Teacher empowerment

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  • According to Teacher Empowerment (2002), Bolin (1989, p. 82) defined teacher empowerment as 'investing teachers with the right to participate in the determination of school goals and policies and to exercise professional judgment about what and how to teach.'

See also empowerment for generic more operational definitions.

Empowerment and educational reform

Empowerment seems to be strongly correlated with task motivation. A empirical study by Dee et al, (2003) based on Spreitzer's definition of empowerment demonstrated that empowered teachers showed higher levels of organizational commitment. The "meaning", "self-determination", and "impact" dimensions, and the total empowerment score had positive effects on teachers' level of commitment to the school. Therefore one can claim that in order to engage teachers in pedagogical reform one must give them some control over their own work and let them influence the reform process. It also means that "fake empowerment" strategies will lead to bad outcomes. (see the Baruch empowerment model.)

Dee et al (2003) showed that “that teamwork may differentiate empowering and non-empowering site-based management. School leaders, interested in developing a personal strategy to enable teacher empowerment, should devise ways to model empowered behaviors for teachers, to encourage co-operative behaviors among teachers and, most importantly, to demonstrate firm trust in school personnel (Henkin and Dee, 2001).”

The same study led to the conclusion that “Empowered teachers with increased task motivation, enhanced feelings of meaning, and strong organizational commitment are the foundation of a dynamic school technology. Schools can create the conditions in which teachers, as empowered actors, can freely exercise their expert judgment, deal effectively with non-routine challenges, change social structures and, in turn, depend on changed structures for self-advancement (Etzioni, 1968). Collaborative social structures, including self-managed teams, can serve as vehicles through which the goals of education professionals and schools are achieved.”

Empowerment in education technology

We can formulate the hypothesis that:

  • Teachers must have control over the choice technology they want to use in the classroom.
  • Teachers must have control over the software itself, i.e. be able to adapt it to there needs. One solution is to provide teachers with "half-baked" tools. See also the the discussion on cognitive artifacts, cognitive tools and the task environment

These issues are related to change management issues. Kynigos (2004) claims that “the design, development and user-support of empowering computational media should be viewed as a continuing effort to build social change architectures, rather than single R&D projects. We suggest that this can only be done through the development and preservation of hybrid communities across organizations"”.


“When teachers are not given a say in how the technology might reshape schools, computers are merely souped-up typewriters and classrooms continue to run much as they did a generation ago.” (Cuban, 2003).

Software does not per se empower teachers. It does seem to Daniel K. Schneider that the long history of educational technology shows that there is some successful technology in schools, e.g.

  • Tools to learn with the computer, mostly writing tools that allow to engage students in activities that lead to some kind of products. Some teachers may implicitly or explicitly use more sophisticated instructional design models like the knowledge-building community model, writing-to-learn, community of inquiry model), etc. but mostly it's about writing text, drawing and maybe making presentations.
  • Simple organizing and support tools like forums
  • Simple tools that just support one kind of learner activity, e.g. occasionally a CBT or CBL tool given to specific students.
  • presentation and demonstration tools for the teacher.

This is not much and we we agree with Becker (2001) that “frequent use of computers by middle and high school teachers and their students in math, science, social studies, and English is, as Larry Cuban argues, still very much a rare phenomenon”. Also, it seems that teachers you really use computers seem to prefer in-classroom use (vs. lab use) and out of school use (for homework).

More sophisticated software like microworlds (including simulations) didn't have a lot of success, despite that fact most of these environments are open to end-user programming. We may put forward the hypothesis that expressive digital media must be simple and conversely that some simple software can be enabling.

“Although computers in schools by now number over 10 million, frequent student experiences with school computers occur primarily in four contexts--separate courses in computer education, pre-occupational preparation in business and vocational education, various exploratory uses in elementary school classes, and the use of word processing software for students to present work to their teachers.” (Becker, 2000).

Most popular software used to scaffold learning seems to be simple software and software for "writing" (by both teachers and students). E.g.:

  • 80's: Word processor
  • 90's: HTML editors and simple multimedia production tools (including presentation software).
  • Early/mid 2000's: Simple social software like Blogs, wikis,
  • Late 2000s: Maybe mashups like webtops or C3MS portals (if the turn out to be simple to install and to use).

