Inviting Education Online: A Prudent Approach for Challenging Times

A strategy for facing not only the COVID 19 crisis but any storm that assails education organisations.
Long read
Invitational schools are more resilient to tough times.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott

The apocalypse is being televised and broadcast nightly to viewers around the globe. We live in a frenetic and fantastic age of instantaneous communication in which information and communication technologies (ICT) paradoxically support and confound efforts to understand and cope with real and imagined challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and the possible apocalyptic future that it could engender are a case in point. Social media, ICT, and the four horsemen of the current apocalypse – youth, arrogance, ignorance, and frustration – have combined to create a maelstrom of (mis)information that clouds any attempt to understand or direct ICTs’ role in coping with the education issues corresponding to these challenging times.

Some 20 years ago, DiPetta et al. (2002) presented a monograph titled Inviting Online Success that postulated a technologically mediated world divided between a binary grouping of technophiles and technophobes – in essence the digital haves and digital have-nots. With the passage of time and hopefully the wisdom that comes with age and experience, it now may be more realistic to suggest that technophiles and technophobes represent a minority. These groupings represent merely the tips of a bell curve, whereby most people under the curve’s median may be more accurately viewed as the techno-practical.

Technophiles certainly do exist and are quite sophisticated in transmitting, receiving, constructing, and interpreting messages from an ever-expanding array of mobile technologies, streaming services, and social media platforms, all connected to an Internet of Things ranging from ubiquitous and seductive smartphones to a host of other so-called smart devices, including speakers, TVs, appliances, cars, homes, and tractors. For these technophiles, technology is a Promethean gift that lights a path to a glittering future and lifts humanity to a higher plane.

Technophobes also still exist – some would argue in growing number. For technophobes, technology is a Faustian bargain, offering gadgetry that is both insidious and seductive. For technophobes, ICT can be dangerous because it erases or blurs the distinction between home and work and commodifies people’s personal data and information. Technophobes raise the alarm about the cost, complexity, over-reliance upon, and intrusiveness of digital technologies, and increasingly decry its impact on the environment, the loss of social civility, and its encroachment into people’s personal lives and activities to gather monetisable private data without people’s knowledge or consent.

However, neither technophiles nor technophobes represent most people populating our technologically mediated world; that majority is represented by the techno-practicals (or techno-pragmatists) who neither glorify nor vilify technology. Instead, they use technology and ICT to make their lives easier and more convenient by meeting specific needs or solving specific problems or as is most often the case – if it is entertaining. A case in point is the pandemic, which is now in a curious iteration known as the “fourth wave” that persists despite effective and safe vaccines that are increasingly plentiful in first world countries. Consequently, in this article we explore what Invitational Education (IE) theory and practice suggest as prudent and practical strategies for working with ICT in education during and after a pandemic that is dramatically reshaping the landscape of education worldwide.

In 2002, Di Petta et al. argued that ICT should not be viewed as an end of itself but rather as a “re-creation” vehicle – a positive and socially constructed means to assist teachers and students in arriving at intentional democratic, ethical, and humanistic goals by overcoming challenges and advancing human potential. What is a more significant challenge in education now than getting our response to the global pandemic right? Political and systemic responses to the “waves” of novel coronavirus have encouraged or mandated the shutdown of many face-to-face work environments, including traditional brick-and-mortar schools, and required those who could do so to isolate and work from home using online tools and systems. In part, due to these restrictions, ICT systems and platforms gained much ground in school systems around the world. But what lessons have we learned?

Society’s increased use of, and reliance on, ICT systems and Learning Management System (LMS) platforms is raising concerns about what will happen to classroom teaching and learning, and what will become of a generation of students living the realities of being part of a live social experiment in which home, school, and teaching are mixed in ways that will have many unintended and possibly irreversible consequences. We need to remember that consequences are the result of the choices we make and of how we do things – our actions or inactions – and remind ourselves that the ends we are striving to achieve are shaped and forever coloured by the means we employ to attain those ends.

