Student empowerment and empowering academic settings
Despite multiple reforms, the education system of the United States continues to leave students behind, particularly those from marginalized groups. Student empowerment is defined as a process by which students gain more control over their lives and develop empowered academic outcomes including competence, self-determination, and a sense that their voice is heard. The current study expands the literature on school climate and applies the literature on empowering settings to an urban, public high school with the goal of identifying characteristics of schools which are related to student empowerment. A qualitative case study was conducted using observations, focus groups, and interviews on one urban high school campus. A participant research team collected and analyzed data over the course of one semester. A conceptual model of student empowerment was developed for this study and used to interpret the data. Results identified a total of eleven characteristics which were related to student empowerment. Empowering classrooms were characterized by positive relationships (teachers believed in students, high sense of community in class, equitable teacher-student roles) and opportunities for classroom involvement (shared decision-making in class and engaging classroom practices). On the school level, the impact of positive traditions, valuing of student leadership, and embracing cultural diversity were connected to student empowerment along with adequate resources and sense of community and empowerment among staff. The results supported the conceptual model by identifying characteristics of academic settings which related to student empowerment and the development of empowered outcomes. The current study presents a valuable addition to the literature by extending the literature on school climate to include the concepts of power and empowerment, while applying the literature on empowering settings to a public high school setting. Implications for educational reform and future research are discussed. Suggestions include expanding school evaluations, enhancing teacher training, and modifying curriculum. Future research questions include measuring the identified characteristics across settings and empirically testing programs, policies, and practices designed to promote student empowerment. Limitations and future directions are discussed.