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I’m inviting you to read about what the Branciforte Small Schools staff has been learning about Restorative and Invitational Language. I hope you will join us on extending and deepening our understanding of how the language we use can ‘open doors’ for those who may feel or be marginalized.

Authentic communication is at the core of Restorative practices and can lead to successful outcomes. Authentic understanding requires more than just an intellectual ability to repeat another’s point of view. It requires empathy: the ability to appreciate another person’s perspective, feelings, values, and train of thought as if you were looking through your own eyes. Restorative communication is focused on increasing understanding, and on building, sustaining, and restoring relationships.

Did you know that more is communicated nonverbally than with words in most conversations? The listener, without being aware of it, picks up meaning in the following ways: 55% body language, 35% tone, and 7% content or words.

Forms of nonverbal communication can consist of

  • Facial expressions like smiling, frowning, laughing, signing.

  • Presentation: hair, clothing, face, body

  • Gestures: sweating palms, posture, stiff hand movements

  • Voice: soft-loud, fast-slow, smooth-jerky

  • Environment: home, room, desk, kitchen, car

Developing effective listening skills is an important part of Restorative communication. Effective listening involves the entire person: body, mind, emotions, values, and intuition. Because listening is so personal, it is crucial to nurture attitudes which promote your own clear understanding as well as the other person’s ability to express themselves. Self-awareness is the key.

The goal of listening is to promote understanding. Effective listening requires respect for the person talking. This means a willingness to relate to the speaker as a unique individual, and to relate without imposing judgments. Alert attention will help you to become aware of the person’s concerns and encourage them to provide as much information as possible. It is important to be alert to clues about feelings underneath words. Someone’s feelings about a predicament are important truths. Often during a conflict neither side feels adequately heard so the act of our sincere respect for listening can begin to defuse difficult feelings and set the stage for resolution.

Following are some behaviors to practice authentic communication:

  • Communicate your respect and attention with your body. For example, maintain the level of eye contact that seems comfortable for the other person and use open posture.

  • Monitor and adjust your own reactions. Are you starting to feel your own anger or suspicion? Concentrate, focus on the speaker, keeping in mind that your own feelings can affect your judgment and even shut down the process. Did your attention wander, or are you confused? Ask the speaker for clarity.

  • Practice your detective skills. What isn’t being addressed? Are words and explanations covering intense feelings? Often people are more comfortable expressing thoughts and reasons than directly expressing the emotions generating them. Listen for those feelings so that you can let the speaker know they are important and deserve attention.

  • Be aware of who has the spotlight during any conversation. Being present and focused on the emotions behind their conversation will allow you to be more effective in the way you can support individual.

Like any rewarding skill, you develop authentic listening with exercise. A tool to use as a quick way to focus and jog your memory, especially when feelings and words are coming fast and furious, is EARS: emphasize, ask questions, rephrase and summarize.

When we use invitational language we create space and opportunity for young of ‘escalated’ (or both!) people, who may be feeling confused, powerless, angry, out of control, etc., to step into different behavior choices.

Invitational language:

  • Is intentional and thoughtful

  • Acknowledges agency and responsibility

  • Can be combined with clear boundary setting, and reminders of community agreements and natural consequences

  • Does not make assumptions


Some ways to start invitational sentences might be:

  • It would be great if ...

  • I wish ....

  • How to ...

  • How might ...

  • In what ways might we ...

  • Will it ...

  • Does it ...

  • What I see myself doing is ...


In times of escalation, invitational language might sound like:

  • “I’m not OK with (name the behavior), please can you make a different choice?”

  • “What can I do to help you follow our classroom agreements?”

  • “That behavior is not aligned with our community agreements. You have an opportunity to make a different decision about how you are showing up right now. Please take it.”

  • “You had an opportunity to make a different choice about your behavior, and you didn’t take it, so now we need to follow our classroom agreements. According to those agreements, what do you think needs to happen to make things as right as possible?”


Invitational language is a counter-balance to language that contributes to relational disengagement:

  • Minimizing – “it’s not that bad ...”

  • Negating – “you’re exaggerating, you’re being oversensitive, I don’t think you’re seeingthings clearly ...”

  • Devaluing – “it’s just a phase, you’ll get over it, all kids go through this ...”

  • Shifting the Spotlight – “that same thing happened to me when I was your age ...”


One last trick to avoid confrontational language is to ... Take off our COATS!

  • Challenge – “I bet you can’t even get through a week without interrupting me ...”

  • Order – “Stop yelling!”

  • Argue – “Why can’t you just listen to me, for once?”

  • Threaten – “If you don’t stop that, you have to go to Time Out!”

  • Shame – “Did you even TRY to do your personal best ...”


Thank you for joining us as we strive to extend and deepen our understanding of how our words, body language, tone, and self-awareness can not only help build meaningful, lasting, and supportive relationships, but help de-escalate conflicts and frustrations.

Michelle McKinney

Principal, Branciforte Small Schools

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