Monday, March 07, 2016

Empower or Disempower?

This weekend I attended an overnight Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) event. During the event I listened to many stories told by a diverse group of educators. As I listened I recognized that in some cases teachers were empowered with care and effort, and in other cases educators were disempowered. For example one educator told a story of how she asked leadership about vision only to be told that there was no vision needed and everything was okay where she worked. That was a disempowering moment. On the other hand, another educator, passionate about math and STEAM education, was given a green light to go forward with her interests and desire to grow that practice.

As I listened to the stories, I recognized just how much time disempowerment takes place with regard to its impact on good work. When words and actions disempower educators, those words have resounding negative effect since it's takes educators time to understand, get over, deal with, and respond to that negativity. On the other hand, empowering remarks and efforts send educators forward with zest, inspiration, and enthusiasm.

Both disempowering and empowering remarks also trickle down to the students. In an empowered, forward moving, encouraging atmosphere educators are moved to use that same positive energy with students. In environments that are disempowering, it takes educators more time and energy to overcome the negativity in order to positively teach and encourage their students.

As I think more on this I wonder about the oversight with regard to empowering versus disempowering education environments. Who looks at those metrics and how are those critical attributes supported in our teaching/learning organizations? Has anyone evaluated student scores alongside educators' attitudes about the work environment's attributes and attitudes? Do students thrive more in empowering, positive teaching/learning cultures rather than demeaning, discouraging environments? Of course, my guess is that if it's a positive, inclusive, transparent, and encouraging environment, everyone learns more and does better.

So a question we can all ask of our practice, leadership, and collegiality is, "Are we empowering or disempowering those around us?" As my teaching/learning practice develops, I realize that this is a central question for all teaching/learning practitioners and organizations.