Empowering ourselves to empower our students

tableflickramrmalik.jpg In a passionate post about school change, Chris Lehmann pondered a speech he gave in Oregon yesterday:

“I want to tell them that we have to question every single system we have in our schools. I want to tell them that everything should be on the table. All of it.”

A number of us watched his presentation via Ustream yesterday and in the chat room there was quite a bit of discussion about how to focus more on the process of learning and less on the bureacracy and status quo. We talked about how we teach the way we were taught, and wondered what it takes to “put everything on the table.”

I’ve been reading Innovation by Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot, which talks about some of the barriers teams face when trying to innovate. While I don’t believe all business-speak fits schools, some of the points the authors make about implementing change are important.

“When faced with significant change, many team members are gripped with FUD–fear, uncertainty, and doubt. . . .It means that people are frightened. They do not yet see their places in the innovative activity. They can’t visualize its success and they are unable to see how their contributions will be valued. People feel disconnected from their strengths and the new vision.”

In reading the book I’ve been pondering how we often don’t approach change in terms of “teams” in schools. Very often it’s top down, not grass-roots. What an incredible environment an administration has created when teachers feel empowered to bring in grass-roots change and propose ideas. But we often neglect to build supportive teams and communicate with those teams throughout the change process, and to be inclusive of all the stakeholders. Sounds simple, but of course in reality, in a large school, it’s highly difficult.

Carlson and Wilmot point out that for leaders, “It helps to view resistance, such as skepticism and FUD, as gifts. . . . Concerns usually have a kernel of truth that must be understood and addressed.”

The authors feel that champions(like Chris) have to listen carefully to the fears, and hear what is behind them in order to reframe the conversation.

Another significant area that Carlson and Wilmot discuss is not only the need to involve key players as I mentioned earlier, but to recognize that people want to achieve and contribute at what they do, and they want the freedom and empowerment to do it. So creating an atmosphere of good communication, respect for the talent in your building, and empowering individuals and teams to carry things forward is important.

As school leaders, librarians, technologists and administrators, how do we put our messages out there to the community in a positive, collaborative, invitational and empowering manner? SLA has provided an excellent model of how that sort of leadership not only helps one individual school and one individual body of students, but helps all of us “put everything on the table” and rethink what we do.

In his keynote “Reinventing School for the 21st Century“, podcast from Goodland Kansas in August (which I’m finally listening to this week during my morning commute), Wes Fryer asked the educators present,

“Why are you here? . . . If you’re here to positively transform the lives of children, if you’re here to make a difference every day, if you want when the children walk out of the room at the end of the day or the class period their brains to be different because of what they’ve done then stay. . . . You can change your mind today. You can choose to empower you and transform them to change the world. . . . You are tremendously powerful.”

We have to empower ourselves and others to “put everything on the table” because most of all–our children deserve the best we can do. Not what we used to do, or what we’re able to do, or what was done “to” us, but the very best we can do–the best we can create–the best we can envision.

So what next? Speak? Publish? Form teams on our campuses? Believe that we can create a grass-roots effort? Talk to our students? Form professional learning communities? Network? So many ways we are getting started!

Image credit–http://www.flickr.com/photos/22983550@N02/2349593475/

7 thoughts on “Empowering ourselves to empower our students

  1. Carolyn,

    Wonderful post! On the topic of empowerment, there is little mention of one of the key steak-holders… the students! (actually you do mention the need to talk to your students in the last paragraph).

    I wrote this in the reflection on my post linked to my name.

    Here is a statement I made, that I now stand by:


  2. Great post…and I loved the opening illustration of “everything on the table.” I listened to Wes’ podcast as well recently. It seems you have laid out lots of “what next” options and the answer may be “all of the above!”

  3. Excellent post. I agree and I am inspired. However, I always struggle with that word empower. I think your meaning –your mission–your point is strong and I agree.

    However, when you suggest we empower our students that to me says we somehow hold the power and we will dole it out to them. Or that our administrators have power they need to give to us.

    I think you were saying– that we need to give both ourselves and our students mutual freedom, and hold each other held mutually accountable. Both are thus empowered in that sense.

    I see it almost as an emancipation. We need to enable our students and step aside. We need to enable our teachers and step aside. And watch the transformational power that resides within them produce desired change.

    I see this “empowerment” really more about helping students and teacher achieve self-efficacy around their ability to produce change. That by dealing with Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot’s FUD concept and helping teachers and students realize they are indeed “tremendously powerful.”

    My early thoughts about teacher power are here.

  4. Sheryl,

    Your comments are right on, and I think you are right about the implications of the word empowerment. I love your description of enabling others and then stepping aside.

    I’m reflecting back on the quote from Wilmot and Carlson–that people want to feel like they are contributing.

    Both you and David have pointed to students as key, and I agree. Students also want to feel like they are achieving and contributing–I think something powerful is drawn from them when they feel like they are part of something significant.

    How can we change the paradigm of the school culture or the classroom so that they feel invited into being part of something significant?

  5. Do you think that this is a best promoted in a school community by Admin-to-Teacher-to-Student or Teacher-Admin-Teacher-Student or Student-Teacher-Admin-Teacher-Student?

    How do we keep moving forward with only a handful that are moving in this direction? Before it is just easier to stay the way we are.

  6. Thanks for sharing the link to the podcast.

    I have to say that I agree. Yours is a very inspirational blog post especially in that even just this sort of networking is a step in the right direction.

    What came to my mind as I read is that you answer your own rhetorical question right before you ask it. You asked “As school leaders, librarians, technologists and administrators, how do we put our messages out there to the community in a positive, collaborative, invitational and empowering manner? ” While right before you said “So creating an atmosphere of good communication, respect for the talent in your building, and empowering individuals and teams to carry things forward is important.” I believe that is exactly how we put that message out there. We model it. We respect the incredible talent around us and we support and empower the amazing individuals who are trying to do that. With those people we create the grassroots networks.
    ChrisWerley, I think we just start going forward, one person, one student, one teacher at a time. Others will join in. In that way technology is helping because of networks like this that share information. I think it is empowering. It helps that lone teacher or lone student be not alone.

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