Efforts to prevent bullying and to promote equity and inclusive education need to address issues of power. (See Empowerment, and Tools Not Rules.) Bullying, harassment and discrimination derive from social or interpersonal power imbalances, or a combination of the two. Effective prevention seeks to redress or at least mitigate these imbalances. Thus, awareness of the manifestations, uses and abuses of power in all interactions and structures are the lynchpin of such endeavours.
The need to work within an empowerment-based framework is pivotal, though perhaps challenging, when thinking about intervention and prevention with students. This is particularly so when students are members of marginalized social groups. Facilitating students’ empowerment in order to increase their well-being is directly related to our mandate as teachers.
We may wonder how an empowerment-based approach can apply to our interactions with parents and caregivers. This may seem to be outside of the teachers’ mandate to ensure the wellbeing and learning of our students. We may even feel as though parents and caregivers have “all the power”. In many interactions, we may feel vulnerable and intimidated ourselves.
In reality, our interactions and relationships with our students’ parents and caregivers are as complex and varied as our broader society. They are characterized by ever shifting power dynamics generated by a wide variety of factors. In many interactions with parents and caregivers it may be more helpful to think about power-sharing rather than empowerment.
When we succeed in achieving such a healthy, reciprocal partnership, our students reap the benefits. The adults in their lives are collaborating to enhance their well-being.