Mamzelle Adolphine

College/University Professor

Brooklyn, NY

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 5 Years ago
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Empowerment Is Still Key


Just as flour strengthens the base of pastries and breads, empowerment lays a solid foundation for building strong buy-in, which promotes continuous improvement.

Empowerment was a prominent business management strategy during the 1980s and 1990s. It involves the transfer of decision making authority and responsibility from management to employees (Waterman, 1987).  The premise is that when employees are given a meaningful voice in workplace decisions and given interesting work, motivation and productivity increases (McGregor, 1990).  Additionally, it is argued that worker’s proximity to their work make them better able to effect work improvements than managers who are not directly involved in workers’ tasks (Bass & Shackleton,1979).   

School reform measures have included empowerment in the form of School Based Management/School Empowerment, which gives educators at the school level greater decision making in exchange for greater accountability.  A recent example that denotes this exchange is the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers states have received allowing them to decide how to meet required standards.  However, calls “to let teachers teach,” such as those voiced by Mike Feinberg and the top down high-stakes testing requirements that schools are asked to adhere to, suggest that there is a need to move beyond having “empowerment initiatives” to implementing initiatives that truly empower (Wilkerson, 1998).  The increased focus on accountability provides a good opportunity to do this.

Though there is no consensus on the effectiveness of high-stakes standardized testing to promote student learning, it is widely held that emphasis on these tests results in cheating, admission restriction of low-performing students, the lowing of the passing grade, a narrowing of content covered which prevents the acquisition and continued development of skills such as problem solving and critical thinking (Falk 1996; McNail 2000; Lashway 2001, Ravitch 2010).  These occurrences point to the need for another course of action: the development of an assessment cache that constitutes a balance mix of standardized tests and teacher assessments (Volante and Jaafar, 2010).

The Learning-Focused Accountability (LFA) approach, recommended by Volante and Jaafar is worth exploring. With this approach, teachers’ ability to effectively promote transfer of learning and show student demonstration of authentic learning are emphasized. An integral aspect of this strategy is the recognition that teachers are unlikely to truly embrace the use of assessment results when they are not involved in the development and interpretation of same. This corresponds with Waterman’s view that “the person doing the job knows far better than anyone else the best way of doing that job and therefore is the one person best fitted to improve it” (74). 

A balance mix of standardized tests and teacher assessment necessitates the need for teacher training in assessment literacy so that teachers can develop appropriate assessments.  Here too, empowerment is essential.  Assessment literacy training must be based on informed needs via participative decision making, which Ford (1995) states enables workers to make and execute decisions about both work tasks and organizational planning.  Hence, principals need to have conversations with teachers to (a) find out what they already know, (b) find out what they need to know and (c) find out how they think they can go about attaining what they need to know.  Professional development is then tailored to meet these needs.  And, outcomes of what teachers know, learned and how they used the learning acquired to improve student performance can be employed to hold them accountable. 

Failure to consult teachers about their training needs is one of the major reasons why schools’ professional development offerings remain a hodgepodge affair.  When teachers are not consulted about what they already know, schools miss the opportunity to tap into their craft-knowledge which is a valid source of knowledge-based practices (Burney, 2004) to build teacher capacity and to help sustain school improvement efforts (Dufour, 2004).

Taping into and building human capacity has always been and continues to be the most essential ingredient for organizational success.  Empowerment is key to unlocking and sustaining this success.

Works Cited:



Bass, B. M., & Shackleton, V. J. (1979). Industrial democracy and participative management: A

case for synthesis. The Academy of Management Review, 4(3), 393-404.


Burney, Deanna. (2004). The best staff development is in the workplace, not in a workshop. Journal of Staff Development, 25 (2).

Dufour, Rick. (2004). Craft Knowledge:  The road to transforming schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(7). 526-531.

Falk, B (1996). Issues in designing a Learner-Centered assessment system in New York State: Balancing reliability with flexibility, authenticity and consequential validity.  American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.

Ford, R. C., & Fottler, M. D. (1995). Brains, heart, courage: Keys to empowerment and self-

directed leadership. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 9(2), 17-22. 

Jaafar, S; Volante, L. (2010). Assessment reform and the case for learning-focused

accountability. The Journal of Educational Thought. 44(2). 167.


McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise. New York: McGrawhill Book Company.


McNail, L. (2000).  Contradictions of school reform:  Educational cost of standardized testing. New York, Routledge.

Ravitch, D. (2010).  The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education.  New York: Basic Books.

Wilkinson, A. (1998). Empowerment: Theory and practice. Personnel Review, 27(1), 40-56. 

Waterman, R. H. (1987). The renewal factor. United States: Bantam.


1 Comment

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02 Nov 12, 05:14 PM

Hi Mamzelle, I came across this article as I was surfing the web for some interesting blogs to post a comment to. I love this article. I am not in the educational environment. I am a consulting in HR at a a manufacturing company. I am responsible for managing the operations process for our associate engagement program. We use the Gallup Q12. There is one particular questions on the survey that speaks to the power of employees feeling empowered to share their ideas and that is Q7, At work, my opinion seems to count. Gallup says associates/employees that can share in the decision of the team/organization are less likely to leave the organization. I know this hold true for students feeling empowered in the class and having the support of their teachers are more likely to stay in school and succeed.

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