The olde tyme refrain of

School days, school days

Dear old Golden Rule days

‘Readin, and ‘ritin, and ’rithmetic

(Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick)

has been rewritten by the pandemic as:

School days, school daze

Cruel unwelcome new ways

Hand washin’ and wringin’ and mask mandates

(Taught to the tune of cover your face)

The languid and typically calm seas of traditional brick-and-mortar schools where students, parents and teachers were provided with detailed daily schedules, predictable routines, face-to-face classes, and a myriad of social interactions before and after school have been violently roiled by the unforeseen COVID-19 tempest. The education system that technophobes lost in the haze of “future past” that illusionary time when face-to-face schools were viewed as havens of socialisation and civility, where technology kept itself at a respectful distance from daily life, is no longer realistic nor can it even be imagined today. The technological genie, once out of the bottle, is impossible to put back in.

We will need to learn to live with the new technological realities that are reshaping the education landscape. If we are prudent, wise, innovative, and creative, we can invite new ways of teaching and learning that support democratic engagement and promote human potential in exciting ways. Those of us of a certain age (the post WWII generation or the “OK Boomer” generation) cannot forget the rows of flip-top wooden desks whose steel legs were bolted to the floor so they could not be moved, the standard school rules about not speaking unless addressed by the teacher, not moving around in the classroom without permission, and having to work quietly and alone at one’s desk. Most of us are glad to see those practices and protocols replaced with group work, activity centres, cooperative learning groups, project-based learning, and countless innovations that can rightly lay claim to having transformed classrooms into dynamic and interactive environments for teaching and learning.

The pandemic, however, may be reversing some of the positive advances in school practices and approaches to teaching and learning. Many schools attempting to reopen as the global health challenges appear to be on a downward path are relying on the introduction of effective and broadly available vaccines to keep their communities safe, but they also are retaining some pandemic-inspired practices such as rows of desks that cannot be moved and adding requirements to wear face masks or face shields in class and keeping some measure of distancing protocols or not allowing face-to-face co-curricular activities and social learning opportunities. These preventative measures, regrettably, are unlikely to prevent further school closures or the return to distance learning and online environments in areas where community spread of COVID-19 is still significant or where mask and vaccination hesitancy is an issue.

For better or worse, the waves of the pandemic are forcing the education system to chart a difficult course through challenging waters, and technology will play a large part in determining where that course leads. ICTs are intentionally and unintentionally reshaping the ways schools operate and schooling is delivered. Teachers, parents, administrators, and increasingly politicians will need to learn to communicate and cooperate if they are to sail the new and hastily constructed ships that are intended to carry our students to the shores of a safe, post-pandemic educational land. They will need to learn to tack back and forth against constantly changing economic, political, and societal winds to move towards their destination, and technology can be either a guide or a barrier to moving forward in a humanistic, democratic, and socially constructed way that supports human growth potential and social constructivist learning.

While we are amid a pandemic that has altered taken-for-granted educational practices and replaced them with masked social distancing protocols along with a plethora of urgent online concoctions, a question arises: Is this just about coping, or can we construct some transforming practices? Or, in the language of current North American politics, can we Build Back Better? We don’t know the answer to this question in advance, but we offer a way of thinking of something better and examining exemplary practices that could be sustainably implemented. Shortly, in a thought experiment, we will imagine two very different schools and their approaches to online teaching and learning during the pandemic: The first school provides a picture of an intentionally inviting approach that seeks to cope with the pandemic through acts of pragmatic hope and innovation; the second imagined school is unintentionally disinviting, trying to reactively cope with a situation that is increasingly beyond its capabilities and strategies. Before we let our imaginations run free, let us examine the current state of ICT in two far-flung jurisdictions: North America and Australia.

