Between chaos and control: Reflections on teaching, learning, power and schools

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Kathleen Hinchman


Teaching, Learning, Power, Schools

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Educational Psychology | Educational Sociology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Psychology | Sociology


This inquiry develops power theory that directly relates to teacher orchestrations of classroom practice. Because negotiations around power are an unavoidable part of teaching, there needs to be a clearer understanding of how power theory is enacted and informs teaching practice. Primary audiences for this work are teachers and teacher educators, who grapple daily with understanding power relationships in classrooms and with their roles in power enactments. I describe and analyze stories of my own practice as data for this inquiry, using introspective analysis (Ellis, 1991b) grounded in feminist and critical theories. I meld relationships between research and practice, bringing them together in reflections on self, theory, and practice.

This inquiry develops an integrated psycho-social power theory which describes four distinct, yet connected types of power. Power-to and inner power, the personal types of power, influence the social enactments of power found in power-over and power-with-others, the interpersonal types of power. Some implications for teacher practice and education as a result of these understandings are: awareness of power dynamics in the classroom and teachers' roles in enactments of power; recognition that the struggle within the uncomfortable spaces between positivistic dualisms is where connected learning can occur; creation of spaces within classrooms/schools to safely/deliberately reflect on the occurrences of the day; provision for practicing democracy in the classroom/school environment through consensual processes; use of meditative practices to access a deeper awareness of inner power.

Research questions evolving from this inquiry are: Are there other perspectives of power yet to be identified? What are the interrelationships among the four types of power identified in this inquiry? Where/how does a meditative process fit into classroom practices? How does this theory resonate with others working within the field of education? How does this theory operate in other contexts? Having come this far, I call for further research into establishing an understanding of the connections between and among the four discrete types of power I have described and how they are interpreted in enactments of power in schools.


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