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The Five Forms of Instructor Power

By Gayla Parks, CMA (AAMA)
Power, to some degree, is a feeling that comes as a basic human need. Power is exhibited in any classroom in many ways. If the student’s need for power is not met, they will employ it in one form or another. As an instructor, we too have a basic need for power and are less inclined to react if we are not experiencing that feeling of control over our destiny.

We are in a management role of the class and require power in another form — the power to influence student behavior. Having teacher power gives us the right to ask others, the students, to do something. As instructors, we need to ask the students to do many things during the course we are teaching. These requests come from some basis of power and aid in the achievement of the efficacy of student success. What follows are five basic forms of teacher power that are exerted in the classroom:

Attractive (Referent) Power

This type of power can be developed through getting to know and emotionally investing in our students. We use this type of power when we become personable and relate to our students. This may be by sharing a common interest, for example. This type of power can also be achieved by our personality traits in the classroom. Having a pleasing attitude that comes off likable, funny, or charming can result in obtaining more respect from the students.
 
Attractive power can be influential in the student’s success, as well as healthy for the classroom environment.

Expert Power

We possess expert power when we show that we are knowledgeable in the subject we are teaching. It helps to be well prepared for what you will be presenting to the class that day. This type of power is driven by the students’ desire to know. Expert power can be very effective when the instructor shows a sense of passion for the subject matter.

Reward Power

As Instructors, we can reward students in one form or another. Rewards can have the power to influence student behavior.  Rewards can include grades, recognition, prizes, praise, privileges, and whatever else you can find that the students may find desirable. The plan would be to have to student work for that goal, the reward. Reward power is experienced as a deep affirmation and a willingness on the part of the teacher to recognize the student’s effort. In return, the student will strive to continue with the positive behavior.

 
Coercive Power

Having coercive power, in a sense, is having the ability to say “no”, withhold privileges, and give consequences or punishments to students. Without coercive power, some students will take advantage of their freedom to cross lines without concern or penalties. With this power, it’s important to form lines or boundaries. For example, when a student asks for extra time on a given assignment or another attempt to take an exam. Always giving in and saying “yes” can lead to the student taking advantage of the privilege they were granted.

Position Power

This is a type of power that comes with being the instructor and having the management position of the classroom. It is assumed, as the instructor, that you have that power. This type of power can be described as “in loco parentis” (i.e., in the role of the parent).  This power is not earned but exists in default. The way we hold this type of authority can be positive or negative. When the instructor feels confident and demands respect, they will get it. Likewise, when an instructor feels illegitimate or doubts that they belong, they will suffer from a limited amount of position power, and the problems that come with it. 

“The best teacher is not the one who knows most but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and wonderful”   — H.L. Mencken


I am a Certified Medical Assistant with the Association of American Medical Assistants. I graduated in 2012 from Miller-Motte Technical College earning an Associate in Medical Assisting. I have been in the medical field for 11 years and have taught medical assisting for 6 years. My favorite part about being an educator is the satisfaction of seeing a student achieve their goals and move on in their career. I find the medical field fascinating which goes along with my passion for teaching others.

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