Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Power that Remains When We Leave the Classroom

| 4 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s obvious but I just need to say it in a brief form:

When the teacher (as many good teachers do) decides to pull away and give students space to grow, when they pull away much of their authority, this does not mean that what is left is a class of equals.

What remains is a classroom of unequals due to:
A. Personality (duh)
B. Gender
C. Race
D. Competency in the subject matter
E. You get where i am going with this, so I will stop

So when we “let” students facilitate their own discussion, some will emerge as leaders; some will be more benevolent and democratic while others will be autocratic or hog the conversation. Some will feel more confident and comfortable to speak up, others may be more shy than when the teacher was there. Before letting go the teacher needs to have created a somewhat safe environment and sense of community and trust amongst students to be able to pull back and not make them feel abandoned (this is easier in some contexts than others).

When I do things like encourage students to come up with their own assessment criteria I don’t delude myself. Some people will better articulate their ideas, say them louder, convince the others. This will happen.

In the end students know who really holds the grades so this stays in the back of their minds. My power does not disappear it just goes to the background.

So when a teacher pulls away some of their power from the classroom, what really happens isn’t a classroom of equals. It is a classroom where authority does not reside in just one person. And that’s good. But it’s not the end of the story so let’s not forget that 🙂

We need to pull back so our students know they can learn, do, be, without us. If they can’t do it without us we have failed as teachers (and as parents). But it is a completely different thing to let them think we no longer “have their backs”. Or to assume all will reach the stage of not needing us at the same time we decide to step back.

So what do we do about that?

4 Comments

  1. Learners have to exercise real power or else it is just a sleight of hand. You know where I’m going with this. Imperatives for institutions trump personal agency under the rationale that the end justifies the means. And you know where that goes, too. The fact is that teaching is a shield upon which you often take a hit for your students and it is exactly analogous to being a good parent. You have empathic power, you know how brutal the blow can be. If all student agency is fake and dependent upon doing what they are told, then they are just sock puppets–an ultimate tragedy and waste of their humanity. Teaching is a complex even chaotic discipline. You cannot manage your students, you can only keep them as safe as you know how under the circumstances and under the hand of cards you are dealt. I try to do this. Sometimes I fail by stepping back and sometimes a succeed by stepping in. Whether I fail or succeed, I often don’t know why or worse I assume that I do, then discover that I didn’t. It is an unknown unknown that I keep seeking to reveal. I don’t have the answers, but I am right beside you in solidarity.

    • Agree with all that. A huge eye-opener re the not-knowing for me was a student who seemed extremely engaged during the twitter scavenger hunt class (when he is usually restless) then wrote a blogpost critiquing my twitter scavenger hunt soooo well i was impressed!). Btw do u know i am following your advice and doing the “making of the game” video (or other multimedia) as their reflection on their process of doing the game?

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