To get you up to speed ... this short blogpost is part 2 of a 4/5 part series written by Kath Pratt of Soweni School, exploring the power dynamic in our societies and schools. This series of blogposts is designed to be interactive - to have you, our readers, at the heart of our collective exploration of "power". So, we warmly invite you to respond to the provocations and ideas in this post by tagging us on Twitter (@kathsoweni @beckycarlzon) or responding to this post in the comments. Here is a link to the first part of this series.
We have loved receiving the reflective responses to our last blogpost via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Learning Pioneers and direct messages! There were several different foci to discussion points. Some of us wondered about our important role as adults within positions of power:
The power we have as teachers is immense, because we genuinely have the ability to evoke changes in our students on so many levels, so it is a power we need to use carefully and mindfully and with best intentions! Learning Pioneer
Others explored the importance of language and mindset around power:
Others explored the links between power, vulnerability and risk-taking:
I think power is trusting your gut and not being afraid to be vulnerable- showing yourself in all its forms. I think we can help children by being vulnerable to them and modelling risk taking and always encouraging them to go with their own feelings and not be led by others.
There were wonderings around distributed leadership in relation to the sharing of power. Check out some of the other comments on Twitter in this thread.
These are important discussions. In Learning Pioneers, we often talk about how we can make the unconscious conscious. Are we going to continue doing and being the same because we have "always done it this way"? Or are we going to take the time to pay attention to what we are doing and why we are doing it, thinking specifically about the impact our actions and approaches will have on the children in our care both now and in the future.
Are we going to build systems that value vulnerability and risk-taking? Or not?
Are we going to grapple with reorganising our systems to distribute "power" and give each individual agency? Or not?
Are we going to mindful as to how our language and actions impact on students' self belief? Or not?
With these ideas in mind, we would like to dive into Kath's next instalment, exploring some "what ifs" around power dynamics. Over to you, Kath ...
With their small size and lack of world experience, children are not typically viewed as powerful beings. Their ability and capacity to do things may appear to be less than ours and so too, therefore, is their power.
But are children powerless?
From the moment they are born, children have the ability to shift parental behaviour, merely by their helpless and totally dependent existence. The shrill, piercing scream of a toddler’s demands effectively jerk those around into swift action. Powerless? Maybe not...
According to eminent developmental psychologist, Alison Gopnik, children are the most powerful, neuroplastic and adaptable learning beings in the known universe. Holding their hands alongside as they explore that power: testing, reiterating, combining, recombining, experiencing, discovering, poking, observing, noting, collaborating, adding, synthesising, extrapolating, analysing, forming opinions, debating, diversifying, being wrong, being persuaded, being accurate, predicting, estimating, rolling down, running up, squelching, making noise, joking, contemplating, watching, acting, performing, writing, expressing, creating, moving, thumping, trying, failing and dusting each other off is where we need and want to be as educators.
Rather than being partly formed adults, children are fully formed children.
Their experience of power now, is important now. But also important as it will form the framework around which they hang future experience of power relationships.
We also need and want to be holding their hands as new parents and carers when we meet our little ones for the first time. Yet, in this complex role we often feel challenged and find ourselves handing over those little hands with all that power to others to hold it and deliver their education. At school, and even more so in the UK at present, there is a ‘power over’ ethos to ensure this delivery, with compliance, direct instruction, testing and safety paramount. It is out of the command-and-control school of leadership. If we prioritise compliance, then success would be compliance of children now & the creation of adults who are compliant and subservient. There is of course no magic switch we can flip when we turn 18 years old, to take us from compliant children, to autonomous, creative, empowered, independent adults. It takes practice.
What if we blew the doors off the normal ‘power over’ school of thought?
What if children remained power-full alongside the adults in their lives, and most crucially inside themselves?
What if parents and educators similarly were empowered to hold that?
As our shared discussion this week, we would love for you to reflect on your wonderings around these "what ifs". Remember, you can write in the comments below, DM us, or tag us on Twitter (@kathsoweni @beckycarlzon) with your ideas. Our next blogpost will be posted in a week on the 15th of November - Can't wait!
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I’m Kath, a childhood freedom fighter. I’m still creeping through the gaps in the hedge to find the forbidden sprawling acres and climbing the oldest, knottiest trees for the view, the bugs and the ancient roots. I’ve been reimagining education and schooling for 19 years. Seeking to change things from the inside and then from the outside -I was an upper primary teacher in inner London and then taught the IB PYP in the Caribbean. My four young boys have been with me for pretty much every meeting while we set up Soweni in 2017, meaning thrive in Cornish, which is a social enterprise rethinking education for a sustainable world on the north cliffs of Cornwall.I’m a bit of a ruckus-maker and love connecting to many others-virtual and in reality so we can talk and walk the change we need for our children and many more generations to come.
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