This is quite interesting, because there is a slight technical difference between word processors and Internet writing tools. In particular, social software does change how student productions can be used in class. Becker (2000:28) found that “the teachers who have students use non-skills-oriented computer software in academic classes have fairly distinctive teaching philosophies, being disproportionately supportive of constructivist pedagogies such as developing student responsibility for selecting and carrying out learning tasks, emphasizing group work involving discourse, and the use of projects, products, and performances for outside audiences.” An other interesting finding from this study was that “when constructivist-oriented teachers in addition have sufficient resources in their classroom (i.e., clusters of 5 or more computers in a typical sized class) and have come to have a reasonable level of experience and skill in using computers themselves, a majority of such teachers will have their students make active and regular use of computers during their class period.” (Becker 2000: 29).

Finally, as many authors point out - e.g. Cuban, Kirkpatrick and Peck, 2001:828) - computers don't work. “Teachers also said that the technology itself is unreliable and they expressed deep ambivalence about powerful machines that often broke down.”. One of the reasons why access to Internet activities are increasingly popular may be simply that all one needs is a web browser. This may lead us to speculate that web 2.0 applications may encounter somewhat better success, than stand-alone applications did. However this requires that teacher's can trust these services to remain alive and stable.

In conclusion we may speculate that computer empowered teachers:

  • do have an appropriate infrastructure (at least 5 computers in class that work)
  • use technology they master (so it must be simple and simple to install)
  • use writing technology
  • use pedagogical strategies where computers are productive.

Of course specialized professional tools, i.e. skills tools one should master in order to progress with a given subject matter is also popular, e.g. spreadsheets or statistics software. In some contexts, ICT as subject may even be dominant. In a larger survey of US schools, Becker (2000:28) found that “most in-class use of computers occurs as part of separate skills-based instruction about computers, in occupationally-oriented courses such as business and vocational education”. Therefore, one has to think about how to use these tools as cognitive tools or combined with such tools.



  • Becker, Henry Jay (2000). Findings from the Teaching, Learning, and Computing Survey: Is Larry Cuban Right?, Revision of a paper written for the January, 2000 School Technology Leadership Conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, D.C. PDF . Also in Education Policy Analysis Archives, v8 n51 2000 HTML.
  • Becker, Henry Jay (2001), How Are Teachers Using Computers in Instruction?, Paper presented at the 2001 Meetings of the American Educational Research Association PDF
    • Teaching, Learning, and Computing (TLC) is a national survey of more than 4,000 teachers from grades 4-12 conducted in Spring, 1998, under a grant from the National Science Foundation with funds also provided by the Field-Initiated Studies program of the U.S. Department of Education's O.E.R.I.
  • Bolin, F. S. (1989). Empowering Leadership. Teachers College Record, 19(1), 81-96.
  • Cuban, Larry; Kirkpatrick, Heather; Peck, Craig (2001). High Access and Low Use of Technologies in High School Classrooms: Explaining an Apparent Paradox. American Educational Research Journal, v38 n4 p813-34 ([PDF]
  • Cuban, Larry (2003). Oversold and Underused, Computers in the Classroom, Harward University Press.
  • Dee, Jay R., Alan B. Henkin, Lee Duemer (2003). Structural antecedents and psychological correlates of teacher empowerment", Journal of Educational Administration, Volume 41 Number 3 pp. 257-277, ISSN 0957-8234
  • Etzioni, A. (1968), The Active Society, The Free Press, New York, NY, .
  • Henkin, A., Dee, J. (2001), "The power of trust: teams and collective action in self-managed schools", Journal of School Leadership, Vol. 11 No.1, pp.47-60.
  • Kynigos, C. (2004). A 'Black-and-White Box' approach to user empowerment with component computing, Interactive Learning Environments, 12 (1-2) 27-71.
  • Keiser, N. M. & Shen, J. (2000). Principals' and teachers' perceptions of teacher empowerment. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(3).
  • Spreitzer, G. (1992), "When organizations dare: the dynamics of organizational empowerment in the workplace" .
  • Spreitzer, G. (1995), "Psychological empowerment in the workplace: dimensions, measurement and validation", Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 38 No.5, pp.1442-65.
  • Teacher Empowerment, 2002 Leadership Discoveries, OSU Leardership Center, Word retrieved 15:18, 3 June 2006 (MEST)
  • Thomas, K., Velthouse, B. (1990), "Cognitive elements of empowerment: an interpretive model of intrinsic task motivation", Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 15 No.4, pp.666-81.
  • Wilson, John R. Empowering Environments, HTML