Empowering Students through Empowered Teachers by alicejenny


									                                                       Empowering Students      1

       Empowering Students through Fostering Empowered Teachers

Joy R. Cowdery, Ed.D., Muskingum College

  Democracy, Empowerment, and              determining policy or practice. Alfie
           Education                       Kohn in "Choices for Children; Why
                                           and How to Let Students Decide"
         Citizenship in a democracy        (1993) urged school reformist to
requires a citizenry who have the          consider letting students have a
skills to solve complex problems,          chance to view learning as
reason out the essential from the          something under their control rather
non-essential, and the confidence to       than something disembodied. Even
effectively act on decisions over          today, few schools have taken his
which they can exercise control.           advice. Then again, simply "giving"
Mary Parker Follet, advocate for life-     students the power to make choices
long learning and worker                   does not empower students.
empowerment, believed that the             Students must have the confidence
training for that citizenry should         and skills to empower themselves.
begin in the cradle and continue           By the very definition of
through a lifetime (Boje & Rosile,         empowerment, one must be able to
2001). Educational reform was her          "take" control of his or her learning.
vehicle for ensuring this outcome.         For students, this is a process over
Rather than revising curriculum, she       time of feeling confident about
believed that the very structure of        decision-making and feeling
"school" needed to be reformed into        recognized as capable by the
an experiential model in which             education system. Only by feeling
students practiced democratic              safe, accepted, valued, and
principles in daily decision-making,       challenged can students begin to
"Citizenship is not to be learned in       make progress toward empowering
good government classes or current         themselves.
events courses or lessons in civics. It           Teachers can play an
is to be acquired only through those       important role in building this self-
modes of living and acting which           esteem and creating an environment
shall teach us how to grow the social      in which students can begin to
consciousness"(Boje & Rosile, 2001,        exercise democratic principles and
p. 90).                                    empowerment. But teachers, too,
         To effectively grow the "social   must feel empowered before they
consciousness" in students, students       have the confidence to "hand over
must not only experience democratic        the keys" to students to drive their
practices, but also feel that they         own educations. Without teachers
have ownership in the educational          having the confidence to give up the
process and the power to effect            need to control all aspects of
change. Historically, students appear      learning, students cannot try and fail
to have been the missing link in           and succeed. Both failure and
school reform. Very few schools            success build learning confidence.
have given students voice in               Knowing that failure is a temporary
                                                       Empowering Students       2

step toward success can increase a         understanding that an administrative
learner's risk-taking. As students         goal is equitable ( according to need)
move toward accepting responsibility       allocation of funds, may help a
for their own learning, they become        teacher justify the necessity of
more empowered. To fully                   increasing funding for her particular
understand how all of this must work       grade or subject area based on need
together, it is important to look at the   rather than equality (the same for all)
systemic influences that play a part       funding.
in the empowerment of various                     But without political
members of a school organization.          empowerment, psychological
Empowered teachers are in the best         empowerment may be futile. Political
position to empower students               empowerment refers to actual
because they can effect change not         influence over social and political
only in their classrooms, but in the       forces in one's own environment.
school.                                    True empowerment requires more
                                           than just autonomy and control. It
        Empowerment Theory                 requires support and sanction from
                                           administration in the form of access
        Perkins and Zimmerman              to resources such as time and
(1995, p. 570) define empowerment          money. Teachers need to advocate
as a "process by which people gain         for shared knowledge of resources
control over their lives…a                 and support in decision-making from
participation with others to achieve       administrations. Teachers need to
goals, an effort to gain access to         lobby for the recognition that shared
resources, and some critical               power for the benefit of students
understanding of the sociopolitical        actually helps to empower
environment." Simply desiring power        administrators with more time and
and declaring self-governance does         division of labor. Given that true
not make an empowered teacher.             transformation cannot occur unless
Teachers must first understand that        systemic changes accompany the
there are different elements of power      desire, teachers are left to gain
that come into play, and knowledge         limited empowerment through self-
of the system is one. Most studies of      change and persistence in
educational empowerment focus on           transforming schools.
psychological empowerment as a
goal for both teachers and students.              Empowered Teachers
This is an individual's sense of
control or the belief that one can                Some teachers are more
influence important aspects of one's       inclined to feel empowered than
environment. It includes a sense of        others. Those who work in an
having the motivation to exert self-       environment predisposed to
control and a critical understanding       empowering members of the
of the setting. This enables teachers      community, naturally, feel more
to effectively exert influence where it    empowered. Some of the qualities of
will make the most difference              an empowering environment would
(Zimmerman, 1995). For example,            be (1) clarity of role and
                                                      Empowering Students        3