ICT in North American Society
In 2002, U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicated that at the start of the new millennium, 51 per cent of U.S. households had computers and some form of internet access. Mobile computing was in its infancy and social media as we know it today was not present (Ryan & Lewis, 2017). Jump forward to 2017, just three years before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the digital world had changed:

  • Among all households in Canada and the U.S., 78 per cent or households have a desktop or laptop, with more than 75 per cent having a handheld computer such as a smartphone or other handheld wireless device. More than 77 per cent of households also had a broadband internet subscription.
  • Households headed by a person aged 65 and older lagged behind those with younger householders in computer ownership or use and the likelihood of having an internet subscription.
  • Households in metropolitan areas were more likely to report owning or using a desktop or laptop or a handheld device and subscribing to broadband internet compared to their non-metropolitan counterparts.
  • Only 62 per cent of households in the U.S. and Canada had “high connectivity,” meaning they had three key computer and internet items: a desktop or laptop, a handheld computer or smartphone, and a broadband internet subscription. High connectivity was highest among households where the householder was less than 65 years old or had a household income of $150,000 or more. (Ryan & Lewis, 2017)

These statistics, while suggesting that ICT ownership and connectivity is relatively high in North America, also underscore a disturbing fact: A large segment of the population, specifically the elderly, minorities, and those with only modest incomes, are at a significant digital disadvantage. This fact poses a major hurdle to governments and organisations looking to move more of education and public service to an online format.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added fuel to the technology fire by further highlighting the need for access to ICT systems, broadband internet access, and mobile computing not just for education but even more so for coping with day-to-day life in a technologically dependent society. Access to education, as well as other vital services such as medical records, banking information, government services, and even our social interactions and connection to our local communities has become largely dependent on being able to access reliable internet service from home or with some form of mobile device. A significant number of workers, those who can work from home using ICT systems, have been privileged in ways that front-line or essential workers have not.

While ICT has had positive effects for some – increasing or maintaining a social connection for many and assisting others in developing creative and innovative ways to connect with their communities – it has not been so positive for others. For minorities and those on the wrong side of the digital divide in North America, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has only gotten larger, and that situation applies to online teaching and learning environments as well. Is the situation any different at the other end of the globe? Let us look at Australia to compare.

ICT in Australian Society
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), ICT ownership and use during the period prior to the pandemic is relatively similar to what has been reported in Canada and the United States for the same period:

  • For households with children under the age of 15 years, 97 per cent had access to the internet compared with 82 per cent of households without children under 15.
  • Households located in major cities were more likely to have internet access at home (88 per cent) than those in remote or very remote parts of Australia (77 per cent).
  • Desktop or laptop computers are used by 91 per cent of connected households. Similarly, mobile or smartphones are also used by 91 per cent of connected households.
  • Tablets were the next most popular type of device, used by 66 per cent of households to connect to the internet. Internet-connected TVs had the largest increase in usage by households, from 27 per cent in 2014-2015 to 42 per cent in 2016- Internet-connected music or video player devices showed a drop in usage from 26 per cent in 2014-2015 to 19 per cent in 2016-2017.
  • The mean number of devices used to access the internet at home per household has increased from 5.8 in 2014-2015 to 6.2 in 2016- For households with children aged under 15 years, the mean number of devices used was 7.8, compared with 5.4 devices for households without children under 15. Nearly all households (99 per cent) with children under 15 used a mobile or smartphone to access the internet.
  • In 2016–2017, 87 per cent of people were internet users (persons aged 15 years and over who accessed the internet in the last 3 months). People aged 15 to 17 years were the highest proportion of internet users (98 per cent) compared with the older age group (65 years and over), which had the lowest proportion of internet users (55 per cent).
  • The three most popular online activities reported by 80 per cent of respondents were entertainment, social networking (which could also be considered a form of entertainment), and banking.
  • The proportion of internet users accessing the internet for medical services or health information has increased from 22 per cent of users in 2014-2015 to 46 per cent in 2016-2017 and the use of online education systems rose from 25 per cent in 2015 to 35 per cent in 2017.
  • Certainly, the use of the internet and ICT has increased during the pandemic worldwide.

More than half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan (1962/2011) wrote that “technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life” (p. 8). Given the statistics and trends for technology use in both North America and Australia and the enduring effects of the pandemic on all facets of daily living, it is reasonable to suggest that online education – the use of ICTs to deliver, support, supplement, or in the case of a pandemic substitute for traditional classroom instruction – was unavoidable and holds enormous implications for what schools, education, and society will look like moving forward.

