In our ongoing and collective effort to increase our critical awareness of adult power and its use, COPA has developed seven questions to assess the effectiveness of strategies, actions and initiatives to facilitate empowerment:
- Do they develop young people’s capacity? From birth to adulthood, young people are engaged in a continuous process of learning. Framing and creating a wide range of experiences for students as learning opportunities that encourage the acquisition of skills, knowledge and abilities ensures that they continue on this positive path of learning, growth and character development. This approach helps define COPA’s basic premise for youth empowerment: Tools not Rules.
- Do they offer options and resources? Learning decision-making and problem-solving skills is critical for character development. Acquiring these skills is only possible when young people have choices, and are involved in reflecting on and making them.
- Do they foster young people’s autonomy? We know that dependency is a key factor reinforcing the power imbalance between adults and young people. It follows that the ability to act, to speak or to think autonomously is pivotal to youth empowerment.
- Do they encourage peer collaboration and support? When students have opportunities to collaborate with peers, when they see positive and empowering images of other young people, they are more likely to feel motivated and capable. Encouraging students to see each other as peers, work collaboratively and support one another enables them to acquire key skills and attributes related to character development, while learning positive ways to use their personal power. Encouraging peer collaboration and support helps build collective empowerment.
- Do they entail respectful support and guidance from adults? As much as they want opportunities to work autonomously, to take responsibility and to achieve independence, young people need and want support and guidance from adults. Adopting a “laissez-faire” attitude, expecting that students will take charge and adults can disappear is no more effective an approach than authoritarian adult dominance. Rather, we can tap into our empathy and our profound respect for students’ capacities to offer support that enables them to take charge to the full extent that they are able.
- Do they increase young people’s mobility? Freedom of movement is a basic right in democratic societies. Yet all too often, the mobility of young people (and other marginalized groups) is limited and curtailed. In schools, students’ movements are restricted, sometimes due to safety rules. At other times, monitoring students’ movements serves to maintain adult control; for example, when students need to leave the classroom to use the washroom. Adults need to assess and reflect on, and then communicate the purpose of rules and regulations that restrict young people’s movements. When there is no authentic purpose served other than control, allowing greater flexibility in their mobility can have a very positive effect on empowering students.
- Do they guarantee young people’s freedom? Freedom relates to mobility, and to all of the preceding questions. The right to be free (indivisible from the right to be safe and strong, see Empowerment and Rights) is a core component of youth empowerment. The more freedom (with parameters and adult support and offered in developmentally appropriate ways) students have to express their feelings and thoughts, to make decisions, to have choices, to create their lives and to take action, the more likely it is that we will foster empowerment.
Please see Our Role: Power-Sharing and Starting a Conversation, where we explore practical skills and strategies needed to realize this exciting and inspiring vision of character development through youth empowerment.
- What does youth empowerment look like, sound like and feel like in my school or classroom?
- What indicators of youth empowerment might a visitor in my school observe?