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Posts Tagged ‘empowerment

Telling people they must “social distance” in the age of COVID-19 is an important but abstract message. It does not tell describe the ease of infection and the consequence of not being physically apart or even isolated.

The video in the tweet above makes the abstract concept more concrete. In the realm of communication and teaching, one might say that the video “engages” because it is short and visually interesting.

I enjoyed the illustration and see how it is a means to an end, i.e., communicating effectively in a bid to change behaviours. But here is the rub — it is not enough to engage because that is about getting and holding attention.

To change behaviour, one also has to provide agency and to empower. There is far too much rhetoric on engaging our learners. There is not enough on empowering them to change, learn, and make a difference.

Agency is giving learners the opportunities to make decisions. Empowerment is enabling them to take meaningful and self-driven action.

I clarified some of my own thinking while providing feedback on some essays that focused on integrating edtech.

I found myself highlighting the importance of learner agency and empowerment. Then I wondered if there was a difference between the two. I think there is.

Agency is giving learners the opportunities to make decisions. Empowerment is enabling them to take meaningful and self-driven action.

Agency is giving learners the opportunities to make decisions. Empowerment is enabling them to take meaningful and self-driven action.

A basic prerequisite of learning is attention. If the attention of students is not on an activity or an experience, they are unlikely to learn from it.

If they are not dedicating one or more sense-gathering processes, there is nothing to post-process. Put plainly, if students are not watching a video closely or listening carefully to instructions, they are unlikely to benefit from a learning activity.

Now that scenario presumes a teacher-led classroom. This is a fair assumption to make as most classrooms are designed for teaching. If they were designed for learning, students might be able to conduct independent work or use other resources to learn.

So back to attention.

When you want students to pay attention, you try your best to engage them. But if you want students to give attention, you need to empower them. Therein lies a fundamental difference between teaching that is largely delivery-oriented and facilitating from a meddler-in-the-middle.

Today I link a tweet and a YouTube video that I discovered last week.

Aaron Duff declared this on Twitter:

Yoda said this near the end of a new animated short:

Learn your should, from your Master. But take what you learn and make it your own, you must.

Video source

Both speak of empowering learners and creating real ownership of the learning process and products. The reductive statements are powerful, but easy to make.

Far more difficult is the daily and long-term process of HOW to do these. But this does not make the statements about empowerment and ownership any less relevant.

Now if only more teachers made the mantra of learner empowerment and ownership their own…

As I was grading the work of future instructors, this saying came up a few times: A picture paints a thousand words.

What they meant: Go beyond text and provide richer media like photos or videos because these can say much more.

I concur, but I also commented: There are also a thousand different messages and interpretations of the same image.

If you take only a teacher’s perspective, you see the need to engage with media that attract and hold the attention of students. The rationale might be: I cannot say so much in so little time, so I want to let the medium do it for me.

I use the learner’s point of view. What would a learner think or say? How many variants are there from one expected answer? Which of the interpretations are creative, critical, both creative and critical, superficial, non-sensical, etc.?

I use this CC-licensed image in various ways. One is to illustrate the importance of communication during systemic or organisational change.

The image never fails to get a variety of responses. There are often as many different interpretations as there are people in the room. Some focus on individuals, others on two or all three. Yet others comment on the expressions, orientation, gender, or even the lack of colour in the photo.

An image can paint a thousand words. But whose words do they belong to? Only the teacher who seeks to engage or also the students who are empowered?

Mention systemic or organisational change in schools and you will invariably hear a few phrases like taking baby steps, involving stakeholders, and creating buy-in.

These and other practices are critical to making change that is actually worthwhile and effective. However, the change processes often have unspoken assumptions. For example, I unpacked what is wrong with taking baby steps.

Today, I focus on buy-in.

Creating buy-in among stakeholders of change is important because if they are not aware of the need or do not believe in the change, the effort is doomed from the start.

However, it is not enough to simply create buy-in. Buy-in is a state of mind. It is about understanding what the change is, projecting possibilities, and deciding to be associated with it.