As governments and schools implement hastily crafted plans for a post-pandemic re-boot of traditional classes, the use of technology in education needs to be examined deeply and prudently. It is here that the principles of IE can be a significant resource in any attempt to re-vision or re-create education as a permanent blend of face-to-face and online environments for teaching and learning. Whether the education systems emerging from the pandemic are wholly distance-based or some form of adapted or blended online and face-to-face instruction, a return to the traditional approach to classroom environments seems unlikely. IE provides a democratic framework for intentional, informed, integrated, and imaginative strategies that invite teachers, students, communities, and organisations to examine how people, places, policies, procedures, and practices can interact and collaborate online and in face-to-face environments that are democratic and humanist, and that enable people to reach the upper levels of personal and professional development.

As the COVID-19 nightmare continues to ebb and flow around the world, many schools and districts are attempting to return to fully face-to-face instruction seeking a “return to normalcy” that is, given the evidence, at best aspirational and at worst a failure to recognise the severity of the perfect storm that is engulfing education. What can we hope for our schools and school communities? Let us engage in a thought experiment that imagines two different schools and their approaches.

Imagining Inviting and Disinviting Schools
We call our first imagined school “Louden Junior High” – the home of the Werewolves of Louden (awwwooooo!!!). Let us see what the Louden school leadership team is planning for a return to in-person classes.

The Werewolves of Louden!
Mrs Krabopple, known affectionately throughout Louden Junior High as Mrs K and sometimes called Mrs K-bop by students in her music classes because of her affection for K-Pop singing groups, arrives at the school parking area two hours before the start of the first day of in-person classes. Louden was reopening in the traditional face-to-face format it had before the pandemic forced schools to move most, if not all, of their programming online. Mrs K feels sure that her teachers, 90 per cent of whom are now fully vaccinated (the remainder who, for various reasons, remain unvaccinated are required to work online from home) can ensure a safe and inviting experience for students and staff returning to Louden.

Mrs K became the principal at Louden a month prior to the initial shutdown and she sincerely wants to ensure that students and staff finally returning to face-to-face classes will not find the new normal to be too different from the traditional school days pre-pandemic. She also hopes that teachers and students won’t forget the hard lessons they learned during the pandemic. Coming back to face-to-face classrooms was going to be a big adjustment for everyone and she worried that COVID-19 frustration and fatigue might lead to missteps and mistakes that might force another shutdown – and that was something nobody wanted.

The school leadership strategy developed during the initial shutdown was known as the Louden SSTARS (School Safety Team and Resource Strategy). Prior to the reopening, the strategy was reviewed, discussed, and negotiated bi-weekly through online conferencing. The online meetings were also used to plan the next steps and develop communication strategies for teachers and staff, parents and students, and the community beyond the school. The team included representatives for teachers, staff, parents, several local social service groups, and two student representatives from the school’s elected student council. Meeting minutes were posted on the school website and Mrs K hosted an online town hall every month to keep the community informed about what the school team was doing and to gather community information and support. She was determined to continue this communication effort moving forward, and she wanted the communication to be complete, transparent, and truthful but with a positive spirit and focus. More than anything, Mrs K wanted to make sure that everyone was safe and the first day of returning to class was inviting and seamless, so she reviewed the new messaging and preparations the school staff had been putting in place.

Parents and students had protested when Louden Junior High’s vice principal had initially installed temporary barriers like those found in movie theaters; velvet ropes attached to steel posts to establish where to stand and a path to walk to enter the school. Listening to the comments and concerns, Mrs K had school maintenance staff remove the barriers and replace them with posted signs of haikus (short, three-line poems totaling 17 syllables) that students had made during the height of the pandemic to express their feelings towards and experiences with the pandemic. Two were especially poignant in reminding people of what was important in keeping everyone safe. One haiku stated

A new day begins

With a mask and distancing

Our emblems of hope.

and the second haiku read

Apart but united

A single cause to bind us –

Strive to survive!

On the ground, both inside and outside the school, circular vinyl signs with wolf paw prints on them (the school mascot was the Louden werewolf after all) showed people where to walk to get to classes or offices. The pathways were one way and only a certain number of students would be allowed to walk the halls at specific times. Classes were now small cohorts of 15 students who stayed in a designated homeroom, and specific subject teachers would come to them to minimise exposure to others.

