Empowerment: Learning to Take Action in School Settings

Empowerment has been defined as “a belief in power of people to be both masters of their own fate and involved in the life of their communities” (Rappaport, 1987, p. 142).

Pearrow and Pollock (2009) believe that empowerment of students is a critical role of the school consultant. Consultants are frequently brought into a school system to address possible missing services, working within all levels of the school administration and by definition have the ability to play the role of the facilitator.

Not only can school consultants act as mouth pieces for the need of empowerment in a school system, they have the unique position of being able to bend a ear of the powers at be which allows them to be “facilitators of systemic change to enable empowerment ideal to flourish” (p. 48).

Once empowerment is recognized as needed (administration, staff and school board) the school consultation can provide members of the school community with knowledge and skills to think critically about the issues in their system and to develop strategies to act on and change problems.

Nastasi (2005) notes that empowerment can go beyond just the students and school consultants and can turn into ways to “promote both empowerment of families as they advocate for their children’s education and responsiveness of school personnel to family advocacy and participation” (p.114).

Teen Empowerment

Pearrow and Pollock (2009) discuss a particular empowerment program called Teen Empowerment (TE). The program is used in many schools in urban settings to guide youth to critically examine the social issues in the schools and community and to eventually take action to improve their lives related to those issues.

The basic premise and heart of the program is that everyone is heard and group members have been schooled to develop relationships that listen.

Students are recruited from the student body and through a referral and interview process, students demonstrate their leadership skills and ability to articulate their thoughts on problems related to their school and community.

After being selected students go through a rigorous training regiment to be regarded as youth organizers. School consultants and assistants take the students through a seven step process of training:
• relationship building and project purpose;
• prioritizing issues;
• considering action steps;
• choosing the initial action step and creating a tentative timeline;
• begin the TE 10 step planning process;
• orientation to feed ack skills
• feedback/consulting session.

After initial training, the youth organizers meet once a week to implement a Behavior Contract System which consists of:
• introduction (review of day’s agenda)
• warm-up question (highlight of group’s work that needs to be addressed;
• springboard exercise (highlight of a social concern in school or community discussed
• work section (planning out logistics of to carry out chosen strategy)
• summation.

The TE program offers challenging opportunities for young people to work for positive social change. It is as Pearrow and Pollock (2009) describe a “process that promotes social justice with a call to activism with strategies to support social change at the sociopolitical and institutional levels (p. 54).

Empowerment: Learning to Take Action in School Settings