Why Engagement is Crucial to Empowerment but Empowerment is Still the Goal

I have written about engagement and empowerment often in the last few years, and it is something that I am passionate about in education. Here are a few quick statements:

  1. Compliance in education is not something that will never be present in our school or lives (think about how you do taxes; the IRS would probably not appreciate a fancy PowerPoint), but empowerment is the end goal.
  2. Empowerment is about giving over ownership, leading your learning, and helping those we serve to find their path.
  3. Engagement is crucial to empowerment but here is a way that I separate the two; you can be engaged but it doesn’t mean you are empowered, but if you are empowered, you are positively engaged.

Here is an image to help connect the ideas of “compliance, engagement, and empowerment.”

The reason I am revisiting this is I often get the question that engagement and empowerment are essentially the same things.  I think they are connected but not the same. But, I am going to muddy the waters a bit as I dig into this through writing.

I started thinking about some verbs that come to mind when I think of engagement.  I thought of the following:

Listening
Reading
Watching
Consumption

And then the verbs that are connected to “empowerment”:

Speaking
Writing
Making
Creating

That being said, engagement is crucial to empowerment in our learning.

You will be better at speaking if you are good at listening.

Your writing will probably benefit from reading the work of others.

And so on.

But then I started thinking about how we can easily fall into the trap that one of the columns embodies engagement while the other embodies empowerment. 

For example, if I have the opportunity to read and explore articles or books that interest me, that embodies empowerment.

While if I have to write something that I have no interest in writing about, that may lack both engagement and empowerment.

So ultimately, I have come to this conclusion. Empowerment is about ownership and agency.  If I have voice and choice in my learning, empowerment is more likely to exist, than if I don’t.

Again, that doesn’t mean compliance should never exist in a classroom or our work; it just can’t be the end goal.

Source: George Couros