A to Z Youthwork ‘P’

P: Power

Empowerment, Power dynamics and Powerlessness

Youth Work rightly is interested in dynamics of power, recognizing where power lies in any given situation and then working creatively to enable equality and participation. For example in a School situation the Teacher may well stand at the front (The adult has power, the standing adds to that Power) by his/her large desk, they are working from Power. Youth workers typically would sit with the young people … aiming as much as possible to limit the effect of power. A key value of youth work is ‘Voluntary Participation’ (see V), again working from a non-power model, young people chose to, or not to particpate.
Furthermore Youthwork aims to give power away. It is not what the adults do for the young people, it is the process of working in a way that encourages young people to work, to challenge, to create. This is what we mean by empowerment.
Captains Log Supplemental:
Interesting query via the Twittersphere
Great comment from a muchly respected peer who is now a teacher. I admit to making a juxtaposition to explore a point but I think it holds true. Youth work recognizes that power is always present and as such needs acknowledging. This is not about whether power is chosen, or used. It is about its presence by way of history, institution, rules, age etc
Young People have to be in school, the discipline structure of the school stands with the teacher in their statutory role (and the challenging job that they are employed to do).
They are an adult authority figure working on behalf of the establishment. This is not a criticism, just a recognition. I am absolutely sure that good teachers do not wield power or abuse it (and this is in no way my point), but it is a fact that in that role there is a clear power dynamic, inescapably …. and of course there will be too in a youth work situation but it is part of the M.O of youth work to actively try to reduce this differential.

One Reply to “A to Z Youthwork ‘P’”

  1. Great response Ian – and spot on.
    It’s a thought I regularly have when ‘administering the school behaviour management policy’. I try to remember just how much potential power I hold over my pupils’ (and now year group’s) lives.
    I think education is at its best when it remembers the unequal relationship we have, and seeks to empower pupils to take responsibility for their own actions and education. Thankfully, I work in an outstanding school where the vast majority of pupils are onboard, and achievement and participation is high on their (as well as our) agenda.
    Fascinatingly, though, kids can (and will) choose not to engage – even with the threat of discipline hanging over their heads. A great teacher gets this, and wields power lightly to invite them into the learning relationship. I see that as a vital part of my job as a pastoral lead. In many ways, if I overuse my power, I lose the kid – just like in yw!
    In balance, we’re not so far away. If anything, as the representative of the establishment I may have to work even harder to give away power and help the child to be at the centre of their own educational experience.
    Grace and peace my friend!

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