To effectively grow the “social consciousness” in students, students must not only experience democratic practices, but also feel that they have ownership in the educational process and the power to effect change. Historically, students appear to have been the missing link in educational institution reform. Very few educational institutions have given students voice in determining policy or practice. Educational institution reformist should consider letting students have a chance to view learning as something under their control rather than something disembodied. Even today, few educational institutions have taken his advice. Then again, simply “giving” students the power to make choices does not empower students. Students must have the confidence and skills to empower themselves. By the very definition of empowerment, one must be able to “take” control of his or her learning. For students, this is a process over time of feeling confident about decision-making and feeling recognized as capable by the education system. Only by feeling safe, accepted, valued, and challenged can students begin to make progress toward empowering themselves.
Teachers can play an important role in building this self-esteem and creating an environment in which students can begin to exercise democratic principles and empowerment. But teachers, too, must feel empowered before they have the confidence to “hand over the keys” to students to drive their own educations. Without teachers having the confidence to give up the need to control all aspects of learning, students cannot try and fail and succeed. Both failure and success build learning confidence. Knowing that failure is a temporary step toward success can increase a learner’s risk-taking. As students move toward accepting responsibility for their own learning, they become more empowered. To fully understand how all of this must work together, it is important to look at the systemic influences that play a part in the empowerment of various members of a educational institution organization. Empowered teachers are in the best position to empower students because they can effect change not only in their classrooms, but in the educational institution.
Empowerment is a process by which people gain control over their lives…a participation with others to achieve goals, an effort to gain access to resources, and some critical understanding of the sociopolitical environment. Simply desiring power and declaring self-governance does not make an empowered teacher. Teachers must first understand that there are different elements of power that come into play, and knowledge of the system is one. Most studies of educational empowerment focus on psychological empowerment as a goal for both teachers and students. This is an individual’s sense of control or the belief that one can influence important aspects of one’s environment. It includes a sense of having the motivation to exert self-control and a critical understanding of the setting. This enables teachers to effectively exert influence where it will make the most difference.
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