The message to buy into can sometimes remain someone else’s property. Stakeholders may understand the rationale for change, but still think “This is not really our problem or that is your solution!”

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being.

What is missing is ownership. Ownership is a state of being. It is a sense of belonging.

Creating this type of ownership is less traditionally top-down and more socially bottom-up. Depending on the structure of organisation, ownership can also be generated middle-up-and-down by an empowered group that deeply understands both ends.

Creating buy-in tends to be associated with the process of communicating change. It typically involves engaging stakeholders at the early phase of change efforts.

However, ownership is about articulating change. It is not only about connecting with stakeholders, but also moving them and empowering them to take action. Creating ownership is a continuous, multi-phase process.

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being. It is far more important and effective to create ownership of change.

This visual practically speaks for itself. Where it does not might be the belief system of teachers or educators.

As good as their intentions might be, teachers who want to engage their learners might be focusing on teacher needs. I need you to pay attention, I wish you would be interested in this boring topic, I want you to learn this.

Compare this to educators who take a different stance of creating and nurturing the need to learn amongst their students. The focus is questions that drive learning. Why is this important? How does this help me today and tomorrow? What do I have to do to learn this?

Large systems trying to change are like the Titanic trying to avoid icebergs. It is hard to change direction especially when trouble is spotted at the last minute.

As a servant-leader of a large system until recently, I am fully aware of what this means and how people react in their bid to control or to survive.

After leaving that system, I am still seeing mistakes of Titanic proportions in various places. Here are two quick stories.

deal or no deal by fudj, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  fudj 

I could have been at a conference overseas today to share my experiences with a thirsty audience. But I chose not to go on principle.

I was invited to present at this conference. To sweeten the deal, the organizers sent an information brief that stated how airfare, accommodation, and an honorarium would be provided.

I suggested how I might contribute and a representative expressed interest and said she would check with the higher ups. In the meantime, I sought clarification about how they would pay for the trip.

After some to-ing and fro-ing, the representative told me that what I offered to share was valuable, but I had to pay for the airfare. I declined because that was not the original deal.

The representative from the organization could have been empowered to rectify a mistake or to make decisions that would have benefitted the organization. Instead they chose to save some money.

This is like crew of the Titanic detecting trouble in the water and realizing that communications were garbled. But they stuck with policy or what they thought was policy.

On Saturday, I received a message informing me that I was needed as a consultant on an urgent report. What the organization needed were my network of contacts and information (data, readings, evidence) that I might have collected over the last few years.

I also found out that the report was due on Wednesday, so I made myself available on Tuesday to help. I asked that paperwork to bring me in as a consultant be done by Monday.

Better late than never, right? Wrong. Their answer was never. I did not get a call on Monday, and when Tuesday rolled around, I had to initiate a message only to be told that there was no time to bring me in.

In this case, a component of the system reacted to an event too slowly. This is like crew on the Titanic detecting icebergs very late.

One might ask if the crew had an active sensing system so they could see icebergs far ahead. This makes for good strategy given how ocean liners cannot turn on a dime.

Failing that and being confronted with the inevitable crashing into the iceberg, the situation then entered “panic stations” mode. People go on instincts, but such instincts are not always good especially if they have been culturally shaped by an organization bred on maintaining the status quo.

One person had the sense to ask someone with the time, calm, and clarity of vision to help. I have a feeling that an administrative process and/or person said not to take it.

Why do systems take so long to change?

Its people are not set up to actively sense changes nor empowered to implement decisions. To do this requires individuals to think systemically.

A conference PR person needs to evaluate the reputational cost to an organization of turning a valuable asset away. An administrative staff member needs to see why an academic staff needs to outsource help. The academic staff needs to see why administrative staff need time to wade through bureaucracy.

Most systems set up their workers in horizontal silos. They are also stratified vertically in terms of leaders and followers. In their bid to be less stratified, some organizations flatten structure and combine silos. But if this is an administrative exercise and not one to enable sensing, communication, and empowerment, that system will not change.

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