Power-Sharing Strategies

We use our power as adults more constructively and respectfully by:

  • consulting students: Eliciting students’ perceptions, opinions and knowledge about all aspects of their environment is an ongoing and continuous process. Essentially, we can seek students’ feedback about everything that shapes their school life and environment through surveys, focus groups and in other age appropriate ways. Authentic consultation is defined by a transparent process, and follow-through is hugely important. When we seek students’ feedback it is important to integrate and act upon the results, even when they are not what we anticipated or even hoped for.
  • negotiating: Whenever possible, we can seek to arrive at a consensus with students. This involves a process of negotiating, explaining, listening, reflecting and problem-solving. We will need to explore options and consider new strategies. While this may take longer than imposing our authority, it is worthwhile remembering that through the process of negotiation with adults, students are learning skills and building their confidence. Furthermore, as we engage in consensus-building with students, we gain their cooperation, increase their motivation and engagement, and win their trust.
  • explaining: There will be times when negotiation is not possible, for example when students’ safety is involved. At such times, we can share power by explaining our decisions and their rationale, or the legal requirement to comply.

Saying It
  • "I need (want) you to understand that we don’t want you roaming in the halls because someone could get hurt."
  • "I get that it’s fun and I understand you’ve got lots of energy to burn and that’s okay, but we can’t do that here because it’s not safe."

  • sharing information: It is a truism that “information is power”. This statement is exemplified by teacher-student relationships, in which adults hold a great deal of information that we can always choose to share or not to share. Withholding information can be a way of retaining our power and obtaining compliance. We always need to honestly assess what information is relevant and empowering to share with students.
  • creating opportunities: We can remain alert to opportunities for young people to increase their power by taking on roles and responsibilities, making decisions and making choices about things that affect their lives whenever and wherever possible. It is important that we listen to students to ensure that we are guided by their interests and ideas, as well as the collective good, rather than by our own needs and concerns.
  • providing structure: Often, a lack of structure creates a vacuum that may be inadvertently, unconsciously and often invisibly filled by adult privilege and dominance. When we work in consultation with students to create a clear and visible infrastructure or process, students understand their rights and power and respect the limits of these. They can operate with more confidence and autonomy, sharing power with adults.
  • clarifying expectations: Broad expectations of "good behaviour" can be a minefield for students. Such vague exhortations can be confusing and their meaning can change from adult to adult. Our expectations need to be clear and meaningful to students, devoid of mystery. When we engage in a process of negotiation and exchange in order to clarify our expectations, students are more likely to feel committed to meeting them.

This summary of a power-sharing orientation is further developed in each of the interconnected elements presented throughout this section.

We can engage students by seeking out their opinions, asking them how they feel, how they are thinking about something. Generally, by having discussions so they know their opinions are valued. So I may ask, "What do you guys want to do about Halloween?" They come up with, "We want to do a haunted house". Often as adults we may say, "That’s too hard", instead of, "That‘s an interesting idea. Let’s explore that". No matter what the idea, we can honour it by exploring it and not dismissing it.

– Elementary school teacher