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.


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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