Teachers have power! Students have power! The dynamic interplay between these in a learning environment can create a positive, safe and authentic experience, or one wrought with tension, confusion and ‘second guessing’. Part of preparing to be an adult educator is being aware of your power as well as the power among students, and between students and you. Why is it necessary to know about this? Because adults (and that includes both the educator and the participants) have a lifetime of experiences, ideas, prejudices, misinformation, biases, and brilliance that they bring to the learning environment and these all impact learning.
Consider for example how the topic of Women in Leadership might be received by various individuals: a woman from the Global South, a man from the Global South, a pastor, a millennial, a woman who has worked from home/not in the paid workforce, a business person, a health care provider…. There are so many possible receptions to this topic! Navigating the varied possible receptions of any topic when you are planning requires consideration of power dynamics and participants’ realities as far as you know about them. It takes personal research or self-directed learning and if done well, can lead to transformative experiences for both you and your participants. I live a profound and genuine joy when I am learning with my students. This is how I know deeply that teaching is my vocation.
Let me give you an example of power, self-directed learning and transformation that I experienced a few years ago. At the time I was a newly hired faculty member for Trinity Western University and was excited to be invited to speak at an International Leadership Conference on the topic of Women in Leadership. Imagine the challenge before me: a Western woman, all-girls’ school in Chennai, India, where violence against women is rampant, among faculty who were feisty nuns intent on equipping ‘their girls’ to change India and make it more equitable and fair for women, their families and future generations. I embraced the challenge as a personal self-directed learning endeavor, did as much research on the lived reality about who I imagined my participants at the conference to be, and planned to share my story and the research describing women in leadership over the past forty years. A major consideration was social justice and the role of women as change agents.
I decided to take my then sixteen year old daughter with me for this amazing experience. Having her there also influenced our reception in positive ways – (power dynamics at play)! Thankfully, the presentation was well received and my daughter and I learned so much from the research, enjoyed the kind hospitality of our hosts at Stella Maris College and were astounded that approximately four hundred participants (mostly women) came to listen! Preparing for the conference and taking that trip taught us about power dynamics, the value of self-directed learning and impacted our worldview. Post-conference anecdotal feedback received from faculty at the college revealed that the participants too learned about power dynamics and the possibilities of critical transformation in their own lives and the society they hoped to influence.