Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Teacher Empowerment: EXPECTO PATRONUS!

It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.  
                                            ~J.K. Rowling,  Albus Dumbledore

I've been thinking a lot about empowerment lately. This month, as part of the 3E's Blogging Collaborative, I've chosen to write about it. In the last few weeks, I've had two experiences that have contributed to my musings.  The first, an adult who is close to me while the second, a child with whom I work.  The first exchange went something like this:
           "Why do you let yourself get so upset about politics?"
           "Because it is wrong to sit by when I believe people will be hurt."
           "You're operating under the belief that you can change anything. Our voices don't change a thing."

In the second exchange, I asked a child to write a letter to an author of a book we had read that takes place during the Detroit riots of the 1960s.  As a class, we had discussed civil rights.  One of the main characters is consumed with what she can do to change the world.  We talked about this belief throughout the entire book study.  The child wrote to the author, "I loved your book, especially the character of Beverly. But I don't believe there is anything I can do to change the world." 

I have to be honest. These felt like sucker punches to the gut. And since then I've wondered, when did we become so defeated? When did we lose our voices? Can empowerment be cultivated?

So, what does it mean to be empowered?

I have my own ideas about empowerment, but I turned to the internet for some quick research. I found this on, written by Paula M. Short.  It made the most sense to me. 
Empowerment has been defined as a process whereby school participants develop the competence to take charge of their own growth and resolve their own problems. Empowered individuals believe they have the skills and knowledge to act on a situation and improve it. Empowered schools are organizations that create opportunities for competence to be developed and displayed.

So according to this, being empowered means having the confidence to act on a situation to improve it.  The prefix "em" means "cause to." So does this mean that to be empowered, something has to cause that rise of power within us? Is empowerment something that rises up from within us or is it something that can be nurtured?

Was Harry Potter an empowered individual?

When I think about the character of Harry Potter, I see him as an empowered individual.  Nothing in his rearing prior to Hogwarts developed self-confidence in skill or abilities. And yet, he had leadership "thrust" upon him and he rose to the occasion. Who cares, right? 

All educators should care. Seriously.  Harry Potter is a parable we should pay close attention to because it teaches us about activism, about small people making big impacts, it teaches us about hope, about speaking out when something is wrong. This character teaches us about empowerment. For many of our students, our wands conjure a patronus against isolation, poverty and the harsh realities of our world.  

Thinking about my own experiences, my sense of empowerment did not just rise up from within me.  I was nurtured. My accomplishments and skills were recognized and praised, and I was given opportunities to further develop them. Later in my teaching career, my self-confidence pushed me toward more experiences that empowered me. It was a snowball effect. When you think back on your own development as a person and educator, you probably see much of the same. However, one thing most of us have in common with Harry is adversity. When we face adverse situations and conquer them, our self-confidence grows. I believe that adversity has a close relationship with empowerment.

Perhaps empowerment boils down to three things.

We have to be self-reflective to know our skills and abilities.  We have to know what we're capable of in order to engage in greater risk-taking.  Empowerment often requires us to take risks.

We must believe we have influence because of our unique skills and abilities.  If the belief of influence is not there, we won't act. We are hopeless.

If we are reflective and know ourselves, and if we believe we can have influence, then we experience increased agency. We become agents of power. We act on situations and face adversity.  This is a glorious cycle, when you think about it.  Because, in facing more adversity we become more confident in our skills and influence...which empowers us even more. 

So what does this mean for educators and their students?

I have felt, for some time now, that teachers have become victims. We have lost our voices. We have listened to our government, our communities, and even our peers tell us over and over again that we are failing.  We have been forced to abandon best practices to adopt high-stakes testing preparation. Many of us have been given "scripts" from which to teach.  We have had funding yanked from public education, stakes upped, and expectations increased around moving targets. We have been blamed for the morals and characters of our students. We have been criticized at every turn. Our pensions, salaries, and benefits have been attacked, and when we protest, we've been called money-hungry and greedy. And we have listened, my friends. We have listened, and on some level, we have believed what we have been told. 

Let me ask you to reflect on this: CAN YOU EMPOWER YOUR STUDENTS WHEN YOU, YOURSELF, DON'T CLAIM YOUR OWN POWER? Our wands are broken, my friends. It's time to get out the duct tape and patch them up.  I have been complacent for years.  But after recent events in our country, I can not be complacent any longer.  My future depends on it.  And if I lose hope, my students' futures will suffer.  It is time to conjure up a patronus for the health of public education, its educators, and its students. 

Here are some ways...

  1. Become involved in your local and state governments. Whether you like it or not, teaching is political. We are state employees.
  2. Reflect on your strengths and skills. Ask yourself, "Where can I make the most impact?" Don't wait for the empowerment fairy to grace you with her stardust.
  3. Speak up at staff meetings. Share your viewpoints. Ask questions. Don't cower.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your community newspaper.
  5. Invite community members into your classroom community. Let them see and understand the importance and challenges of what we do on a daily basis.
  6. Reclaim your joy. Why did you enter the teaching field? Figure it out, and do more of whatever that is...even if it means closing your door so you can do what is right.  Do you honestly think that the umpteen millionth test prep lesson taught in isolation is going to result in stellar standardized testing data? 
  7. Support your peers. Don't engage in teacher-lounge bashing. Be kind. We are all suffering together.
  8. Celebrate your students, everyday.  Ask yourself, what lesson am I supposed to learn from this student? 
  9. Take care of YOU. You are a human being. You are NOT a victim. You have basic needs like everyone else. Fill those needs.
  10. Walk tall. Seriously. Square your shoulders. Gird your loins. Imagine yourself, wand at the ready for the dementors of our profession. BELIEVE. To be a teacher means that leadership has been thrust upon you. Accept it.
And don't forget this...never forget this:

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.
                                                             J.K. Rowling, Albus Dumbledore

Now go turn on the light with some other fantastic posts and free resources for teaching empowerment, empathy, and equity in your classroom by clicking the links below.              



  1. Another amazing post!!! I could practically hear your voice echoing from the roof tops and I loved it. And I agree. I'm glad this post is out there, and I hope as many people as possible read it and let it sink in. Go go go.

    1. Thank you, thank you! I must say it felt glorious to write it... empowering!

  2. Aside from giving some real and practical suggestions for teachers who seek empowerment, you offer proof that empowerment can be taught to our children. Far too many of us, as teachers, students, and parents, have waited for the empowerment fairy to sprinkle us with stardust. We all have that stardust within us, but as you have so brilliantly illustrated, it takes reflection, a sense of agency, and a belief that we actually have the power to make a difference.
    Thanks for some inspirational ideas and for that little nudge in the right direction. I'm dusting off my own wand, thanks to you, Wild Child!