Power or Influence

Driving to work this morning listening to Radio 4 (#middleaged) I caught the end of a debate about the difference between power and influence.

They were talking about politics but it got me thinking about how important these are in education.

I remember all the colleagues who have influenced me with thanks and fondness. I don’t always think so kindly about those who have been in a position of power.

In my early teaching career I worked with a teacher who was renowned for her forthright opinions and uncompromising stance. I did my first day of supply teaching in her room and I was terrified.

The truth is that underneath this brusque exterior lurked one of the kindest and most influential people I have worked with.

Looking back 20+ years I cringe at my own woeful ignorance and I remember how tactfully she dealt with me.

She would see me floundering and make suggestions but in such a manner that she implied she knew perfectly well that was what I was going to do anyway.

When I got it right she told me. She thanked me. She told other people I was doing a good job. She made me feel that I could succeed, she made me believe I had it within me to be a good and effective teacher.

As my line manager (did we use these terms back in 1990?) she was in a position of power but she chose not to command me. She was powerful, but didn’t overpower me. She led by example and when I was losing my way she nudged me in the right direction.

It’s 20 years since I worked with her but even now, when I get things right it is often because of her influence.

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Incidentally, on the radio the general consensus seemed to be that power was the thing that mattered.

Personally, I’m not so sure.

The power of influence.

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