Guidelines to learning material on this page:
Read the power point, Authority, Power and Education. Take some kind of incident you have experienced in a classroom (where you were either a teacher or a student) and analyze it using the ideas in this power point.

Key concepts:
Authority and Power are different. Authority is control and power is energy.

Institutional authority is different from Personal Authority
  • No one can take personal authority away from you because it's something you develop as you mature (emotional and ethical maturity).
  • You can be removed from institutional authority by other people.
  • Personal authority trumps institutional authority.

A field guide to people:
Remember that these characteristics are not correlated with age.

People with personal authority....
  • Are consistent and fair when dealing with others
  • Do not allow their emotions to rule their interactions with others (e.g., anger)
  • Base decisions on ethics rather than personal convenience
  • Are willing to sacrifice personal comfort in order to fulfill the needs of others
  • Are not perfect with these characteristics but these characteristics describe the person 95% of the time

People who lack personal authority...
  • Lack control over their own emotions
  • Lack a sense of ethics
  • Are self-centered
  • Are frequently unfair and inconsistent (based on mood or other factors affecting that person at that time)
  • Express their emotions in ways that make others uncomfortable or scared
  • Lie, bully, have temper tantrums, manipulate

Personal authority at school
Teachers who use personal authority and scaffold students into using personal authority demonstrate respect for themselves and the learners. We have found it valuable to make respect the cornerstone of classroom management, discipline, motivation or what ever you want to call that big concern that all beginning teachers have: what if I have problems with student behaviors...what if I loose control? First of all, we recommend that you demonstrate to your students what respect looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Be explicit about telling the children that you respect them and that means you won't yell at them or ever intentionally embrass them or address serious issues with them in public. Then, do your best to keep your word!

This doesn't mean you won't get annoyed or even angry by a learner's behavior. Let your students know that your job is to keep the children safe and to provide instruction so they can get smarter and smarter and smarter. Behaviors that interfere with safety or instruction and learning must be redirected.
Practice (in front of a mirror) you nonverbal "teacher look." Children a very sensitive to nonverbal signals, and if verbal and nonverbal signals conflict, children will be confused for sure, and most likely will "beleive" what they are seeing rather than what they are hearing. Some besginning teachers are hesitant to look serious when delivering serious messages.

Examples of people using personal authority in the face of institutional authority:

Mary used to be a cafeteria worker--she is now about 75 and retired. When she was working, there was a student who was always in trouble. Somehow he ended up being assigned to her. She found he was helpful and respectful. Yet the principal of the school would come to the cafeteria and harangue this kid. Mary told the principal that as long as the child was in the cafeteria, the student was her responsibility. She made the principal leave the cafeteria. Of course, Mary was way below the principal in terms of institutional authority but way higher than him in terms of personal authority.