Why Talk About Power?

Why is it necessary to discuss power as we seek to transmit core human values such as empathy, responsibility, integrity and respect for others within our schools? The notion of power can have negative connotations. Schools are constructed on—even defined by—a hierarchy between students and teachers. Discussing or thinking about power may conjure up images or memories of power struggles between adults and young people. We may believe that it will somehow taint or sabotage our positive working relationships with our students if we acknowledge our power.

Yet as we all know, all relationships and interactions between young people and adults are unavoidably defined by power. Whether we use or abuse our power, whether we name it or ignore it, there exists a power imbalance. As adults, and especially as adults who are teachers and other school staff members, we have power that is legal and social, as well as physical, mental and verbal in most cases.

Our power is a responsibility and carries great potential to benefit our students when we use it in a positive and constructive way. When adults use power unfairly, for our own convenience, to meet our own needs, or to exploit, dominate or harm young people, this is known as adultism.