Let’s Talk ESP Blog: Use Your Power!
By Gail Kablau
Power! What do you think of when you hear that word? There are all kinds of power theories out there, lists of different types of power, and abuse of power – there’s plenty of that to go around. But I’m talking about your personal power. We all have it, it’s just that not everyone knows what to do with it.
As a Union leader, I have learned a lot about power – mostly, how it should NOT be used. Our public school system is set up in a power structure that is not conducive to administration working as equal partners with educators. It has become more and more top down, leaving educators frustrated about not having a voice in how to educate the students in front of them every day. I know there are many of you out there who feel you have lost all power with your administration.
Building our own personal power is how we find our voice, how we affect change, and how we become the best educators. Using power for good will always triumph over those who use it inappropriately.
We all have expert power – knowledge, competence, and experience in our work. Make sure to use that power when you are interacting not only with students and colleagues, but with your administration as well, be it in your department, or with a building or a district administrator. Facts are facts – they can’t dispute them.
Are you one of those lucky people to have referent power? Some people have that personality and charisma that can influence others. If you’ve got it, use it to influence positive change that will benefit everyone.
If you are in a position of legitimate power, given your position, make sure you are careful about how you throw that around. Be mindful of your words, and make sure decisions are made that include those who will be tasked with moving the outcome of your decisions forward.
Many of us have access to powerful people or organizations that give us connection power. When looking for solutions to a problem, or ways to better your school environment, no matter how large or small, look at who you are connected to and use that power to your advantage.
Information power is something we all have – access to information that perhaps others don’t. While sometimes in the world of education that information is confidential, there are still ways to use it to benefit others without being unethical. What information do you have access to that can help others?
As a Union, our collective power is what drives us – group decision-making used with persuasive power gives us actions we can all get behind, and the ability to influence others through logic and dialogue. As individuals, we can bring our personal power into the collective to make a difference.
One of our WEAC regional staffers has a power quote in his email signature that always drives me to want to do better every time I see it. “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln
In Wisconsin, we stood in the face of adversity 10 years ago (Act 10), and rebuilt our power against all odds. It was strategic, step by step, using each of our member’s personal power to build our collective power. There is still work to be done, and it needs to be at the grassroots level. One by one, each of us needs to use our personal power to rebuild the strength of our Local, working with our own administration and, yes, even our legislators, to affect a more wide-sweeping change in our own working, and our student’s learning environments.
We can do this! Take stock of what your personal power really is, and tap into it. Share it to help build your Local’s collective power. Take it step by step, one day at a time, and it won’t feel like such a daunting task. And as a Local in a National organization, there are regional, State (WEAC) and National (NEA) resources available to help you take the necessary steps, from building Local membership, to helping Local leaders learn their roles, to learning organizing strategies.
One small success will build to larger successes. Be patient, be diligent, just keep moving forward. I would love to hear about how you are using your power for successful outcomes. Let’s Talk!
- WEAC ESP webpage
- Join the NEA ESP Facebook Group
- Follow @NEArESPect on Twitter
- Key Facts About ESPs
- Helping ESPs Cope Through SEL
- Education Support Professional Organizing Toolkit
Gail Kablau is the WEAC Education Support Professional (ESP)-at-Large Board Representative. Contact her at: email@example.com.