Empowering Teachers, Empowering Children

Article excerpt

One of the foundations of the school restructuring movement is teacher empowerment. Empowerment grants an individual the ability to direct his or her own life. Traditionally, our schools have not empowered teachers or children. They have had little to say in the decision-making process.

Restructuring efforts often result in a realignment of power within the school system. Teachers gain the power to choose curriculum, create policy and make decisions concerning the school. Glickman (1990) notes that "the empowerment movement has put a light back into the eyes of talented, experienced teachers . . . the empowerment movement sends the message that teaching no longer has to be routinized, isolated, individual and mindless" (p. 75). Empowered teachers find their work to be more invigorating and exhilarating.

Empowerment is important for children, as well. If empowerment changes how teachers view their work, empowering children should improve their view of learning. The foundations needed for empowering teachers and children include respect, validation and success.

* Respect. Typically, teachers have been viewed as "deficit models." Clearly, a change is in order. Kreisberg (1992) notes that "bureaucratic management of schools proceeds from the view that teachers lack the talent or motivation to think for themselves" (p. 10). The empowered teacher, however, is viewed as a respected professional who has the knowledge and ability to participate in the school's change process. Robinson (1994) suggests that "empowerment is marked by respect for each individual in the group . . . each person has a valuable contribution to make, each has a unique voice that echoes the unique experiences of the individual and joins in the voices of others in the classroom community" (p. 159).

Empowering children reflects the same respect. Wassermann (1990) argues that "when children feel respected, they strengthen that aspect of personhood upon which all healthful psychological growth rests: self-respect. Empowerment rests on self-respect; the absence of self-respect is diminishing" (p. 9). Respecting children involves recognizing and accepting who they are and what they do. Individual learning rates and styles must be respected and honored.

* Validation. One day, I visited a classroom and assessed a 1st-grade girl's alphabet recognition. When I told her what a wonderful job she did, her immediate response was, "Please, tell my teacher." The same day I visited a teacher and commented on her excellent instructional strategies. Her immediate response was, "Please, tell my principal." Validation often means sharing your knowledge of an individual's worth with someone else.

* Success. Everyone wants to be viewed as successful. Teachers' morale is constantly being undermined by criticism of education. We should not diminish teachers' status by focusing on weaknesses; rather, we must acknowledge their strengths. A focus on weaknesses is devastating for children, as well. Drucker (1989) suggests that "education must focus on the strengths and talents of learners so that they can excel in whatever it is that they do well . . . one cannot build performance on weakness, even correct ones. One can build performance only on strengths" (p. 19).

Respect, validation and a focus on success establishes a positive foundation for empowering both teachers and children. Further empowerment can be facilitated through the following methods:

* Ownership. Ownership gives teachers the sense that they have as much right as administrators to make changes. Ownership for children is "the children's feeling that the classroom is theirs, too, not just the teacher's. . . . Through ownership of the classroom children get to engage in activities that are interesting to them . . . they even get to participate in decisions [about the classroom]" (Robinson, 1994, p. 154-155).

* Choice. Teachers should be able to make choices about curriculum, instructional strategies, materials, even staff. …