Power relations and teacher empowerment for the educational innovation

Imagotipo CRIEDO
Any: 2019

Social demand for change and educational improvement had never positioned itself in Chile’s history as strongly as it has during the last decade. The emergence of Knowledge Society and the numerous student and social revolts have put education in the spotlight of public opinion and political agenda. Educational innovation – meaning any change in the teaching-learning processes aimed to improve them – turned into a fundamental concept, and teachers have become a key piece as agents of change.

Paradoxically, Chilean educational system has advanced towards a model of standards-based reforms which, while explicitly has been considered as a mechanism that aims to give grater autonomy to educational communities, making them protagonists of their own improvement, in reality, they are consolidated by rigid accountability mechanisms, pressuring schools and teachers to develop their work under an instrumental rationality. The difficulty of innovating becomes evident, since change requires empowered professionals who have to overcome the barriers imposed by educational standards.

The main goal of this study is to identify, from a socio-critical and transformative perspective, the influence that power relationships over teachers and teachers’ empowerment have in educational innovation processes in schools and high schools in Chile. We understand power relationships as attempts by one person or institution to control the actions of others – in this case, the pedagogical action – and teacher empowerment as the process of teachers to regain control over their own actions.

We developed a sequential and transformative mixed methodology in two phases. In a first phase we developed Narrative Productions with nine teachers, through which we met their educational innovations, the associated power relationships and their forms of empowerment and resistance. We built on them the analysis categories for the second phase, a survey applied in schools and high schools in Chile, thus rescuing and exalting the voice of teachers.

Results show that the teachers’ role demanded by the educational system and its institutions is far from what teachers consider as the ideal role. The educational curriculum, standardized tests for students and teacher performance standards have become mechanisms of constant pressure for teachers. Schools and their principals have formed structures to transmit and reproduce this pressure. Thus, teachers consider educational innovation as a resistance or an escape from these obligations, which they achieve by empowering themselves individually and collectively. The various power relationships and teacher empowerment processes influence how educational innovations develop, in their origins, goals, objects of change and sustainability.

We conclude that, in order to guide educational change in an adequate and sustainable direction, there must be a structural change that encompass the system, institutions, teachers and academia. The educational system should make more flexible standards, allowing localized and contextualized development. Schools and high schools must generate innovative organizational climates, with distributed leadership, trust and a high sense of belonging. Teachers have to generate greater critical reflection processes that allow them to empower themselves over their work. Also, they need to support these processes on collective empowerment, through collaborative work strategies, associativity and collegiality. Finally, as academics, we have the responsibility of reducing the gap between theoretical research and educational practice, promoting participatory research and contextualized retribution.

The result has been an Outstanding Cum Laude.

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