Teach & Serve No. 13 – Power; Do You Think It’s Yours?

Teach & Serve 

No. 13 * October 27, 2015


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Power; Do You Think It’s Yours

If you’re not thinking about your sources of power and paying close attention to what and who they are and how they are granting you the power you use, you may be in for a rude awakening.

Relationships in our schools are often defined by who’s in charge. The majority of people when observing the typical classroom would likely conclude that a teacher is in charge. The majority of people walking into a faculty meeting where the principal is speaking would likely conclude that the principal is in charge. The majority of people watching a coach address her team before a game would assume the coach is in charge.

These statements don’t come from any place of hard research. I don’t have oodles of data to back them up. I cannot swear by them. But I am pretty sure they are true.

But, what happens in the classroom scenario when the students decide that the teacher’s expectations are out of line or that the teacher doesn’t know what he’s talking about or that the teacher can be readily take off track of his lesson?

What happens when the faculty grades during the principal’s address or checks Twitter while she’s talking or all but completely disregards what the principal has to say?

What happens when the players determine that they are going to ignore what the coach is saying or that they are going to run their own plays or that they are barely feigning interest in the rah-rah-shish-boom-bah of the coach?

What happens?

What happens is pretty simple. What happens is a transfer of power. In all the cases above, the person in charge, the person in the front of the team or the faculty or the class is supposed to have the power. That person is supposed to be the authority, to wield influence, to be the center of attention. But, in each of these cases, power has been usurped, sometimes unconsciously by those usurping the power.

The student who thinks his teacher is a moron isn’t saying to himself “hey, I am not paying active (or any) attention to the teacher right now so I’ve really taken away his power” any more than the faculty member or player is thinking similar things. These folks have short-circuited the power process, though, and the question becomes who’s to blame?

PowerWhen we are in positions of leadership as teachers and administrators, we can become accustomed to the idea that our word is law, our way is the way and our authority is iron clad. We can forget that power is, like most everything else in our work as educators, a function of relationship. Holding the grade book, the agenda or the whistle doesn’t grant the bearer power. These trappings may grant the bearer the intended audience’s attention for a time, but they do not guarantee power.

Power, true power in school leadership and classroom teaching, comes from recognizing that power is cultivated when shared. It is, dare I say, powerful, only when it is a function of community.

Hey, if your students want to take charge, they can. There are more of them than you. The fact that you remain empowered by them is because they allow it. If your faculty wants to take over your meeting, they can. The fact that you are given their attention is because they respect you. If your players want to run their own show, they can. The fact that they listen to you is because you connect with them.

As teachers and administrators, we must be wary of being too comfortable with our power and must always understand that power is a covenant to be respected, nurtured and cared about. It is never to be taken for granted or we may find that we are not actually wielding the power we thought we had.

That can be a very scary place to be.

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8 Comments

Filed under Education, Education Blog, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Teacher, Teacher Blog, Teaching

8 responses to “Teach & Serve No. 13 – Power; Do You Think It’s Yours?

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