Journal of Nursing Education

Empowerment Through Teaching

Pamela S Chally, PhD, RN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Empowerment through teaching is built on the feminist belief that successful and effective teaching is a cointentional process, emerging from meaningful connections between students and faculty. Empowerment results from teaching characterized by caring, commitment, creativity, interaction, and a recognition of the humanity of both teacher and students. Teaching is conceptualized as a directional process emerging from the energy of both student and teacher. There must be continued, intense, and frequent exchange of these energies. The tools that students and teacher must possess or acquire for empowerment include positive self-concept, creativity, resources, information, and support. This perspective permits a new understanding of teaching that results in empowerment of both parties involved in the process of learning.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Empowerment through teaching is built on the feminist belief that successful and effective teaching is a cointentional process, emerging from meaningful connections between students and faculty. Empowerment results from teaching characterized by caring, commitment, creativity, interaction, and a recognition of the humanity of both teacher and students. Teaching is conceptualized as a directional process emerging from the energy of both student and teacher. There must be continued, intense, and frequent exchange of these energies. The tools that students and teacher must possess or acquire for empowerment include positive self-concept, creativity, resources, information, and support. This perspective permits a new understanding of teaching that results in empowerment of both parties involved in the process of learning.

Background

To a great extent, teaching has been dependent on the prevailing patriarchal world view of power and leadership. In this view, the teacher was endued with power and the student submitted to that power. Students were required to follow the teacher's directions to the letter. If they vacillated a punishment ensued - either a poor grade was received or the student became the subject of abuse and/or ridicule. Obethence was of utmost importance. The student forced to sit in the corner and wear a dunce cap certainly reinforces this impression.

Nursing education, also subscribing to a patriarchal world view, has been metaphorically likened to military training. The student, like the military recruit, was viewed as powerless. The metaphor was used to engender trained nurses possessing qualities of good soldiers (Reverby, 1987; Window; 1984), i.e., loyalty and obethence. The imagery was not subtle. A passage from a 1929 book on nursing ethics illustrates:

[An] excellent help to self devotion is the love a nurse has for the stern strife of her constant battle with sickness . . . The stern joy which warriors feel, in foemen worthy of their steel, should inspirit the valiant heart of the nurse as it does the heart of the brave soldier who bears long night watches, weary marches, dangerous battles, for the love of the conflict and keen hope of victory. The soldier in a just war is upheld by this keen joy of battle. So will the nurse be spurred on to devotion by the love of conflict with disease (Garsche, 1929, p. 189).

This is a forceful metaphor that is hard to apply to humanistic nursing education. Nurses were trained for long hours of night duty, weary trudging up and down halls, obeying physicians' orders, and so on. I have never met an empowered young man or woman who was in the midst of boot camp. Neither do the stories I hear or read concerning early nursing education present the ideal of empowered young women ready to meet any challenge. Instead the image of blind obethence lingers.

At times, we still continue the military metaphor in nursing education. The uniform is a minor example (Winslow, 1984). Conformity to established standards of dress remains highly valued in our profession. As a further example, insignia pins are added to uniforms when nurses progress up the ranks. We give students assignments that require long, dreary night duty to prepare them for the battle of clinical the next day. When we discuss desirable changes in our educational system, the term frequently used is "revolution," suggesting that we intend to overthrow established methods just as American colonists revolted with military strength.

A further example of nursing education's tendency to expound a patriarchal world view is our link with the Tyler (1950) behaviorist curriculum model. This model maintains that all curriculum development must result in prescribed outcomes and include a philosophy, conceptual framework, behaviorally defined measurable objectives on numerous levels (program, level, course, and unit), learning activities, and evaluation of learning according to the behavioral objectives. The teacher strives toward a teacherdefined goal, molding students into preconceived standards. The end product of such a system is a teacherdefined product, obscuring any student goals.

Figure. The model is an adaptation of the Leadership Through Empowerment Model (Scott et al., 1990).

Figure. The model is an adaptation of the Leadership Through Empowerment Model (Scott et al., 1990).

Bevis (1988) believed that behavioral objectives have attempted to make the essentially creative activity of teaching scientific, and therefore have limited the teaching of nursing to the technical realm. A class guided by the behaviorist model primarily contains teacher-selected content and discourages interaction unrelated to prescribed objectives. The teacher controls two thirds to three fourths of all classroom communication. When the student speaks, it is most often in response to a teacher-initiated question (King & Gerwig, 1981). The student must learn what the teacher identifies as important and regurgitate the material at the proper time. The learning that occurs must be measurable. Any additional learning is not valuable. In order to be successful, the student is forced to accept the teacher's power. In the process, teachers have failed to instill vision, meaning, and trust in their students.

