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Our History 

The Origin of Invitational Education

By William Watson Purkey


In 1970, as a beginning professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Florida, I wrote a little book:  Self-concept and School Achievement. It was well-received. After the book was published, I received numerous inquiries, all of a similar nature: 


·      Dr. Purkey, you’ve convinced me that self-concept is related to school success.

       What do we do about it? 


·      How can we enhance a student’s self-concept?


·      How can we motivate people to feel better about themselves?


·      How do we reinforce a student’s self-image?


·       How can we empower a student’s self-efficacy?


·       How can we build students’ self-esteem?


As I reflected on these questions, it seemed to me that these questions, and related ones were based on an erroneous premise– that education is a process of doing things TO students.  This is a “doing-to” premise.  I preferred a “doing with” hypothesis.  This led me to the writings of Sidney Jourard.


Sidney and I were colleagues at the University of Florida.  In his 1964 book The Transparent Self, he wrote that there are no physical, intellectual, or psychological barriers that we cannot transcend, provided we share the company of those who believe certain things about us, and who summon us to share in these beliefs.  This was the “Ah-ha!” moment in my creation of Invitational Education.    


I thought, and continue to think, that education is an invitation to a celebration of teaching, learning, leading and living.  Invitational Education is far more than a program, policy, place, or curriculum.  It is an intentional mindset that schools should be the most inviting place in town.


In 1977 I wrote Inviting School Success.  This was the first book to introduce Invitational Education.  A second edition was published in 1984, co-authored by John Michael Novak, my student and life-long friend.  John added significant depth to Invitational Education through his writings on the Democratic Ethos. 


At Lehigh University in 1982, the International Alliance for Invitational Education was founded by Betty Siegel, eleven colleagues, and me.   Betty was a major contributor to the theory and practice of Invitational Education and Invitational Leadership. The Alliance provides a forum for educators and allied professionals to learn from and share best practices with colleagues from all over the world.


A third edition of Inviting School Success was published in 1996, again co-authored, deepened, and improved by John Novak. Each of the three editions expanded and enriched the concept of Invitational Education, from classrooms (1977) to schools (1984), to communities (1996), and then to international applications (2020).


In 2020, a comprehensive book on Invitational Education was written by John Novak, Joan Fretz, and me.  As a teacher and school administrator, Joan added greatly to the theory and extension of Invitational Education.  This latest book helps teachers and leaders to use the Invitational Framework to address all of the challenges that today’s schools face, by creating, sustaining, and enhancing a positive, safe and supportive school climate through intentional care, optimism, respect, and trust.


As it nears its 50th birthday, Invitational Education continues to transform schools with the belief that human potential, although not always evident, is always there, waiting for the invitation.


IAIE Founding Members:

  • Dorothy Crissman

  • Dean Fink

  • Tim Gerber

  • John Novak

  • William Purkey

  • Charlotte Reed

  • Jack Schmidt

  • Virada Schussler

  • Betty Siegel

  • William Stafford

  • Robert Turner

  • Earl Varnes

  • Bruce Voelkel

  • Richard Warters

2003 IAIE Leadership Institute, Cloudcroft, New Mexico. 
(Kate Asbill, Conference Director)

First William Stafford Leadership Awards presented to: Sue Bowen, Dave Chapman, John Novak, William Purkey, Betty Siegel, Harvey Smith, Mary Lynn Smith, Paula Stanley, and Peter Wong

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