Brookfield (2015) discusses in chapter 18 the power that both the instructor and students possess in the classroom. What struck me most was when he describes how “students watch us carefully to see how we deal with classroom events.” I’ve encountered this when I have had students who were chronically late for various reasons. I could tell the students were watching to see if I would follow school policy and if I was consistent in doing so. Should there be one deviation from the policy, there would be murmurs of favouritism and a lack of consistency. Or students who handed in assignments late and weren’t docked the same marks as others. The list goes on.
The three topics he touches upon that resonated with me in regards to the above are transparency, responsiveness and consistently fair. Things that seem obvious but may not be so for some. Brookfield(2015) explains that by explaining the criteria of how the class will be run/graded, what the assignments are, students will be more willing to accept our “power” as it shows that we have no hidden agenda. By being transparent, we show that we are who we say we are and to me, I believe, it allows the students to trust us which we can use to enhance student engagement.
How we deal with student concerns and that we follow up/through with what we said we will do is responsiveness according to Brookfiled(2015). Should we not follow through or change the rules half way through without notice to the students, we will lose our credibility (I prefer this term over power) and our classroom management may not be as effective as it could/should be. Students will then have the “power” shifted to them as they will feel that they are not being heard and may not bring concerns forward to you directly but may go above you to discuss issues which may have negative consequences on your career and class.
Being consistently fair, to me, is the most important theme in this chapter. At my college, the nursing students have a handbook which I review in great detail and ensure that all students understand their handbook and know that I will follow the policies outlined. Here I believe that I am being transparent and responsive with my classroom as it shows that I understand the policies, will adhere to the policies, address any student concerns or questions up front and promptly and that all students are being held to the same standard. By demonstrating that I am consistent in following and applying the policies fairly, the students learn early on that I am true to my word and my credibility seems to go up.
As instructors/educators, we do hold the majority of power as we are the content experts. However, the students also have a share in the power as they can shift the mood/focus/direction of class participation, discussions, group activities which can interrupt your classroom management style and interrupt student engagement.
At the end of the day, by being fair, ethical and honest with your students, you really can’t go wrong.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom. (3rd. edition). San Francisco, CA; Jossey-Bass