There are many indications that nursing education is attempting to change. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift. Old assumptions about "power over the student* are losing their relevance and legitimacy. There is more interest and emphasis on what is important to students in their education. Nursing educators are encouraging new approaches to teaching based on modern demands (de Tornyay, 1990). Hedin (1989) asks what it is that makes the learner's eyes glitter. One cannot simply fill a student with facts and figures and then expect that individual to make critical decisions about life and death. The learning must become alive for the student. Empowerment through teaching is in keeping with this paradigm shift.

The Process

Empowerment through teaching describes a mutual process emerging out of energy from both student and teacher and moving toward the actualization of a shared vision (Scott, Parker, Davis, Chally, Alley, & Keen, 1990). Shared vision is defined as the goals that students and teacher have set for themselves in the educational experience. The teacher and students come together and subsequently empower each other toward the actualization of a shared vision. Empowerment through teaching is characterized by caring, nurturing, growth, support, and a recognition of the humanity of both teacher and students. They become allies. The process of empowerment is propelled by the mutual exchange of energies between students and teachers. The exchange of these energies is continued, intense, and frequent.

All individuals must be considered capable in this model (Figure). Therefore, students and teacher must possess, or be able to acquire, the tools necessary for empowerment. The teacher, in particular, needs to possess a unique combination of the tools for empowerment to enable him or her to inspire others to achieve a shared vision of knowledge. As the group works to achieve the vision, empowerment occurs, sparking propulsive energies toward further actualization of the shared vision. The propulsive energy enables the student to attain power.

Empowerment through teaching can manifest itself in many forms (Keen, 1988). This includes the power of possibility. Those empowered realize that possibilities are endless. Students and faculty are limited only by themselves. The power of affirmation, i.e., sharing positive messages, allows increased feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. The power of inclusion refers to power arising from coalition-building with others.

Wheeler and Chinn (1989) described the power of nurturing that respects individual circumstances and life experiences. Each participant is believed to be integral to the group. Most germane to education, however, is the power that results from knowledge. The more one knows, the more empowered one is. According to Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarale (1986) in Women's Ways of Knowing, empowerment results in constructed knowledge as self is recognized as the creator of knowledge.

A critical point occurs in this process. If effective teaching is not maintained, the teacher and students may "go off* in separate directions and the vision disintegrates. This disintegration most commonly occurs in situations where the teacher is unable to pull the group back together so that it can be nourished by the process of empowerment. Adopting a "power over" or "father knows best" attitude, or pursuing power personal concerns may cause this destruction of group cohesion and disintegration of the vision (Scott et al., 1990). Some teachers become "stuck" at this point. They become unable to sustain the shared vision and unable to lead the group toward mutual empowerment. The focus becomes the visible end product, i.e., paper, project, or final examination, rather than the accomplishments of learning. Thus, the mutual process of empowered student-teacher interaction ceases to exist.

In the presence of effective teaching, outward centrifugal energy becomes focused. Recognizing that the flow of energy toward the vision is slowing down, the teacher facilitates the development of centripetal energy or the "coming together again" of the group for resourcement. This is an important time because the empowered teacher facilitates the transformation of energies, which could potentially dissipate into kinetic, focused energies directed toward the actualization of the shared vision. As the teacher and students meet, they empower each other during a process that may vary in linear time.

Tools of Empowerment

Power remains an untapped potential unless both students and teacher are capable of effectively utilizing the tools of empowerment. The tools of empowerment are important "equipment" needed to actualize a shared vision. They include, but are not limited to: positive self-concept, creativity, resources, information, and support.

Positive self-concept

Positive self-concept is important for success in any undertaking. It is particularly critical if one is to become empowered. In order to reach an identified goal, an individual must believe that he or she is capable and worthy. Self-concept develops through a variety of experiences and relationships. The teacher generally has no control over previous life events of the students, but self-concept must be enhanced through all student-teacher interactions. A basic belief in the worth and dignity of all humans must be the basis of relationships. The teacher, of course, is also personally affected by self-concept. Teachers who feel positive about themselves are better equipped to meet the needs of others. Positive self-concept is a necessary base for empowerment.

Creativity

Creativity evolves from one's imagination and thoughts. In nursing, creativity results in spontaneous, conceptual insights welding previously learned knowledge with new material. Bevis (1989) described inquiry learning as a creative aspect of nursing effecting the development of new ideas and visions. Students learn how to "identify, clarify and categorize the problems of the discipline of nursing" (Bevis, p. 94) as the profession attempts to be responsive to society. Ideas are generated, new ways of doing things are fantasized, and different configurations of old ideas are developed. Creativity is necessary if we are to advance in the scholarly pursuits of the profession.

Resources

Resources are the assets that are needed in learning situations. Kanter (1983) included funds, space, material, and time as resources. Funds are the financial resources that sustain the activities of teaching. The employing institution supplies space in which to conduct a class, materials for effective instruction - blackboard, overhead machine, a means to produce handouts, etc.

