As we continue to look at the theme selected to celebrate World Teachers’ Day, the issue of empowerment comes into focus.
In order to properly execute their mandate, teachers must be able to assume a greater sense of control over their practice, given the modern imperatives of education. Empowered teachers must be free to exercise their own professional judgment without being restricted politically or academically.
This means investing teachers with the right to participate in the determination of school goals and policies, and to exercise professional judgment about what and how to teach. It means having access to information and materials and being free to use resources in a way that meets students’ needs and targets.
Empowered teachers are given the encouragement and necessary support to take risks and engage in continuous professional development while collaborating with their colleagues.
Being an empowered teacher means having enough resources and freedom to provide every student with the education they deserve. Teachers who have not yet experienced true empowerment are unable to fully personalise their teaching to suit the needs of each student. Empowered teachers are more motivated, have enhanced problem-solving skills, and teach students to themselves become empowered.
Empowerment implies shared decision-making. It ultimately translates into teacher leadership and exemplifies a paradigm shift with decisions being made by those working most closely with students rather than those at the top. It is natural that the principal should be the leader in implementing and supporting empowerment and teacher leadership.
It is important that principals create an environment conducive to empowerment, demonstrates empowerment ideals, encourages all endeavours towards empowerment and applauds empowerment success. Empowered teachers exude creative energies aimed at constant improvement. Ownership of the school becomes the prevailing thought, with attendant personalised interest.
The output of empowered teachers is significantly greater. Empowered teachers take risks and are more than often prepared to think out of the box, try new and innovative ideas and generally resent stagnation.
School goals and objectives are being constantly refined by empowered teachers, with the performance bar being pushed further and further. They exude vitality and enthusiasm, since they enjoy what they do. This in turn leads to intrinsic satisfaction.
In his 2008 report, Voices of the Teachers, Prof Ramesh Deosaran in his research on school violence and indiscipline found that teachers indicated in no uncertain terms that they feel powerless and without the necessary authority to deal with delinquent students in their schools.
They recommended that the relevant authorities take the necessary steps to empower teachers to be teachers and to take control of their classrooms. This would seem to imply changes to the regime of teacher preparation and school administration.
They further recommended that there should be constant consultations between the Ministry of Education and teachers before major decisions on school management and other education programmes are undertaken. Recognising that each school is different, with its unique culture and mandate, each school should be treated from that unique perspective.
Unfortunately, to many in authority, empowering subordinates means relinquishing power themselves. This threatens their ability to exercise control and thus they hug power for fear of being vulnerable. Insecure leaders do that, not recognising that the more power you consciously relinquish the more moral authority is reposed in you. Implicit in the exercise of professional autonomy is the desire to empower oneself. Empowerment is sometimes not desired by many, since it implies one’s readiness to assume responsibility for one’s actions. It implies accountability, something that a lot of us shun. It is easier to blame someone else when something goes wrong than to admit one’s culpability.