By Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Cathy Lassiter
In their new research review on developing effective principals, Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2022) note that, among other things, leaders build positive school climates for students and teachers. Their review synthesized published, peer-reviewed research from 2000 to 2021 focused on preservice and in-service programs. They noted that high-quality learning experiences for leaders were associated with “positive principal, teacher, and student outcomes, ranging from principals’ feelings of preparedness and their engagement in more effective practices to stronger teacher retention and improved student achievement” (p. vi).
School leaders’ development focuses on instructional leadership, school improvement, school conditions, developing people, and meeting diverse students’ needs (see Figure 1). These learning experiences develop leaders’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions about instructional support, school climate construction, development of people, a focus on equity, and the management of change. According to their model, the outcomes of these efforts include strengthened teacher practices and retention, school climate, and student opportunities for learning. To accomplish this, leaders (and teachers) must be intentional and inviting.
Introducing Invitational Teaching
An invitational stance to learning is key to getting results. Purkey and Novak (1996) described teachers in four categories across two constructs: intentionality and invitation:
- Intentionally uninviting teachers create a hostile learning environment. Their students are never sure where they stand
- Unintentionally uninviting teachers hold themselves at an emotional distance from their students and hold low expectations of them
- Unintentionally inviting teachers are eager and positive but don’t have much insight into what works for them and what doesn’t. This leaves the vulnerable to setbacks and in time they may become uninviting teachers.
- Intentionally inviting teachers have a strong sense of their practice and are insightful about the psychological and instructional moves they make to foster learning. That self-knowledge informs their confidence and they are a steady presence to their students.
Purkey and Novak (1996) focused on teachers, but we wondered if this construction could apply to leaders. The lenses that they used to develop the four stances are useful to consider for instructional leaders. Essentially, the more intentionally inviting you are, the more likely it is that the school climate will be one in which teachers and staff members want to work and will excel.
Trust. The first lens is trust, which describes the ongoing relationships between teachers and leaders. In trusting schools, teachers and leaders assume positive intentions and seek to build, maintain, and repair those relationships. In other words, trust involves the shared investment we place in other human beings.
Trust is a mediating factor in group cohesion, academic risk-taking, satisfaction, and problem resolution. It forms the bedrock of any high-functioning school.
Respect. The second element of invitational education is respect. This condition is fostered through actions that communicate an understanding of everyone’s autonomy, identity, and value to the learning community. Shared responsibility is crucial, and members of the school must see themselves as stewards for maintaining the well-being of others.
Optimism. The third element in Purkey and Novak’s (1996) construct is optimism. The assumption is that the potential of each member is untapped and that every member of a school is responsible for finding ways to help others reach their potential. Leaders are important in creating optimistic learning environments, and so are teachers and students. Purkey and Novak (1996) believe that a life without hope impairs a person’s ability to move forward. If schools are not places to find hope, then what use are they?
Intentionality. That leads us to the fourth element: intentionality. An invitation to learning means that the practices, policies, processes, and programs of classrooms and schools are carefully designed to convey trust, respect, and optimism to all. And by all, we mean students, staff, and community members. But what we say we do and what happens in reality can be two different things, thereby undermining a hope-filled school. Intentionality is, well, intentional. Leaders can choose to be intentional or not. And they can also be inviting or not.
Where Are You?
School leaders can find themselves on the continua of intentionality and invitation (see Figure 2). The interactions leaders have with teachers, both the strong ones and those who need more guidance and support, set the climate for the school. And much like observing a helpful public servant, there is a benefit among the adults, even those who are not direct beneficiaries. Being intentional about inviting teachers to be members of the school community sets an important tone that has a ripple effect across students and families. If we want to develop caring educators, they need to know they are cared for and cared about.
Figure 2. Intentionality of Leadership
|Intentionally uninviting leaders||Intentionally inviting leaders|
|· Are judgement and belittling
· Display little care or regard
· Are uninterested in the lives of feelings of teachers
· Isolate themselves from school life
· Seek power over teachers
|· Are consistent and steady with teachers
· Notice learning and struggle
· Respond regular with feedback
· Seek to build, maintain, and repair relationships
|Unintentionally uninviting leaders||Unintentionally inviting leaders|
|· Distance themselves from teachers
· Have low expectations for teachers
· Don’t feel effective and blame teachers for shortcomings
· Fail to notice teacher learn or struggle
· Offer little feedback to teachers
|· Are eager but unreflective
· Are energetic but rigid when facing problems
· Are unaware of what works in their practice and why
· Have fewer means for responding when teacher learning is resistant to their usual methods
When leaders are intentionally inviting, they are much more likely to be able to manage and enact change.
We hope that all classrooms and schools are intentionally inviting places in which teachers and students learn. To our thinking, there are easier and harder places to start to change school that is something other than intentionally inviting. And it starts with the leader. In reality, we are not all intentionally inviting, all day, every day. When we have our low moments, we compromise the climate of the school and thus the impact we, and our teachers, have on students. In those cases, it’s hard to create and support change. As Darling-Hammond et al., 2022 noted, “ability to redesign schools and manage change” (p. 4) is also one of the key skills required of leaders. When leaders are intentionally inviting, they are much more likely to be able to manage and enact change. And those changes reinforce a learning climate that is healthy and growth-producing for all its members.
Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Cathy Lassiter are the authors of How Leadership Works: A Playbook for Instructional Leaders.
Darling-Hammond, L., Wechsler, M. E., Levin, S., Leung-Gagné, M., & Tozer, S. (2022). Developing effective principals: What kind of learning matters? [Report]. Learning Policy Institute. https://doi.org/10.54300/641.201
Purkey, W. W., & Novak, J. M. (1996). Inviting school success: A self-concept approach to teaching, learning, and democratic practice (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Figure 2, adapted from: Purkey, W. W., & Novak, J. M. (1996). Inviting school success: A self-concept approach to teaching, learning, and democratic practice (3rd Ed.). Wadsworth Publishing.