Saturday, March 5, 2011

Let the Learning Begin!

Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, Washinton, D.C. 10-30-10
Empowered. That’s how I felt at the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear in Washington, D. C. back in October, 2010. That feeling was there again while attending the Kent Intermediate School District’s (KISD) Literacy Coaches Network (LCN) last Monday. Spending the entire day with an incredible community of professional learners is a special treat for me and I left feeling hopeful and empowered.

The theme for the afternoon session was "empowerment". As we ended our day, we watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDTalk “The Danger of One Story”. She describes the critical unintended consequences when only one story is told, including rigid stereotyping. Unfortunately, we are all vulnerable when it comes to only knowing one story about others. However, when we understand that we all have more than one story, we are empowered to make a difference. After some discussion, the facilitators posed three questions:

When do you feel empowered?
What do you do to empower yourself?
How might you empower others?

As I reflected on the first question, the answer came quite quickly. In fact, I wondered if it was too obvious: I feel empowered when I’m part of a learning community and I have a voice that’s heard and valued. To be heard and valued doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with me, or adopts my point of view, although that would be nice, but not realistic! It’s when others truly listen and validate that I have something worth sharing that I feel stronger and more confident.

The second question, “How do you empower yourself?” was certainly serendipitous! Lately, with the negative national narrative surrounding U. S. public education in general, and teachers in particular, I’ve become increasingly frustrated. This narrative, started and promoted by corporations and billionaires, exemplifies “ The Danger of One Story.”  The risk of not knowing how to empower one’s self is to become a victim. I refuse to be a victim. So a couple of weeks ago, I turned to Twitter and blogging. Though this action may seem small, maybe even inconsequential, I feel liberated and more confident. I’m now connected to a Professional Learning Network that’s global. I have a voice and am taking action. Perhaps it will lead me to discover new ways to empower myself (and others).

As I think about the third question, “How might you empower others?” I’ve been reflecting on why I joined the LCN in the first place. After being trained as a Teacher Leader during the 2004-2005 school year, I had additional duties coaching teachers in my building for three years. That experience was empowering not only for those I coached, but also for me. In 2008, coaching was eliminated in my district for a variety of reasons, and I found myself really missing the interactions and community from that experience. So, I began working on an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) in Educational Leadership at Grand Valley State University. During one of my final classes this past fall (Data Based Decision Making) I learned that KISD was forming a LCN Beginning Cohort. I jumped at the opportunity to join this network.

Empowering others comes from listening and valuing their story. Providing positive encouragement to find their own voice helps to build agency and capacity, which in turn leads to empowerment. I shared with the LCN group (and several individuals) how these two social media tools have helped me find my voice and feel empowered. I hope the enthusiasm and passion that have come as a result were conveyed and will inspire others.

So, now I’m thinking empowerment is reciprocal. The synergy created by being in a learning community is life giving and empowering, both for the self and for the other. No longer is there just one story, but many intertwined stories.

“You’ve got to do and be the message you preach and ‘walk the walk’.”  Kelly S.

“Being willing to try something together, and not being afraid to fail.”  Susie M.


  1. Kathy, This post is empowering to all. Our country--in fact, the whole world--is in the grip of a major consolidation of wealth and power. Our middle class is at risk. Our democracy is at risk. Your voice is clear. You and Dave are making important contributions. Please keep writing. Richard

  2. Richard,

    Thank you for the kind, encouraging and empowering words! The writing is proving to be harder than I thought it would be, but I am going to continue on!