Power Sharing and Empowerment


Power Sharing is defined as sharing practices and established rules and roles that result in broad-based controlling or leading. In an educational field, we talk about power sharing when students directly participate in an activity in which the teacher enables the students to share authority and responsibility and a just division of roles and accountability for their tasks.

Literally, empowerment means to give ability to, to permit or enable. In the educational field, to empower is to enable the self-affirming expression of experiences mediated by one’s history, language, and traditions. It is to enable those who have been marginalized economically and culturally to claim, in both respects, a status as fully participating members of a community. Empowerment is "the opportunity and means to effectively participate and share authority" (Bastian, Fruchter, Gittell, Greer, & Haskins, as cited in Simon, 1987, p. 382).

Checklist of Observable Behaviors

___ 1. Communicating: an active, open exchange of ideas; requests for justification

___ 2. Understanding: logical conservation; knowing each other's concerns

___ 3. Being reliable: demonstrating ability; sending clear, simple messages and showing how your intentions are mutually beneficial

___ 4. Being rational: balance between defending ideas and challenging ideas; using emotional responses to help examine beliefs

___ 5. Being noncoercive: being willing to consider the possibility of a change in your way of thinking; persuasion based on logic and principle

___ 6. Accepting: showing mutual respect and learning from one another; listening to each other and participating in an open and balanced conversation about stated beliefs


            Simon, R.J. (1987). Empowerment as a pedagogy of possibility. Language Arts, 64(4), 370-382. 

            Sisk, T.D. (1996). Power sharing and international mediation in ethnic conflicts. Washington, D.C. : Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Carnegie Corporation of New York : U.S. Institute of Peace.

General Example

In the example below, an elementary school teacher discusses the issue of children's empowerment as related to their expression of interest in professional wrestling.

To illustrate the extent to which this particular cultural commodity is having an impact on schools, I want to read you the following excerpt taken from a principal’s newsletter sent home to parents last spring.

Spring brings a sense of relief to us at school as the grayness of winter is pushed into memory, when the sun shines and greenness begins to emerge. Children get involved with their marbles, skipping ropes, balls, kick balls, etc., and yard supervision is warm and fun, watching the children enjoy themselves.

This year we are beginning to see another new game evolving that is influenced by television – Wrestlemania has taken us by force. The children talk of their heroes. Hulk Logan, Big John Stud, Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant and many others. In their hero worship they also act the parts in friendly wrestling. Holds like the clothes line, the flying squirrel and others are sometimes demonstrated as the children model their heroes.

I personally have difficulties with role model heroes like these. The children do not seem to understand that these characters are mostly actors who spend a lot of time learning to fall safely and how to act mean or hurt to get the crowd excited.

We are stopping all such play because of the potential for accidental injuries. You may wish to take some action too, if your family is an avid watcher of these wrestling shows, to make sure they don’t try the holds and throws they are watching.

Now the teachers I’m concerned with in this example are not like this principal. Rather than suppress the lived experiences of children they want to know how to deal with these experiences, how far to go with them. They do want to work out of a pedagogy of empowerment and so they ask: If I am to at least partly work from my students’ interests, to acknowledge and make a place for what is meaningful and important to them, should I encourage the student voice that is constantly speaking about Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog and, if so, how should I engage that voice, how should I work with it?. . .

A pedagogy of empowerment . . . recognizes that a student voice is a discourse that constitutes a necessary logic . . . that anchors subjectivity. . . . Educational work is about helping students to make meaning and part of this process must include making spaces for the expression of and engagement with student voices. (Bastian et al., as cited in Simon, 1987, p.377)

Classroom Example

The teacher empowers students by helping their voice to be heard, by making them feel the power to express themselves and, through that expression, to build a common understanding of a situation or of an idea; in other words, to develop a deeply shared meaning. The students can be engaged in something meaningful and important to them by taking control of the classroom. Then they can take ownership by presenting to their classmates, for instance, how to create a document in Word, how a specific computer program works, or how to create websites.


            Fisher, R., & Brown, S. (1988). Getting together - Building relationships as we negotiate. New York: Penguin Books.

            Simon, R. I. (1987, April). Empowerment as a pedagogy of possibility. Language Arts, 64 (4), 370-382.