School leaders have superpowers. Not the old standards like invisibility, flight or x-ray vision, but something with more impact and longevity. Empowerment!
And as Uncle Ben says, “With great
empower ment comes great responsibility.”
Having a staff who are (and know they are) empowered to be creative, to innovate
and to have meaningful input into directing their professional learning is a two part venture. Not only do you need to set the conditions and culture for empowerment, you also need to help them believe they are empowered. It doesn’t work if you don’t have both. A staff whose leader would gladly have them demonstrate initiative but never communicates that to them is left disenfranchised. A staff who believe they are empowered but don’t have any real self-determination is delusional. If a staff has both real and perceived empowerment, there is still one more hurdle. Action! All this empowerment doesn’t mean much if it is unused.
Gradual release of responsibility needs to be followed closely by gradual acceptance of responsibility. If you’re laying it out there and nobody is picking it up, there will be a whole lot of responsibility laying around the on the floor.
There is a real difference between being empowered and feeling empowered. A school leader could have great faith in their staff, provide them meaningful opportunities to direct the school improvement plan and give them autonomy to shape their own learning. But, if that staff doesn’t feel empowered, are they? Empowerment, like so many other feelings is up to the person doing the feeling to decide whether they or not they feel it. As Natasha Mentore discovered in her recent post, if you don’t ask your staff, how will you know? It’s a tough question to ask and the answers can be even tougher to hear. If staff can’t give specific examples of genuine and purposeful opportunities where they are empowered, then maybe they don’t feel truly empowered after all.
People need to matter (and feel like they matter) and they need permission. Maybe permission isn’t the right word, but they need to know it’s OK. OK to try, to choose, to disagree and to exercise professional judgement. And because people are different, they need differentiated leadership. Leaders need know their people and use the appropriate superpower.
Visibly empower your staff. Be explicit about it.
Be an Opportunity Provider. A Reflective Questioner. A Light Shiner.