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Facilitating Oneself through Invitational Education

In a moment to myself, a strange thought waded through my mind - “Most conversations we are part of are about things that are not working - relationships, government, neighbours, living costs, family, gadgets. What are some other ways of looking at my own life?

What if i woke up every morning feeling gratitude, and with a song to whistle?”It seemed like a whistling moment, and as i did so that lovely beast in my backyard cocked her ears and came running, furiously wagging her tail.

Have you ever walked into the classroom afraid of what was to come?

Will they be interested in the topic? Will they understand it? Will they listen to me? Will they ask me questions i cant answer? How am i going to deal with rude comments about me? What if they are not interested in the topic? What if there is no one in the classroom?

What if i was able to walk into my classroom in that spirit of joy? How might it change what i do? Could i see my students as hungry to explore whatever it is that drives their energy, so that the act of teaching now isn't telling any more, and becomes an act of nurturing whatever is alive in the moment with the group!

Its possible that some of us who might be working with large classrooms or groups are possibly scoffing the idea. The danger is seeing this happen as an act - trying to put it into one class session, or for a project; seeing it done like a festival once in a year.

This festival and whistle of joy is something to wake up to every morning, every conversation, every interaction. It is a state of being; and it has nothing to do with another. Its a choice we make about how we choose to walk through life!

I was awakened to this spirit some years ago through an interesting idea called Invitational Education. My first interpretations of it were these:

  • Everyone is motivated

  • People choose their behaviour.

  • They do the best and safest things they can from their perspective at the moment of acting.

This helped me understand the student who doodled, yawned, picked up the phone and walked out because it was ‘work’ calling, dozed off in the corner, disappeared when the group was doing certain things, stayed quiet even when invited to speak, had an opinion about everything, and an answer to every struggle on the planet. The answer to that angst was - i guess they are doing the safest thing they can in the moment. It helped me not take things personally. It helped avoid interpretations such as - "If they are yawning, i must be a boring educator."

Those 3 things translated to actionable stuff sounded like:

  • I need to find out what motivates the members of my audience, and gather energy around that, even though there may be different interests.

  • If members of the audience are adopting behaviours that may be dysfunctional to the learning process, i need to do something to get them to feel safe.

  • That safety needs to be in 4 contexts - Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social (PIES). Once they feel safe, their energies could be more focused towards what is happening in class.

Over the years, my practice of this approach has grown into doing specific things to build a sense of community in the classroom, where people feel safe to do and say things without having to constantly focus on survival responses.

This is what the website of the International Alliance for Experiential Education now says:

Invitational Education is a democratically oriented, perceptually anchored, self-concept approach to the educative process that centers on five basic assumptions.

  • People are able, valuable, and responsible and should be treated accordingly.

  • Educating should be a collaborative, cooperative activity.

  • This potential can best be realised by places, policies, programs, and processes specifically designed to invite development and by people who are intentionally inviting with themselves and others personally and professionally.

  • People possess untapped potential in all areas of worthwhile human endeavour.

  • The process is the product in the making.

What catches my attention is that its not about what you DO in class, its about our own self-concept and approach in the educational setting we find ourselves in.

The term Invitational Education was chosen because the two words have special meaning. Our English word invite is probably a derivative of the Latin word invitare, which can mean “to offer something beneficial for consideration.” Translated literally, invitare means “to summon cordially, not to shun.” The word education comes from the Latin word educare, which means to “draw out” or “call forth” something potential or latent. Literally, then, Invitational Education is the process by which people are cordially summoned to realise their potential in all areas of worthwhile human endeavour. Implied in Invitational Education is a commitment to respectful treatment and positive growth.

What follows may be familiar to those who attend the DEEP program, and while there is a lot more to every one of these 4 elements, they continue to be simple enough for me to understand and practice in my own life. The wording largely comes from my own understanding and need to describe it in a way that makes it actionable.


  • Human potential is always there, waiting to be discovered and invited forth.

  • To be INVITING in a disinviting environment is to change the environment.

  • Challenges, problems, ‘impossibilities’ may be invitations in disguise.


  • The price of any invitation is respect for the other person’s right to say NO


  • An invitation is an opportunity to build trust.

  • To be inviting it is necessary to trust the process.

  • Trust is based on the memory of invitations sent, received and acted upon successfully.

  • As trust develops, so do the nature of invitations.


  • An invitation is never an accident. It’s a choice made; a choice someone took.

  • Good intentions are not always good Invitations.

  • When the opportunity is ripe, Invite; there may never be another chance.

  • Some people Wish, others Want.

What are you going to do?

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