Let’s Talk About Power: How Teacher Use of Power Shapes Relationships and Learning



teaching & learning, teacher power use, higher education


Teachers’ use of power in learning environments affects our students’ experiences, our teaching experiences, and the extent to which learning goals are met. The types of conversations we hold or avoid with students send cues regarding how we use power to develop relationships, influence behaviour and entice motivation. Reliance on prosocial forms of power, such as referent, reward, and expert, have a positive impact on outcomes such as learning and motivation, as well as perceived teacher credibility. Overuse of antisocial forms of power that include legitimate and coercive powers negatively affect these same outcomes. In this paper, we share stories from our teaching experiences that highlight how focusing on referent, reward and expert power bases to connect, problem solve, and negotiate challenges with our students has significantly enhanced our teaching practice. We provide resources that can be used by teachers to become aware of and utilize prosocial power strategies in their practice through self-reflection and peer and student feedback.

Author Biographies

Leslie Frances Reid, University of Calgary

Associate Dean - Teaching and Learning, Faculty of ScienceTeaching Professor - Dept of Geoscience

Jalal Kawash, University of Calgary

Teaching Professor, Department of Computer Science

Faculty of Science