It is time for teachers to be empowered to shape their work and their world, here are some approaches to achieve it!
As a Public school teacher of twelve years, I’ve always strived to be empowered in my work, seeking ways to develop my voice and give my students opportunities to experience the wider world. The more I’ve developed in this area, the more I have come to realise just how silent and disempowered many of my teaching colleagues around the world are. Since the shift into ‘Post-Pandemic’ recovery, this has become even more true, as within Australia, we have a looming teacher shortage and widespread attrition from the teaching profession, as a result of burnout and fatigue.
In 2022, Dr Keith Heggart and myself published a book entitled, ‘Empowering Teachers and Democratising Schooling: Australian Perspectives’ as a culmination of ways that teachers and academics were seeking to achieve this goal. This book built upon the important work of Jelmer Evers’ ‘ Flip the System’ series of books, which suggests teachers should be drivers of educational change and innovation, rather than the passive recipients of these changes. Though, looking across my educational environment, I saw only a few teachers who might be willing to steer the profession, for a whole range of reasons. Which led to the importance of empowerment, if we are ever to flip the system, what is required is for teachers to become more empowered, and importantly, to develop their skills to take up this mantle when the time comes.
Many highly skilled teachers are beginning to seek employment outside of teaching, but within education, as a means to become more influential and to continue to develop their skills. An education system that truly values and empowers teachers would allow teachers to pursue pathways similar to this whilst still maintaining a connection to classrooms and schools.
In my chapter within the book I explored ways that teachers can develop their skills and ways to become more empowered, as we know that confident and empowered teachers are better able to address the numerous issues within our education systems globally. This is especially important because of the poor esteem and status of teaching as a career option for young people, as an extensive survey of union leadership over multiple continents and nations found that, for significantly more than half of respondents (60% in 2015 and 69% in 2018) the teaching profession was not considered attractive by teachers in their countries.
Strategies for teacher empowerment
The simplest first strategy for empowering teachers is to promote teacher and teaching excellence wherever you see it. Nominate yourself and colleagues for teaching awards and recognition, podcast, blog, tweet and post to social media, consider making your teaching work a public, open-source endeavour - and support those doing the same to push forward teaching and teacher status.
Moving through leadership processes is another great way to have influence beyond your own classroom, and where opportunities are limited within your own system, using social media as a tool to develop leadership skills is also hugely valuable. Education systems that do this well have a leadership progression that is more of a ‘lattice than a ladder’, but if you work in a system where this is not the case, seeking opportunities beyond your school and system can also be important.
Union engagement is the safest and most reliable means to develop confidence and become empowered. Whilst many unions steer away from engaging with pedagogical debates, policy work, activism, media engagement, and professional writing opportunities are numerous within education unions of the world. Put simply, teacher voice is most powerful when it is heard in chorus, so combine your voice with those of union supporting colleagues.
A meaningful way to empower yourself as a teacher is simply to develop processes and approaches within your classroom teaching that meet the challenges and needs of your own evolving world and the society that you teach within. For many colleagues and me, the approaches we are most pursuing are those that are democratic in nature and aimed at reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of our nation. For you it might be about sustainability, addressing climate change, developing young activists and changemakers. Whatever your goal, seeking teaching approaches to best achieve this is a must for empowering yourself and raising your voice beyond your classroom.
Once you have begun to explore techniques and approaches that aim to target the societal ills that you are facing, seek every angle and avenue to share these approaches with anyone who can listen. Teaching has real potential to develop democratic and awake citizens and we should all be aiming to achieve this in our work. Once you have a teaching technique or approach to share, begin a process of refining and justifying. For me, in my work, this often has looked like making a YouTube video or hosting an online TeachMeet, then writing a short blog, then an article for an external provider, then often an academic article, and in the case of our most recent work, a published book.
Through this process of sharing, refining and improving, you begin to develop yourself as a teacher certainly, but also as a communicator, as a changemaker, a thought leader and an activist. Imagine a world where all teachers had time and space to pursue their area of excellence and expertise to this level, and to share it globally. That would be a world I would greatly want to live in, so let’s make it happen!
Empower yourself, empower your colleagues and raise your voice proudly, what you think and feel matters greatly to the success of our world.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.