expectations, (2) political support             understand how the system
and sanctions for work, (3) socio-       works
emotional peer support with a sense      and how to develop a coalition of
of community, (4) access to strategic    advocates for transformation and
information and resources such as        democracy (Freire, 1972). By
space, materials, time, and funds,       developing a learning community of
and (5) inspired leadership who          peers dedicated to actively
share vision and values input (Maton     advocating for self and others,
& Salem; 1995, Spieitzer, 1995).         teachers can empower one another
These factors can lead teachers to       to maintain a positive attitude in the
believe that they have honest            face of stress and discouragement.
impact, the ability to exert influence   Having a group of teachers who
over their daily work lives. Having a    demonstrate competence and
good fit between people and jobs         knowledge to acquire
also allows teachers to perceive that    epistemological power means that
they have meaningful individual roles    each is in control of his or her own
within the school community.             learning and articulation of that
Teachers who are not as fortunate in     learning with the outcome being high
having such an environment, may          expectations for self and others.
still gain empowerment, but only if              Becoming an empowered
they make the commitment to know         teacher is not without internal
and change the system.                   conflict. Teachers committed to this
         Teachers who have a             end, must make a compromise
commitment to this end may               between individual freedom and
increase the likelihood of success by    group accountability, autonomy and
practicing self-empowering               external support, consensus and
techniques. Some of these may            efficiency (Maton & Salem, 1995).
include public affirmation of their      Additionally, the time demands are
profession, an intuitive sense of        overwhelming for many teachers. In
control of their own behavior,           a democratic school with empowered
learning, and ability to convince.       teachers, decision-making may not
Through commitment, they may             begin until the dismissal bell.
become transformative forces that        Additionally, no designated authority
allow empowerment for all members        will be waiting to fulfill desires or take
of the school community.                 the heat. Empowerment has its
         Teachers must feel              responsibilities as well as its
empowered to be able to challenge        advantages; however, empowered
the enculturation process so             teachers increase their own ability to
common in schools. They must feel        effect change for students. The best
empowered to critically examine all      way to empower students in
decisions to weigh their worth           "owning" their own learning is to first
against a need to socially reproduce     empower teachers and spark within
the status quo. But to feel              the teacher the desire share the
empowered, teachers must                 power.
                                                      Empowering Students         4

What Empowerment May Look Like           workshop on adolescent positive
                                         discipline techniques to be presented
        Recently at Muskingum            in the evening for area teachers. The
College, a group of student teachers     group organized the workshop,
bonded into a learning community.        secured a professional speaker, and
As practice in empowerment, the          advertised the event to all area
students formed groups based on a        schools.
perceived needed change for which                Upon reflection of what they
they felt passion. Each selected an      had achieved, all the student
"advocacy" project. Within a three-      teachers reported feeling good about
week period, the student teachers        the results of their projects and
had selected, executed, processed,       empowered to take an active part in
presented, and reflected upon their      making education better. Knowing
plans. The results of their advocating   that they were capable of tackling an
and the empowerment they felt were       important issue and being able to
evident when at the conclusion of the    quickly, as a learning community,
executed plan, they could see the        support one another and divide the
physical benefits of their projects in   labor encouraged them to consider
some form enjoyed by the schools         other ways to make a difference in
and students.                            their school communities. They felt
        While some projects actual       proud and empowered, not only as
action would be long term, such as       teachers, but as citizens. They also
writing to the Ohio Supreme Court,       recognized that the lessons learned
legislators, and State Board of          from this could translate into lessons
Education for revisiting equitable       of empowerment for their future
funding for schools or creating          students.
brochures to distribute to local                 Some of the comments from
schools advocating careers for           them include the following:
students in the arts, some projects
had immediate action taken and                  "I think that after this project, I
concluded. One group solicited           have the chance to empower the
funds from community businesses to       children to take a stand. I can show
buy athletic equipment for physical      them how to advocate for
education classes in a poor              themselves and others. Since I will
Appalachian school short on any          be teaching very young children, I
additional monies. The group raised      have a great opportunity to start
the funds, purchased the equipment,      them with the idea that they can
and delivered it to the school and       change their situation or someone
children. Another group promoted a       else's by advocacy."
"hat" day in a local high school to
raise funds for the American Red                 " I realize that advocacy can
Cross Hurricane Katrina relief fund.     be something as simple as giving a
Still another group designed a           child a pencil or paper if they can't
project to benefit teachers in the       afford those materials and letting
short run and students in the long       them know you are thinking about
run. They designed and presented a       how to help them. Students can be
                                                     Empowering Students       5

