At our last Tumbleweed staff workshop, we spent three hours processing about Empowerment! We have a lot to say... And surely we will need a few more posts to go into more detail and show the applications and implications of this work, but here's a start:
First, most definitions about empowerment are something like, "to give power to." As general fans of intrinsic motivation and such, we like to feel like empowerment can be a much more active process (versus something that needs to be given to us)--that each of us can take empowerment into our own hands!
What we discovered about our views on empowerment via our own experiences:
Empowerment, to us, is a state of being in which we realize our own abilities.
One teacher talked about being in school and how she felt autonomous and competent in her classes. Another described the moment she realized that authorial intent (in literature, but metaphorically elsewhere as well) doesn't matter and how she was able to release anxiety and focus more on creating her own meaning. Another talked about that moment when she is able to contribute--to learning, to growth--because of her own experiences and knowledge. Another told of when she realized that just because she hadn't done something before didn't mean that she couldn't, and that she had the ability to change her own perspective about experiences in order to approach them in a way that better supported her potential for success. Another talked about running and the process of setting and meeting goals that at first seemed unimaginable. My most potent experience of empowerment was giving birth--that combination of hard-earned yet humbling pride with a sense of connectedness to other women.
We looked at our list and came to a series of conclusions about what empowerment means to us:
Empowerment, we believe, is most potent when involving risk and vulnerability.
Actually, we assert that there must be risk of failure.
When we dare to risk... when we reveal our authentic, vulnerable self... we expose ourselves to struggle. Only by taking the risk and working through the struggle are we able to discover our own potential!
On a small tangent: We found that any situation that challenges our identity, touches on something to which we have a strong emotional attachment, or threatens our ego is ripe for empowerment potential. The greater degree of passion we feel about something, the greater opportunity (and potential challenge) for empowerment.
Success is NOT necessary!
Our risks sometimes result in failures! AND YET: those failures inevitably lead to further opportunities for adaptations, more risk, more struggle, more growth, and empowerment... When we embrace struggle and failure as useful (even necessary and surely inevitable) tools for growth, then regardless of success (however we define it for ourselves), we maximize our ability to achieve a sense of empowerment.
How can we support an environment in which children are willing to take risks, feel
vulnerable, and embrace struggle in order to maximize their sense of
empowerment? That, dear friends, will be my next post!