Maybe you experience this same quality from room to room, but chances are you won’t. Heartbreaking isn’t it? I believe on some level ALL teachers want to be the teacher in the first scenario, but somewhere along the way, in long and short careers alike, the teachers bought into the untruth that they were not and cannot be the first-scenario teacher. Overwhelmed from mandates, parents, scripted curriculums ... all of these combine to beat them up body and spirit.
I am painfully aware that we will have to send some teachers away — in love of course — but many others CAN be restored. They need a helping hand, but it is possible to reinvigorate and empower them.
Let us define the role of the school leader and the personal responsibility each teacher must embrace on his/her way to empowerment.
The truth behind teacher empowerment is that it is cultivated. Leaders cannot impose empowerment on teachers. They can’t box it up and hand it to teachers. They cannot demand it.
So, what do leaders do?
Leaders who seek to empower teachers:
- Clearly define their vision
- Establish procedures for exploring problems
- Provide resources for professional and personal development
- Filter mandates and present expectations in alignment with their overriding vision
- Model, support, and promote time spent in activities outside of school
- Encourage teachers to seek professional partnerships and relationships beyond their building
Teachers can’t expect their school leader to give empowerment to them. It is not a gift that comes in a box. Being empowered in our classrooms is the same as being empowered in our lives. It is a decision that requires our attention. If we want it we can have it, but it requires action on the part of the teacher.
Teachers seeking to be empowered:
- Decide they will be different than the norm, the expectation, or the media hype
- Clearly define what they believe great teaching is
- Are pro-active in their personal and professional development
- Filter information against their beliefs and hold fast to their beliefs
- Focus and devote time and attention to specific goals and objectives
- Share with their colleagues
Each person has a role to play. Knowing the steps is a great beginning.
Now, let’s look at the steps in more detail. We begin with the school leader’s list.
Clearly define the vision — Clarity of vision is essential to teacher empowerment. Leaders, who are intent on cultivating empowered teachers who support the vision, must first be crystal clear about what it is. Leaders must be able to articulate the vision clearly and consistently at any given moment. When teachers know exactly what the vision is for their school and their students they are able to bring forth ideas that support it. The need for clear vision is not new, yet it remains essential. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
Establish procedures for exploring problems — Leaders who want to empower their teachers give teachers clear paths and directions on how to explore problems and devise solutions. Putting a rule in place as simple as, “Every problem must be accompanied with two solution ideas before the problem will be discussed” will shift people from “problem/complaint” mode to “solution/help” mode.
Provide resources for professional and personal development — Schools are filled with educators. That sounds so obvious, but leaders must realize this and continuously provide and support teachers in continuing their development — both professional and personal. Teachers are notorious for overworking, neglecting their families, and becoming disgruntled. Leaders who want to empower teachers realize teachers have to work on their craft as much as they work in their craft. They know that whole teachers are needed to reach whole children. They understand that education is like a Monet — the viewer (teacher) must step back to see the beauty of the work. The micro view distorts the vision.
Filter mandates and present expectations in alignment with their overriding vision — Great leaders know which messages to bring forward to the staff and how to do so. They are masters at aligning new ideas, mandates, and programs with their vision and promoting them to their teachers in such a manner. By framing every mandate in alignment with the vision, the school leader further supports one central message that teachers are continually empowered to work toward.
Model, support, and promote time spent in activities outside of school — Empowered educators are those who are able to be authentic with their students. Leaders who recognize this fact model, support, and promote time away from school. They set the expectation and example of living a full life and then bringing that passion into the school. These leaders know, “That which is without periods of rest will not endure,” Ovid.
Encourage teachers to seek professional partnerships and relationships beyond their building — In his 1937 book, “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill proposed the concept of the “Master Mind.” He wrote, “When a group of individual brains are coordinated and function in harmony, the increased energy created through that alliance, becomes available to every individual brain in the group.” This increased energy includes ideas and new thinking that are above and beyond what one mind alone can conceive. Leaders encourage and celebrate their teachers for interacting with others in their field.
Teachers share the responsibility for empowerment. Let’s examine their six steps in detail.
Decide they will be different than the “norm,” the expectation, or the media hype — Empowered teachers decide. There is gold in this simplicity that is often overlooked. To be empowered means to consciously decide what you listen to, how you perform, whether or not you honor yourself. You must decide how you show up in the world every day and what you allow in your life. Empowered teachers begin by making a decision to embrace the power to live and teach on their terms.
Clearly define what they believe great teaching is — After making their decision to live and teach on their terms, teachers need to know what their terms are. Quite often I’ve heard teachers say, “This is not right for kids.” But when I inquire, “How would you do it?” They are unable to answer. Empowered teachers know and can articulate their beliefs about what makes great teaching.
Are pro-active in their personal and professional development — Empowered teachers realize that they bring more to the table than knowledge. They bring passion, interests, curiosity, adventure, relationships and much more. They actively seek to develop themselves personally so they can authentically reach their students. Additionally, empowered teachers realize that in order to know, articulate, and act according to their professional beliefs, they must continually work on their craft. Empowered teachers love to learn.
Filter information against their beliefs and hold fast to their beliefs — Why do teachers say, “Just show me what you want me to do”? It comes from their frustration with programs, standards, mandates, etc. But empowered teachers are different. When they hear of the “next thing” they measure it against their beliefs. They decide what to embrace, how to incorporate it into their style, what to leave out, and what they have to do in order to get along. “Get along,” may sound like they give in, but an empowered decision to “go along” is different than blindly following along. These decisions can only be made by teachers who are clear in their beliefs.
Focus and devote time and attention to specific goals and objectives — Success is important to empowered teachers. They are rewarded by growth in their students. They recognize that by devoting deep attention to one aspect of their teaching, they grow in all areas. They focus deeply on one topic, activity, subject, for a while and then rotate to the next; all while juggling a full load.
Share with their colleagues — Just as the administrator knows the power of the “Master Mind,” empowered teachers find increased success and joy in collaborating with the teacher next door and teachers globally. They recognize they are only as strong as the weakest link and work to strengthen the profession.
Teacher empowerment is not as elusive as we’ve been lead to believe. These are the action steps that can be taken to move toward teacher empowerment. It is not the easy way, but it is a joyful and purposeful journey; one that leads us toward filling every classroom with a teacher who makes our hearts leap in our chests when we enter his/her classroom.