Teachers play a significant role in having access to resources. They are knowledgeable about current literature in the field. Teachers are paid to devote time to teaching. They serve as representatives of institutions that promote learning. It is important, however, that we not forget the resources that students bring to the classroom. They bring their time as well as materials. In certain situations, the student may have more resources than the teacher.

Information

Having information is "being in the know." Numerous types of information are important to both teacher and students. Kanter (1983) identified data, technical knowledge, expertise, and political intelligence. Data and technical knowledge are somewhat related. Examples include reports, journal articles, and books. Both teacher and students have access to data and technical knowledge, although in most situations, the teacher may have more of this knowledge at his or her fingertips.

Expertise refers to expert skills or knowledge. The teacher is asked to teach certain classes because expertise has been achieved. Students also have expertise, however. Tapping a student's special knowledge, as related to class goals, may spark the beginning of empowerment for that student. Everyone appreciates being recognized for mastery of skills or knowledge. Students are certainly no different. Power comes from being recognized as a knowledgeable person. Possessing a reputation for competence in a particular area is wonderful for feelings of self-worth.

Political intelligence is another information tool of empowerment. Kanter (1983) emphasized that her use of the term "political is not in the negative sense of "backroom deal making* but rather in the positive sense that it requires campaigning, lobbying, bargaining, negotiation, caucusing, collaborating, and winning votes" (p. 216). Political intelligence might take the form of gossip, as insider information described by Diers (1979). Teachers often possess important information because of their position and experience. Such information can be powerful when cautiously and discriminatingly used in the right place and time. Peers may mistakenly view this information as "gossip," and consider it unprofessional. Knowledge of other people's motivations and concerns, as described by Diers, however, is political astuteness that is an important tool of empowerment. Chinn (1990) described GOSSIP sessions as an activity reflecting a sharing, open, and cooperative style compatible with feminists' ways.

Information is the key to empowerment through teaching. It is the main reason classes are held and students come to institutions of learning. A significant responsibility of the teacher is to give information. Yet, there are times when information-giving by a student is very pertinent and meaningful to the class, and also to the individual student.

Support

Kanter (1983) described support as endorsement, backing, approval, and legitimacy. A variety of forms of support ensure that important tasks are accomplished. Teachers give support to students through personal, specific ways - a smile, feedback on a paper, acknowledgment of frustration, revising due dates because of sick children or deadlines in other classes, or discussing an assigned reading on a one-to-one basis.

Students are also important in giving support to one another. They understand, like other friends cannot, the anxiety involved in taking a test over complicated material, or the difficulty of composing a paper according to general guidelines outlined in a syllabus. Student support for one another is important in the process of empowerment.

Students and faculty also bring their support systems with them into the learning environment. This type of support may be the most empowering of all. Endorsement, backing, approval, and legitimacy from administration, a colleague, or a family member are very precious commodities.

The tools of empowerment are vital resources. Each tool is used in different ways by individual teacher and student groups. Communicating the critical need for flexibility and creativity in exchanging and rearranging the tools of empowerment necessary to achieve learning is important. The idea should be emphasized, however, that if flexibility and creativity are not exercised, little innovative scholarship is likely to occur.

Summary

Of particular importance to empowerment through teaching is the idea that when the teacher and student work together, they are able to share a vision. The empowerment tools play an important role in fueling movement toward the connection points identified as empowerment and in sustaining that movement beyond the point of empowerment toward actualizing the shared vision.

Maraldo (1988) emphasized that every person has power potential but few use it or even know that it exists. How true this is of the student. The acknowledgment that the student has power is the beginning of limitless possibilities. Through this model of teaching, students and teacher can translate a shared vision into reality.

References

  • Belenky, M., Clinchy, B., Goldberger, N. & Tarule, J. (1986). Women's ways of knowing. New York: Basic.
  • Bevis, E.O. (1988). New directions for a new age. In Curriculum revolution: Mandate for change (pp. 27-52). New York: National League for Nursing.
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  • King, V.G., & Gerwig, N.A. (1981). Humanizing nursing education. Wakefield, MA: Nursing Resources.
  • Maraldo, P. (1988). The illusion of power. In R. Wieczorek (Ed.), Power, politics, and power in nursing. New York: Springer.
  • Reverby, S-M. (1987). Ordered to care: The dilemma of American nursing. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Scott, K., Parker, K., Davis, A., Chally, P., Alley, L., & Keen, P. (1990). The leadership through empowerment model. Unpublished manuscript.
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  • Winslow, G.R. (1984). From loyalty to advocacy: A new metaphor for nursing. Hastings Center Report, 14(3\ 32-40.
  • Wheeler, C.E., & Chinn, P.L. (1989). Peace & power: A handbook of feminist process (2nd ed.). New York: National League for Nursing.

10.3928/0148-4834-19920301-07

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