“What a teacher writes on the blackboard of life can never be erased.” – Author Unknown.
French and Raven (1959) identified five forms of power that teachers and other leaders use: Attractive (Referent) Power, Expert Power, Reward Power, Coercive Power, and Position (Legitimate) Power. These are all used in varying degrees and combinations at different times in the classroom and any other workplace. Hurt, Scott, and McCroskey (1978), state that in the classroom “a certain degree of teacher power is always present.” Indeed, if teachers do not exercise the various forms of power at their disposal, they would not be able to manage their classrooms properly.
However, the purpose of this post is not to examine these five forms of teacher power in detail, in an abstract manner, but within the context of the power that teachers have to develop their students and shape their future lives. The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity. Students never forget good or bad teachers and many of them return, years later, to thank the good teachers who inspired them and helped them to achieve success in school and in life. This is one of the highest rewards a teacher can receive.
Highly skilled and caring teachers, who earn those rewards, understand that coercive power and position power alone are not enough to create nurturing relationships and a classroom climate which is conducive to optimal student learning. Sometimes these teachers are more influential than parents and they must take this responsibility seriously. Skilled teachers rely more on communication, student participation, and positive relationships to get students to work. Students should be heard in the classroom. Their views are important and they should be expressed without fear of failure or ridicule.
Teachers who use their power wisely are keenly aware that they have multiple responsibilities towards their charges. They are equally aware that their students’ behaviour and academic progress depend to a large extent on how well they, as teachers, meet those responsibilities. In terms of discipline they are firm, fair and consistent.
They never shortchange their students. They respect their responsibility to do all they can to enhance student learning. To this end, they take responsibility for their own professional development and seek every opportunity to improve their teaching. They often sacrifice personal time to assist struggling students. They also take the time to know their students and their individual social, emotional, and academic needs. These teachers tend to concentrate more on their attractive, expert, and reward power.
They know that getting students to like them, within reason, is half the battle won. An attractive personality is an asset and it is a fact that students generally work harder for the teachers they like and respect. It is also known that students are impressed by, and tend to admire and emulate teachers who are experts in their subject areas. Rewarding students for good academic performance and conduct speaks for itself. The judicious use of teacher power is a valuable tool in shaping student performance and in the attainment of school goals.
Raven (1965) added a sixth form of power: Informational Power, to the list. This is demonstrated when you give information to someone which causes them to change how they think and act. Constant awareness of teacher power leads to more effective teaching.