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 recognize. 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. References Branden, N. (1994) The six pillars of self -esteem. NY: Bantam Boje, D. & Rosile, G. (2001) Where's the power in empowerment. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 37 (1), 90-117. Cherniss, C. (1997). Teacher empowerment , consultation, and creation of new programs in schools. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 8 (2), 135-152. Cushing, K. (1994). Empowering Students: Essential schools' missing link. Horace, CES National. 11 (1). Friere, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin. Kohn, A. (1993). Choices for children: Why and how to let students decide. Phi Delta Kappan, 8-20. Maton, K. & Salem, D.a. (1995). Organizational characteristics of empowering in community settings: A multiple case study approach. America Journal of Community Psychology. 23, 631-656. Perkins, D. & Zimmerman, M. (1995) Empowerment theory, research, and application. American Journal of Community Psychology 23, 569-580. Empowering Students 8 Spreitzer, G. (1995) An empirical test of a comprehensive model of intrapersonal empowerment in the workplace. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 601-630. Zimmerman, M. (1995). Psychological empowerment: Issues and illustrations. American Journal of Community Pyschology, 23, 581-600.
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