The Timespan and Impact of Empowerment

    “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo
    The word “engagement” has been one that has been a focus of schools for as long as I can remember, as both a student and educator.  It is often written in goals, plans, and objectives of all that we want to do  in education. But is it truly enough?
    Bill Ferriter really pushed my thinking years ago with his thinking on the notion of focusing more on “empowering students”, over simply finding ways for them to be engaged. Here is some of his thinking below:
    Do phrases like ” we need to engage our students” and “the first step towards motivating kids is building buy in” hint at dysfunctional power relationship between students and teachers?  Are they just further evidence of our reluctance to give students the chance to own their own learning?  When we see engaging students as our ultimate goal, are we somehow suggesting that teachers are the only ones that can determine topics worth exploring?

    I have also been thinking about the potential impact of each word and the “shelf-life” of each.  When I think of the word “engagement”, it seems to connect more to the moment you or the learner is in at that time.  Yet when I think of “empowerment”, it feels that this could last long after your time with students.  The student that is passionate about a cause, exploring an idea, or sharing their voice is not only engaged, but something much more.
    If we want to think about our impact long-term with students, engagement just seems to be a lower bar than what we should be trying to achieve.  A student does not have to feel empowered if they are engaged, but if they are empowered, engagement will also be evident and more likely to create a deeper sense of “flow”.   The learning that goes along with empowerment will be so much deeper and longer lasting.
    Empowered learners are the ones more likely to change the world.


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