The idea of empowerment of teachers is not something new, it seems it has been a topic since I began in the profession many years ago. It has, however, taken on a new face and is being supported by new voices. But what exactly is empowerment?
In looking for definitions of the word ‘empowerment’ I found these: ‘giving someone more control over their life or situation’ (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English) ‘the process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you’ (Cambridge Dictionary) and ‘the process of becoming stronger and more confident in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights’ (Oxford English Dictionary). What is interesting about these definitions is that, although the goal in the end is the same (having more control) the way one gets there is different. I suspect that in many ways, both concepts are true. Teachers are empowered to teach, many of us have the power to decide which materials we will use or least how we will use them; we have a certain amount of power in our classrooms, we can decide who to call on and when; and, in some cases, have a voice in setting curriculum, tests, and so on. However, we also have to be given the power by those we work with, work for as well as by the communities in which we carry out our jobs even as we work at the process of gaining the power and freedom to do so on our own.
It seems that there has been quite a bit of discussion on the topic over the last few years and the second two definitions are the ones getting the most traction. I see this very positively and fully support anyone going through a process of becoming stronger and more confident in order to control their life and lay a claim to their rights. Although it can be done alone, it seems that when we reach out to others and offer a helping hand this reinforces the idea that we are all in this together.
For this reason I feel that we can only truly empower ourselves when we help others around us to gain the freedom and confidence they need to feel empowered. By coming together and sharing ideas, the concept of empowerment can more easily spread throughout our environment and the field we work in. I have always believed that we are all stronger when we lift each other up rather than doing the opposite. For me, the goal is to create a situation in which empowerment of one person leads to empowerment of another without pitting one group of professionals against another. Feeling that all of us are on the same side is one of the reasons I am still engaged and enthusiastic about what I do after close to forty years of teaching. I also feel very lucky that I have been in the situation to encourage and help others through my various roles as a teacher, a mentor, an author and volunteer in various teacher associations. My hope would be to see the concept of empowerment spread throughout ELT in ways in which the myriad groups support and help each other so that we all can achieve the best outcomes for ourselves, our learners, our colleagues and our community.