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How empowerment creates ownership ...ends government hand-outs

We can’t keep doing things status quo!

I recently went to our local elementary school for a student conference with my son. This was not your typical teacher/student/parent conference. This was an empowerment of my son to develop his own progress report and provide an overview to me of his goals and action plan. Outstanding! Amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this in the public school system. Finally, we’re moving in the right direction.

Oops, Wait a Minute

I was then encouraged to complete a survey. Great, I thought, I am being asked for my input on something that takes public schools in the right direction. Usually, I dislike surveys because they give you very little leeway to be objective.

All the survey questions were asking things relating to “how does this help you be involved as the parent?”. Well, the process was great until then. This is not about being involved as the parent. This is about being involved as the child. This is about the student being empowered as part of the decision making process to decide their own future. I mean, I understand how valuable parent involvement is but this is something very different.

There is a much bigger picture that somebody in the school (the teacher?) is obviously aware of. What happens when we encourage people to make their own decisions about things? Even when we have to point them in the right direction it is empowering? What happens if we even make the decisions for them but allow them to think that they made the decisions (or create an illusion that they made the decision). There is a real science to this that every teacher needs to learn.

Jumpstarting individuals to become more

When this happens the empowered person is then more engaged in the process and more empowered to make something of themselves. They are given a jumpstart to be something more than they might have been otherwise. they are inspired by their own involvement in the decision making process.

Is this education, you may ask? This is education at its best. But it is not just about the students. It needs to be from the top down. It must be a culture. We need to change the thinking of many educators and get the teachers that think they must control the environment in the right frame of mind …or teach them how it can be done.

Remember the key word here is not empowerment, but the feeling of empowerment. There is a science in making people feel empowered to do the right thing that involves influence and coaching in the right direction. If we go from a positive nurturing coaching environment to a minimal directive coaching approach we can eventually teach all educators to think this way.

Empowerment raises families out of poverty

Empowerment is a powerful concept. We are currently rolling out an empowerment training to our staff at my social services organization. It is actually much more than empowerment training but the main concept is to empower families to succeed. The Family Development approach was first developed at Cornell University in 1983 when its core principles were established. Claire Forest and a team from Cornell have since developed this program which is now housed out of the University of Connecticutt (UCONN) and is referred to as the Family Development Credentialing program.

The participants in the program learn, among other things, how empowerment of a family to make their own goals, together with the case worker coaching and encouraging them, can make a world of difference in their success rate and outlook. The focus on the families' strengths is emphasized and studies have since shown how they have a whole different outlook on the system that is trying to help them succeed. There is no longer as much of the stigma on being stuck in a poverty situation and being unable to pull themselves out due to everyone doing everything for them. They are empowered to do it themselves.

Creating the empowerment culture

It’s like teaching someone to ride a bike. If only a few people in the school system or government services know how to ride a bike they must be empowered to patiently coach each and every other person struggling with the new process. They must provide encouragement, nurturing and coaching. The coaching could phase out to minimal directives quickly or it could take more time and patience to help the teacher (or student) to feel empowered, depending on their learning ability.

People who feel like they made most of the decision to ride the bike; how to ride it; how quickly they learned may move on to ride bigger bikes, unicycles, motorcycles or maybe even start building bikes because they were empowered. Without empowerment and with too much nurturing it takes our children, students, and social service clients much longer to advance to a successful future.

The old system of the teacher and parent involvement and nurturing well into middle school for every student works our teachers and parents harder and provides less responsibility for the children to take ownership of their own future. The old deficit model of social services leaves client families in a mental state of expecting someone else to do the things for them that get them out of a hole. It is focused on what is wrong and being told to stop those actions or behaviors. Empowerment is focusing on what they have going for them, their goals, their potential and then encouraging them to set the goals that they have developed themselves with coaching.

Those of you that are already doing this...Thank You for doing what you are doing. I hope you continue with this concept.


"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

~ Theodore Roosevelt

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

~ General George Smith Patton, Jr.

"The beauty of empowering others is that your own power is not diminished in the process."

~ Barbara Colorose

"A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves."

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

"[As a leader,] you have to enable and empower people to make decisions independent of you. As I've learned, each person on a team is an extension of your leadership; if they feel empowered by you they will magnify your power to lead."

~ Tom Ridge

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