Empower = to enable or permit
Two boys in an Engage group had been getting along really well and having fun talking and playing together. (Quick side note. The names have been changed but the student stories that I share are my observations of interactions in an Engage group.) So much fun in fact, they had decided to have a play date after only a few hours of knowing one another. The next week, the group dynamic shifted when a new student joined. Changes like this are welcomed by one of the buddies, Jose, as an interesting development and feared by the other buddy, George, as too out of his control. His response to being out of control is to force control through his behavior and communication such as singing loudly to interrupt others and hide in a closet to elicit a known response of "come out of the closet please".
As the Engage instructor, it was important for me to provide both my personal feedback about these actions and also encourage the buddies to be honest about what they think or feel. Since everyone was safe, even if George was in a closet, I simply reiterated that I hoped George would join us at some point. Then I turned to Jose and said, "do you have anything you want to say?" He replied, "whatever, it's weird, but so what if he wants to hide, he can hide." By not requiring any member of the group to behave in a specific way, all are given the chance to try out what works and what doesn't. George came out of the closet on his own after a few minutes and tried some other actions, but all the while he was checking with the group to see what we thought.
When sitting on the couch and fiddling with various objects didn't get our attention either, George chose to join us in the activity but while physically there, he was very loud to the point of distraction. Again, we all gave him feedback in the form of comments such as "when you sing like that, I can't hear The other kids," and "I don't like that could you please stop?" And even "I like that song. You're funny!"
While the last comment gave positive feedback for what most of us thought was an annoying action, it was the truth and it was important. Sometimes the singing would be a good thing but George has to learn to do the work of figuring that relativity out. If I were to require him to take an action that I find important in that moment, he would gain MY understanding of how to approach these situations. He would NOT be empowered to build his OWN sense of how to navigate these relationships and circumstances if I tell him what to do and what to say. It would mean that the next time he encounters a similar challenge, he would look to me to solve the problem instead of knowing that he has his own abilities to call upon. To empower George, I provide him honest and clear feedback as well as the time and space to figure out what works and doesn't.
Because Jose and George had become buddies in previous weeks, George sought out Jose's ideas and changed his action based on that feedback primarily. George was motivated by the relationship to continue actions that were viewed positively by Jose and discontinue negative actions. I had nothing to do with his decision other than provide the platform for the two boys to figure it out between them.
Another Engage moment achieved. Next step, continue to Empower.