Systems dynamics and empowerment in career science teachers: a narrative theory



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Texas Tech University


Teacher empowerment plays an important and underlying role in the day-to-day conduct of schooling. Existing research has failed to give much insight in regard to what empowerment means to individual teachers, how these meanings are constructed, what events change these meanings, and whether teachers can retain a sense of empowerment in die context of changes and events that occur within and beyond the school setting.

This study focused on how fifteen career science teachers' perceptions of their empowerment, as defined by the six elements presented by Short (1992, pp. 9-14) which include decision-making, professional growth, status, self-efficacy, autonomy, and impact, have changed as a result of key events during their careers. Empowerment was chronicled through the telling of teacher stories or events in combination with a systems thinking strategy—the construction of behavior-over-time graphs.

The study found six contexts for the development of empowerment. Those included: Preparation for Instruction, Student Success, Involvement in Decision-making, Teaching Context, Collegial Relationships Within the School, and Collegial Relationships Outside the School. The study also confirmed the roles and identified the relationships of the six dimensions of empowerment as identified by Short. Although complex, nonlinear and subject to the causal loops of systems dynamics, the dimensions did, nevertheless, appear and mature in an identifiable sequence.

Autonomy appeared early as a naive sense of choice and evolved over time into a mature sense of responsible decision-making. Autonomy is the most complex and abstract of the dimensions, and most nearly mirrored empowerment itself. Decision-making had the most immediate effect on teacher empowerment as the events associated with changes in teaching context and the decisions that caused those changes caused graphs to plummet. A sense of autonomy gave "heart" to the process, allowing teachers to persist through trying circumstances. Professional growth provided the "mind." As teachers obtained more knowledge their feelings of self-efficacy increased, they were more likely to be involved in and confident in decision-making, and they increased in status and had more impact. Professional growth, self-efficacy, autonomy, and impact were associated with and grew from positive and empowering experiences and events.

Two models emerged. One identifies the two simultaneous processes of empowerment: The personal empowerment process includes self-efficacy and status. The organizational empowerment process includes autonomy, decision-making and impact. Both processes occur simultaneously although individual teacher stories may emphasize one over the other. The second model shows empowerment as a cycle with three stages of empowerment: The Initiating Phase, The Increasing Phase, and the Sustaining Phase. Although all the dimensions are present during all stages, they become increasingly complex and sophisticated, and reach maturity during the third phase.

Teachers in the study indicated theft need to be respected for their ability to act responsibly and make good decisions. The teachers exhibited remarkable resiliency in maintaining theft overall sense of empowerment with professional development providing support for the growth process.