Power away the power

I meet a lot of university staff who were high school or primary school teachers in former lives. For one reason or another, they’ve left those jobs. I watch my friends who are teachers now and I see burn out sometimes visibly happening. And don’t get me wrong, I totally get it – one reason I never thought I would end up in teaching is I couldn’t imagine coping with a high school classroom. I couldn’t imagine coping now, let alone when I was 22.

But one of the things that I think sometimes people don’t realise is the difference between adult learners and children. Actually, I’m not sure if this difference is really there… but assuming it is, let’s go with that for the time being. When I was studying at TAFE doing my Cert IV in training and assessment, I was strongly chastised by the trainer for “giving away the power”. I had given the learners in my course the choice of what they wanted to do. From her perspective, that was terrible!

I think she came with the same hang ups that primary and high school teachers sometimes have – fear of giving choice, and therefore giving away power. But I would argue, from numerous things I’ve read on managing people, that giving people choice helps them engage. And I love this article about 8 Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say and Do. Apologising might be seen as giving away power, as does being flexible. But I say it’s adapting to the student learner. What do you think?

I think the idea of “giving away the power” is really summed up by one of my U:PASS leaders:

“A: A particular leadership skill which I think I’ve been able to develop throughout my weeks of UPASS is being the subtle leader.

As a teacher, being responsible for a group of student’s learning can easily lead to wanting to take control of the class and make sure that everything that you had in mind is delivered. I think that this is the type of leader that I might have been before UPASS. However, as a UPASS leader, I’ve learnt that a good leader can also loosen his hold on the reins and let the group take it’s own path (with a little nudge here and there) which is often the better option.

Being involved in the UPASS program has not only developed my leadership skills in the general sense but opened them up to a range of different scenarios which I would have otherwise not experienced. Overall, I think the program has served to make me a more well-rounded leader.


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About Georgina Barratt-See

Georgina manages the UTS U:PASS (UTS Peer Assisted Study Success) program, which assists students in 50 first and second year subjects with study sessions run by trained student facilitators. Georgina has 14 years experience in the Higher Education sector with interests in student leadership, mentoring, first year experience, teaching and learning.

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