Messaging and communication were an important consideration for the school planning team; slogans and inviting posters dotted the school’s walls and corridors with inviting messages and images of school academic and athletic teams, including the Werewolves of Louden, the district basketball champions three years running. Attention also was paid to physical conditions in the school: All water fountains and washrooms had hand-sanitiser stations with diagram instructions for washing hands; signs above the water fountains also explained how to sanitise the faucet before and after using the sanitation materials provided. The signage also remined everyone that they were all in this together, and everyone was watching out for everyone else by following the safety and sanitation procedures.

Mrs K’s planning and leadership team had also organised parent and student groups to work on special school projects; a group of community parents created Louden “werewolf” face-masks for teachers and students when it was clear that everyone would be required to wear masks for at least the first 6 months of re-opening. One of the parent volunteers had come up with the idea to knit mask holders – small rectangular strips of knitted cloth that had two large buttons sewed at each end of the strip. The mask holders allowed anyone wearing a mask to secure the mask by looping the ends of the mask on one of the buttons, thereby avoiding having to loop masks over ears and making it possible to customise the tightness of the mask fitting. The mask holders were so popular with parents that the student council representatives thought perhaps a school project could be to have students manufacture them for sale in the community as a fundraiser for other school activities.

Other project ideas were also negotiated with teachers, students, and parents and were developed as learning and growth opportunities for students and teachers. A shop teacher suggested that plexiglass movable barriers could be placed on the main office counter so that the staff would be able to work more securely. This gave Mrs K the idea that perhaps plexiglass message boards could be placed strategically throughout the school and messages or instructions could be written in erasable marker on the boards – messages such as reminders of regular handwashing breaks. The computer instructor at the school suggested a simple digital screening app could be developed to verify vaccination status or to screen for symptoms for use by anyone entering the school. Mrs K negotiated many special projects, all derived from listening to her teachers, students, and community. The result was a cooperative and collaborative school spirit that showed ingenuity and creativity in facing the new realities. Ideas suggested by staff and community included: (a) sharing online contact information to minimise face-to-face visitations; (b) increasing online chats with parents or community representatives to share good news and invitational messages; (c) developing online extracurricular activities; and (d) creating online support systems for teachers, parents, and students. The ideas were all going to be tried and tested in the coming weeks. Practical and effective tools and strategies would be continued and those that needed altering would be duly adapted and modified. Strategies for routines such as the Lunch Program would be announced in classes, including instructions for eating outdoors or indoors, and cohort times for recess, gyms, libraries, and outdoor activities. Students had suggested the culinary classes could work in limited and safe ways to create bento boxes that could be distributed to students. These suggestions prompted other helpful, positive, and safe strategies for the new normal, including strategies for school bus schedules and procedures by negotiating with bus companies and community groups to provide sanitisation of the buses daily.

Mrs K reflected on her plans and dreams as she started to walk to the school; she felt confident that the way forward for Louden was through the Get Ready, Get Set, and S.W.I.N.G. (Sincerity, Wisdom, Ingenuity, Negotiation, and Glee) strategy that she had read about in an article by Dr John Novak (Novak, 2021). Mrs K hoped, as she opened the door to the school and walked in, that what she and her leadership team had planned and were now trying to implement would let them S.W.I.N.G for the bleachers and hit a home run that would enable Louden Junior High to reopen with everyone safe, cooperating and moving towards the goal of a safe and inviting future, secure in the knowledge that the school could weather any storms that came its way.

The guiding principles for all the actions taken at our imagined Louden Junior High were those of IE – putting People first and developing Places, Policies, Programs, and Practices to support people and help them grow personally and professionally. Perhaps most importantly, as Novak (2021) argues, there was a focus on Getting Ready, Getting Set, and working with Sincerity, Wisdom, and Innovation to Negotiate towards a Glee-full outcome. The intentional and strategic actions from the Louden school team define an inviting stance: intentionality, care, respect, trust, and optimism or in other words – an Inviting Approach to Leadership.

Let us now look at an unintentionally disinviting school and the consequences of putting reaction and survival ahead of planning and intentionality. Let us imagine Springfield Elementary School.

