Let’s Think About Empowerment

Empowering individuals is good.  Straight and simple.  We want everyone to feel like they can make it through anything and feel strong, and well, empowered.  As educators, making sure everyone is feeling welcomed and that they can succeed at anything they put their minds to, is one of the big parts of our jobs.  This is why empowerment and, by extension, equity is so important.

What is Equity?

I think the best way to sum up equity is with a picture:

We often think of equality is the most important thing, but we must make sure the equity comes first.  Everyone must be given a fair chance to participate and take opportunities as any other student may.  Once we have equity, then we can all benefit from equality.

Who Benefits from Equity?

In short terms, everyone.  Those that benefit the most are those that are already treated unfairly or the treatment is inequitable.  Everyone needs to be on a fair playing field, not one that is the same across the board.  If we keep it fair, then everyone has a chance, if not that we are limiting the options of certain people greatly.

Okay, What Can We Do?!

The first step as an educator is to start thinking differently.  We should start noticing the inequalities in our classroom that are negatively impacting our students.  Some examples that we may not recognize:

  • Not responding to girls as quickly as boys
    • Or they have to repeat themselves for your attention
  • Avoiding that student in the back that acts a flamboyant male
  • Interrupting people when speaking, primarily girls
  • Using pet names for students, and then using more endearing and “sweet” names for girls
    • Honey and sweetie are just some examples

There are plenty more that we may not recognize, but these are ones that we can catch ourselves more easily.  Recognizing the inequalities is the first step towards creating more opportunities for everyone.

The next step is empowerment:

We need to get more diversity in STEM, we need to push for girls, boys, gender-neutral students, and everyone from every background to try and get into STEM.  We want them to succeed and do what they enjoy in life, not what society has deemed they should be doing.  There are so many ways to empower people, but here are just a few ways:

  • Call on everyone equally, even if that means calling on the one girl that raised her hand over the five boys, because she may not get a chance to talk often
  • Keep the curriculum fair, as in show people in STEM from all kinds of diverse backgrounds
  • Encourage students to take upper level classes, no matter what background they are from
    • Don’t let their wishes be drowned out by the masses, be an advocate, even if your administrators don’t want to be.
  • Speaking of administrators
    • Get them on your side! Have them help you encourage diversity!
    • Work with them to make the school entirely equitable
  • Get the parents involved!  Maybe their mom pushes them to do whatever they want, but they don’t think anyone else cares.  Show their mom you care and work together!

There are plenty of other ways to promote equity!  I think Heidi Olinger gives a wonderful TEDTalk on getting girls to like STEM, and even realize that it’s attainable to them.

Heidi Olinger is the founder of Pretty Brainy, a group that work to empower girls to get involved in STEM.  They provide an amazing website that helps educators learn and find more beneficial ways to empower girls to love STEM (https://prettybrainy.com/educators/).


  1. Dillon,

    I really like the integration of media into your blog posts! The graphic at the beginning does a great job of summarizing the difference between equality and equity, the tweet helps to support your concept of empowerment, and the TED talk does a great job of bringing everything back together. Awesome!


  2. @Billy
    Thanks! I think the best way is to show students people from all backgrounds in STEM. There are many ways, including bringing scientists in, keeping questions mixed for genders, and even giving students more resources on other scientists than the “classic” ones (Darwin, Einstein, etc.). Culture plays a huge role in it! Unfortunately, not every culture thinks STEM is important and may downplay it. Other cultures deem that women should stay in a subordinate role compared to the boys, and those are even the hardest ones to encourage, because they may not understand why they should get into it.

  3. Dillon,
    I’ve said this before, but I really like the way you structure your posts. It makes it so easy to follow. I also really enjoyed that you included things we can do to improve equity within a classroom. They are all great ideas, but I would love to see some examples of how to bring these ideas to life. For instance, what are ways to keep the curriculum fair? I know you mentioned bringing all types of people from STEM into the classroom, but are there other ways? And does culture play a role in this?

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