Exercising Teacher Power Responsibly – a reflection of Brookfield

In Chapter 18 of Brookfields The Skillful Teacher the role of the teacher and how power plays out in the classroom is discussed. There are two ways at looking at power in the classroom; 1) The teacher has the power and exerts it, 2) Both teacher and students have power and it plays out in the classroom at different times.

Brookfields comes from a place of not wanting to show power over the students and explains it as the students are friends who happen to be in his classroom.  However, looking at this practically there are cases where the teacher clearly has power.  If the teacher is responsible for passing or failing a student, then there is clearly power.

Faculty Focus published an article identifying the sources of power in the classroom:


Along with the power that comes with the ability to reward and punish, is also the power of knowledge, which the article refers to as expert power.  The teacher has knowledge and expertise that the students want or need, so they need to be willing to listen in order to get them.

The teacher may not want to hold this knowledge over students as power, but there is an element of responsibility. As inclusive as you might want to be in letting students determine the curriculum, you are responsible for ensuring they leave the classroom knowing certain things.

In my own teaching role I do not pass or fail learners, there are no tests or assignments.  I set my sessions up for the learners and let them know the session is for them and if there is something they want to know, then let me know.  However, as much influence as I empower my learners to have in how the lesson looks, I also need to keep in mind there are certain things I have to ensure they know.  I have a responsibility to train learners effectively and feel confident they know what they are doing before I grant access to the system.

Brookfield also talks about transparency in how you exercise power in the classroom.  I believe it is important to let your learners know why you are doing things, rather than just expecting them to follow you blindly. Closely related to this is consistency, which Brookfield also discusses. As a teacher in a position of power, when you set rules it is important to stick to those rules consistently.  Setting a strict deadline for assignments and then letting students hand things in late creates a level of animosity with students. If a students has worked hard to meet the deadline  and then find they could have handed it in late, they may feel they have been cheated.  If you are wiling to make exceptions for special circumstances, it is important that this is communicated to students.

Overall as teachers we need to understand the power we have in the classroom and make decisions on how we are going to use it.  What do you want your classroom to look like and how are you going to let your students know how you are using the power. I think the first steps is just being aware of where the power is.


Brookfield, S.D., (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


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