Springfield Elementary School
Mr L is an enthusiastic young teacher with seven years of teaching experience at Springfield Elementary. Three days before starting the new academic year, Mr L was informed that his virtual class would have 30 students, and he received a class list and a list of parent-contact telephone numbers. With only two days before the start of classes Mr L was required to call all the families of his class to gather information on the kind of computer equipment they had and explain how they would participate in the online learning that was planned for their kids. During the phone calls, Mr L spent some time providing rudimentary help to parents who needed help setting up their computers for online access for the first day. With introduction, information gathering, basic support, and answering anxious parents’ numerous questions, Mr L spent close to 30 minutes on average on each call. Essentially, two days that Mr L would have preferred to spend on honing his skills with the tools he would be using to teach and interact with his 30 students online. He wanted to plan synchronous sessions and asynchronous lessons but spent the majority of his preparation time communication with parents knowing that this communication and outreach was vital. But when was he going to be able to get his online lessons ready?

Although each phone call was lengthy, from the parents’ perspective, the communication and topics covered were insufficient to allay their fears, uncertainties, and questions about their children’s education in this strange new form. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that parents were unsatisfied, but given these unprecedented circumstances, most parents were patient and approached the unfolding events with an equal measure of understanding and apprehension.

Mr L worked hard to meet the requirements imposed by his principal and ensured that he obtained the information that he was tasked with. The principal and many of his colleagues called Mr L during the day and late at night because of his tech skills and knowledge but the calls interfered with his family responsibilities and interrupted his work setting up his online school pages with relevant information for the lessons that were to start too soon. Then classes began.

Mr L had a total of 30 students enrolled in his class but only half could join in; the other half did not have all the technology (either computer or internet connection) or the know-how to participate in the synchronous online session. Of the 15 students who connected, seeing classmates after several long months made the children rambunctious and excitable. They wanted to share their lived experiences of the lockdown with their peers and their pent-up energy and excitement made it literally impossible to sit still and listen to the teacher’s talking head on the screen. Mr L tried to establish and enforce rules to be followed, without which he believed learning would be very difficult. He wanted to remind parents, who he assumed would be sitting beside their kids, that the students had to follow established “netiquette” principles. The principal had sent out an email message just the week before to let them know that she was available online for them but she did not outline any protocols or scheduling information at that time.

During Mr L’s first online class (and for many subsequent classes), students did not abide by most of the rules or conventions considered proper netiquette for online participation that he had tried to establish. The misbehaviour and difficulties increased during the first weeks with students not muting microphones, speaking over each other, chatting incessantly rather than listening, muting others (including the instructor), and generally behaving as children might during recess or an online playdate. The children were playful and curious, exploring the online tools and systems as if they were playing a video game or simply playing with a toy. The result was a very difficult teaching environment for Mr L and for Springfield Elementary teachers and staff.

As the weeks progressed, the tone of messaging from Mr L to his principal, students’ parents, and even sometimes with colleagues got harsher. Mr L’s reactions to students online grew more authoritarian and aggressive; students were called out when they misbehaved and sometimes Mr L blocked them from online participation if they failed to listen to or comply with his rules. Ultimately, some students’ visual presence online was reduced to a circle with their initials inside rather than actually being visible online. Students started having side conversations through the online chat function of the computer conferencing system during lessons rather than only during scheduled breaks. Some parents commented that their children disliked the formality of the online “schooling” environment and students wanted the online experience to be much more like their social media experiences – a source of peer connection, exploration, and fun.

Mr L’s principal directed him to manage the online environment effectively and efficiently and make the system predictable to ensure that the curriculum was covered and completed. The goal for Springfield Elementary was to move the regular curriculum online and ensure a safe and structured learning environment for students but what Mr L and Springfield Elementary wound up doing was following closely the pandemic mitigation strategies prepared by the regional governments while ignoring the spirit of Invitational Education and student well-being. Springfield Elementary may have been technically ready and sincere in its desire to ensure a safe and effective online environment for teaching and learning but collectively it did not innovate or negotiate or manage to attain even a modicum of glee for students, teachers, administrators, or parents.

