The word “empowerment” has been coming up often. The AASL guidelines for school library programs has the title Empowering Students. “Empower” has become one of the buzz words used in business and education. As with many overused terms, frequency blurs meaning. It is a very strong word and should be thoroughly understood so you know what it is you are expected to do.
Merriam Webster defines it as “to give power to (someone)” or “to give official authority or legal power to (someone).” Obviously we use the first meaning most often, but even so, what power are we giving students? Through our inquiry-based lessons they develop the power to learn on their own, follow their passions, knowing they have become skilled users and producers of information.
But there is a more subtle meaning of empower. When we empower someone we make them more confident, in control of their life, and able to believe in and trust their abilities. That is a huge responsibility. Yet if you follow your students over their several years in your building, you see that is exactly what you do.
The AASL Guidelines were published in 2009 and the use of “empowering” in the title was new in the world of education. Although it didn’t discuss why the word was chosen, it was on target. We need to embrace the concept of empowerment.
As a leader you need to take on the challenge of empowering others. Recognize how and when to empower your stakeholders. When you bring relevant aspects of your expertise to them, they become more confident in what they are doing and, whether or not they acknowledge what you have done, they are aware that they have grown as a result.
Students, of course, are your first stakeholders, and you know how you empower them. You do so with every inquiry based lesson, every time you expand their range of leisure reading, or guide them in their searches for their assignments or personal interest. Tune into how you are building their confidence and trust in their own abilities to learn on their own.
Your teachers are the next group you need to empower. To do so, analyze where they are unsure of themselves and need some help. Because of rapid changes, teachers are usually not nearly as capable as you are at integrating tech resource. They are unaware of the vast range of them and the new ones that keep sprouting up. One librarian I know of, sends teachers information on one tech resource each week, offering to help them see how it can be used in their curriculum units. Knowing that you are there to hold their hand as they learn how to use it, makes the prospect less intimidating and builds their confidence.
Some teachers are not well versed in crafting units with Essential Questions (EQs) and Enduring Understandings (EUs). As you work with them, having built a relationship so they trust you, suggest possibilities to use in a learning experience. The more the two of you work together, the greater the teacher’s confidence grows in writing the EQs and EUs on their own.
Finally, the importance of inquiry-based learning is being touted as important in student learning. Too often the implication is it can be accomplished solely in the classroom. Considering it has students select the direction of what they want to learn about a topic and invariably requires research, it can’t really be limited to the classroom. But you can point out how you structure an inquiry-based unit. Working with you is safe as you do not evaluate teachers so they are willing to ask questions and learn as they go.
The strong relationships and growing history of collaboration or cooperation you have built with teachers are the foundations on which you empower them. In an era when many eyes are on classroom teachers, judging and evaluating what they do – and usually negatively, you give them the confidence and the vocabulary to show they are valuable. And you are therefore valuable to them.
Your next step is empowering administrators. While many work hard to keep up with changes in technology and what is happening in their buildings, too often they are even more overworked than you and the teachers. When you inform them of projects teachers have done with you, always spotlighting the teacher, and students learning and reactions, you give them a deeper understanding of how collaboration (or cooperation) is impacting both faculty and students. With this knowledge, the administrator gets to know more details of what is happening in the building that could be obtained from the few classroom observations. The added benefit is that it promotes your program.
Parents are another group of stakeholders you can empower. They are aware of the dangers their children might get into in cyberspace but lack the knowledge to know how to prepare them and keep an eye of their child’s digital footprint. If you give a presentation to parents on keeping kids safe in cyberspace and/or posting helpful information for parents on your website, you empower them. Even keeping them informed about projects classes are doing is a form of empowerment as it makes them feel closer to their children’s day.
Who are you empowering? How are you doing it? What help do you need? Remember – your peers and mentors are here to empower you!