Powerful Teaching

I wrote a blog for Stanford Social Innovations Review and started it with a story that Bill Drayton, Ashoka founder, wrote about in a blog for the Huffington Post. What got edited out was the name of Bill’s blog:

Want True Equality? Make Everyone Powerful. I loved the juxtaposition of equality and power. Not so long ago I made a juxtaposition by citing Mandela: passion is power. I have also just finished reading Fang Li Zhi’s autobiography (his work led to the protests at Tiananmen Square) and power was a dominant theme: knowledge was his power.   This question of power – who holds it and implications for redistribution are at the heart of any foundation’s work. But foundations are inherently more powerful than their grantees. Are we really redistributing it to make everyone more powerful or are we just redistributing the power among those who already have it?

Hahrie Han added to my study of power this week with her keynote at the Carnegie Summit on Improvement Science. She talked about the three faces of power and credited Stephen Lukes for this framework (1974): direct, hidden and invisible. The most compelling type of power for me was this notion of invisible power—the assumptions and ideas that govern our choices but also give us or others power. Our work with teachers has been to consider the role of invisible power and bring about higher levels of agency (the ability to achieve purpose) among teachers by reducing the isolation they feel and connecting them to each other in digital networks and face-to-face experiences….in hopes that their collective ideas and collective action might lead to transformation of both practice and profession. It’s less about the transaction and technology and more about the community and surfacing transformative ideas.

Hahrie opened with such a powerful statement that sums up how we have been approaching our efforts to connect teachers to other teachers:

“Catalytic change happens not when we sell people products they already want but instead when we transform what people think is possible.”

Teachers play a leading role in one of the most transformative spaces in society—schools. So why not make sure they have the space they need to exercise their power? This is what we are seeing surface in the Teacher2Teacher community and the teacher networks we fund. This might just be the most powerful way to redistribute power that we have at our disposal.