The unintended result of all the work and effort that Mr L put into getting ready and set for teaching and learning online was that when he tried to S.W.I.N.G. for the bleachers, he missed the ball. There would still be time to try again but unless Springfield Elementary leadership changes its stance and remembers to Place People First, and Invite teachers, students, parents, and community members to work together cooperatively, the outcome will be more of the same: unintentionally disinviting and anxiety provoking. Consider two student haikus from the Springfield experience. The first,

Students on a screen

Camera off, mute your mic

What are we learning?

And the second, more hopeful but how realistic

Parents and kids sit

At home learning together


We have just described two imaginary schools reacting to the same crisis. In this thought experiment one school managed to invite collaboration, collegiality, and glee through the Get Ready, Get Set, and SWING strategy, while the other (also sincerely well-intentioned) school fell short of adequately inviting the ingenuity, collaboration, and negotiation needed to transform hope and aspiration into practical policies, practices, and protocols that put people first and can guide school organisations through the stormy seas of a global pandemic. Which school would you prefer to work in or would you want your children to attend?

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly and perhaps permanently reshaped the nature and experience of traditional schooling world-wide. There are lessons to be learned from how educational leaders have reacted to, and coped with, this crisis. Invitational Education, as a theory of practice provides a powerful lens for examining what has been done and for thinking about what can be done in pragmatic, democratic and ethical ways. The Get Ready, Get Set and S.W.I.N.G. model of Invitational Leadership provides a strategy for facing not only the COVID 19 crisis but any storm that assails education organisations.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant posed three questions to serve as guideposts for thinking about and reacting to human crises and turmoil. He wrote that we should ask ourselves, “… what do we know?; What should we do with what we know?; and , and what can we hope?. If we apply those questions to our exploration of school leadership during and after the global pandemic we know that putting people first in planning and preparation is vital. We should therefore, apply the Get Ready, Get Set and S.W.I.N.G model for to invite ourselves and others in intentional, thoughtful, democratic, empathetic, ethical, ways in order to prudently face the challenges and crises that will surely come our way. We can then hope that what we have learned and what we are able to do will enable us to re-shape education in ways that invite human growth and potential through sustained imaginative acts of hope.

The two imagined cases presented in this article illustrate how school leaders in times of crisis can apply wisdom, ingenuity and invitational theory to negotiate the many challenges that education faces today including as Purkey and Novak (2009) and Novak (2021) note; high stakes testing, mandatory retention, zero tolerance, aggressive discipline, negative labeling of students, teachers and schools and now a global pandemic. Our hope is that the CoVid 19 crisis has taught us all that we are better together than we are alone and that Invitational Leadership is not a lone voice in the education wilderness but rather a growing chorus of voices united in a song of human potential and promise.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018, March 28). Household use of information technology, 2016-17 financial year.

DiPetta, T., Novak, J. M., & Marini, Z. (2002). Inviting online success. Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

McLuhan, M. (2011). The Gutenberg galaxy: The making of typographic man. University of Toronto Press. (Original work published 1962)

Novak, J. M. (2021, August 20). Invitational education for a post pandemic world: A recap and look forward. Education Today.

Purkey, W.W. & Novak, J. M. (2009). Fundamentals of invitational education. International Alliance for Invitational Education.

Ryan, C., & Lewis, J. M. (2017, September). Computer and internet use in the United States: 2015. U.S. Census Bureau.

Tony Di Petta is an Associate Professor and Director of the Continuing Teacher Education program at Brock University. As an educator he has more than twenty years of experience teaching in the K-12 school system, community college and business and industry. He served as Training Director for the Education Network of Ontario, the first online teacher social network in Canada, and was a moderator for the NODE online distance learning network. His research focus is inviting online teaching and learning. He may be contacted at [email protected] 

Rahul Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Brock University. He has studied Invitational Education for over 20 years. His research focuses on policy matters in higher education, the role of the professoriate, and digital technologies. He is active in teaching international graduate students and examining educational challenges in Western and Indian contexts. His past work has included the application of feminist ethics in areas of education, policy, and ICT.

Photo by Samuel Figueroa from Pexels