beneficial outcomes. A little starfish can exert significant influence to transform a school into an inviting and inclusive environment for young minds.