Hi this is Oscar Cielos Staton with the precast for Episode 15 on teacher empowerment. Here I will present some ideas and talking points that will be expanded in the next episode with a roundtable of panelists on this very topic.
Bolin, referenced in the show notes, wrote that “teacher empowerment is defined as investing teachers with the right to participate in the determination of school goals and policies and to exercise professional judgment about what and how to teach” (p. 82)
To empower a teacher, all that’s required is some sense of participation in the goals and policies that affect what and how they teach.
For the purpose of this precast I will make a clear distinction between self empowerment and teacher empowerment by others.
Let’s talk about teacher empowerment by others first. Under this category, it can come either from the higher up administrators OR it can come from fellow teachers.
So, the administration at the site, most would agree, is crucial in settting the climate of a school in respect to how comfortable the teachers feel in maintaning their individuality and professional autonomy while still meeting the overall vision of the school. What does that look like in a climate of support, respect and trust? The teacher feels safe to explore and experiment with innovative ways to meet the needs of his or her students. They meet challenges head on and feel safe in reaching out to fellow colleagues, administration and even the community at large for assistance. Empowered teachers feel very much like an integral part of the school and feel that they are thriving as professionals. They are loyal members of a team that plans to be there long term.
How does a principal make that happen? It takes a big leap of faith to let go of a tight grip when it’s ultimately you on the line. But consider for a moment the type of talent and experience that may be untapped among your teachers. These might be the folks that might not want to rock the boat or show you their peacock colors. You might have among you the difference between an average or below average school and a top rated leading school in your district. As Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
How do you loosen the grip? Come into classrooms and offer to collaborate with the teacher, not just observe and take notes. Look for innovation and tap those teachers to share it with the staff. Every once in a while, volunteer to go in and cover a class just to give that teacher a mental break. Allow opportunities for teachers to collaborate without a strict mandate. Give them a leading role in finding professional development that is appropriate for them. Grow your leadership from within! Give them a voice on school policy, ask questions on what they need from you, and most certainly let them know the non negotiable district mandates.
Now let’s talk about self or teacher to teacher empowerment…What can you do for yourself? Seek out your own professional development. Get on social media and tap the resources found on Twitter chats…collaborate on Pinterest boards. Seek out peers doing similar work to yours and collaborate on approaches and resources. Be present and open minded at staff development opportunities. Take notes, ask questions and definitely offer up your experience and expertise. At school site meetings, If you have an innovative approach that you think will help others, you should volunteer to share it with everyone. If you have enough ideas to make a difference, write a book. Don’t limit yourself. Follow the advice you give your students. It’s up to you to bring positive change. Don’t wait around for someone else to make things better.
Also as a teacher, you’re there on the ground level seeing what your peers are doing. When you see something impressive and innovative in them that you think will help others, call it out! Tell your colleagues and administration about this specific strategy or talent the teacher has. It’s up to you to lift that teacher up when no one else has. Get them noticed! You too can empower a teacher and make a difference.
You can even empower educators that have become part of your professional learning community on social media. You can expand on their ideas. You can bring those to your campus and make others aware of this resource. It’s all about sharing and making education better. When we promote ourselves and others, the goal should always be the greater good.
By empowering a teacher, you are tapping into a wealth of knowledge and skill not only bolstered by years of experience in the classroom but also by his or her upbringing and background. When you foster leadership at the teacher level, you have the potential to make your school site grow in ways you might not have thought possible.
Let’s continue the conversation with episode 15 of Teachers Talk Live which will bring a roundtable of teachers and administrators speaking on the hows and whys of teacher empowerment.
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Bolin, F. S. (1989). Empowering Leadership. Teachers College Record, 19(1), 81-96.