empowered through advocacy, not          classroom and school lets students
only through physical and monetary       establish an identity with their school
contributions, but through emotional     and classmates. Team-work can
contributions, as well."                 develop strong working relationships
                                         that foster peer support. Simply
        " When children's needs are      listening to students verbal and non-
met, they can focus on the grater        verbal messages with an open mind
aspects of learning rather than          can reinforce for the student the
worrying or coping without necessary     worth of his or her ideas. When
tools."                                  students are allowed to make
                                         meaningful contributions to their
       " It empowers people to ask       school and community, the learn
them what they need. They take           confidence and responsibility. As
ownership for determining just how       teachers model the importance of
they can be helped. Students need a      self-reliance and pride, students
voice in determining what will best      become more empowered.
help them. "                             Encouraging and equipping students
                                         with essential skills leads to
      " Networking is empowering.        empowerment.
Teaching my children how to
network to get their needs met is a              As one of our student
powerful lesson."                        teachers learned, power can come in
                                         a very personal way. Nate was a
      Empowering Students                future Language Arts teacher
                                         participating in a week-long urban
        Students who feel empowered      observation in a high school in North
are more confident and exhibit more      Carolina. As he talked to his
self-esteem. Confidence can              cooperating teacher, he learned that
increase a person's ability to think     one of the African American athletes
and cope with basic challenges. Self-    he had talked to several times in
esteem can increase feeling worthy       class that week was struggling
and the ability to assert one's needs    academically. The child was the son
and wants (Branden, 1994).               of two teachers, and the parents
Empowered students can become            were very distraught that he might
empowered citizens.                      not be able to go to college because
        Empowered teachers can           he had a severe learning disability.
foster student empowerment in            Nate told the teacher about our
several ways. Allowing students to       college's PLUS program. It is an
follow through on their original ideas   intense and personal program at our
and solve complex problems               college to support students with
individually can make students more      learning disabilities to successfully
committed to their own learning.         complete college. All students must
Recognition of student initiative as     already be on IEP's to qualify. Nate
well as success takes the emphasis       was sure that other colleges might
off the risk of trying new ideas.        have similar programs. The teacher
Community building within the            asked Nate to meet with the child
                                                     Empowering Students       6

and his parents to explain how to        consensus. "This doesn't look like
find colleges that would have such       what school is supposed to look like.
programs. Nate was empowered to          I want my way, but I'm not so sure I
"try his hand" at real teaching advice   want others to get their way.
to make a difference to a child and      You're the teacher, give us the
the parents and child were               assignments.” Teachers can:
empowered to begin realizing their       Continue with a valuable
dream of the young man                   curriculum and keep asking them to
successfully attending college.          make decisions.

         Because this type of student    I'm feeling my Cheerios: "You told
empowerment does not regularly           us this is our choice, we chose not to
occur in all schools or classrooms,      play. We will test you to see if we
initiating it may not be welcomed by     really do have a choice." Teachers
students. An empowered person is         can: Be patient, go back to the plan
one committed to hard work and           and focus on curriculum.
taking responsibility for self. It is
sometimes easier for a student to        Distrust: "You won't follow through
remain passive, and some students        on everything. So why are you
recognize this and resist the change.    asking for input?" Teachers can:
Empowered teachers understand            Work at following through. Turn
that this implementation is a process    suggestions into worthwhile
and have the courage to persevere        curriculum. Stay confident and
in the face of student resistance.       patient. Review the plan.
         Teachers attempting to
empower students academically may        Don't blame me, I'm just a kid. "I
expect students to go through some       have problems at home, I'm sick, I
stages of acceptance. Disequilibrium     don't understand, I lost it, this is
encourages learning and some             boring." Teachers can: Give regular
students may need to feel                feedback and encouragement to
uncomfortable before learning takes      take responsibility. Do not accept
place. Bill Johnson, in Guidelines for   irresponsibility, but do not punish.
Social Responsibility list some          Use natural consequences. Students
predictable stages of and possible       may fear being empowered, but they
responses to empowering students         are coming closer to attaining it.
(Cushing, 1994).
                                         Genuine empowerment
The Honeymoon: Students think it         (eventually): "I may still need
is great to have freedom of choice.      guidance, but I feel like I'm making
They begin to believe they can "do       some good decisions." Teachers
whatever we want.”Teachers can:          can: Students are working through
Negotiate a plan.                        the process. Encourage, model, and
I want you to take control:
Students are uncomfortable with          Empowered students at the Student
                                         Forum in St. Louis, Missouri in
                                                          Empowering Students     7

expressed best what schools should            Making a difference is what self-
look like if all students and teachers        empowering is all about. Students
were empowered, "Schools should               need to know that they can make a
be… inviting to all students. There           difference in order to actually make a
should be a feeling of respect, trust,        difference. Folett maintains that
and partnership between students,             creating a school environment that
parents, and teachers. In such an             fosters empowerment is one mode of
environment, students will be given           living and doing that "teach us how
the opportunity to express                    to grow a social consciousness"
themselves, and their self-                   (Boje & Rosile, 2001, p. 90) that
determination will rise, knowing that         ensure citizens will be able to solve
they can make a difference                    the complex problems evolving from
(Cushing, 1994).                              a democracy. Empowered teachers
                                              empowering students may help to
                                              ensure the future of a democracy.


       Branden, N. (1994) The six pillars of self -esteem. NY: Bantam

      Boje, D. & Rosile, G. (2001) Where's the power in empowerment. Journal
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      Cherniss, C. (1997). Teacher empowerment , consultation, and creation of
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      Cushing, K. (1994). Empowering Students: Essential schools' missing link.
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       Friere, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

      Kohn, A. (1993). Choices for children: Why and how to let students
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      Maton, K. & Salem, D.a. (1995). Organizational characteristics of
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                                                     Empowering Students    8

       Spreitzer, G. (1995) An empirical test of a comprehensive model of
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Psychology, 23, 601-630.

        Zimmerman, M. (1995). Psychological empowerment: Issues and
illustrations. American Journal of Community Pyschology, 23, 581-600.

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