Power Sharing in the classroom

I teach at an international college, where many students are used to a large power differential (Barkley, 2010); students call me “sir” and rather than seeing themselves as learning partners, they look upon me as some sort of deity of knowledge.

This always makes me a bit uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with an ounce of respect, but I would rather students see me as something closer to themselves. I ask them to call me by my first name, and try to use humour to break down the barrier. But I realized that the manner in which I taught class, lecturing at the front of the room, only helped to reinforce the power differential. My course has a lot of information, and I somehow needed to pass that along. No matter how many active learning components I added, I still needed to have a lecture focus, which automatically puts me on a different level to students; talking to them rather than with them.

When I heard about the flipped classroom, I realized I had a viable alternative to lecturing. Going from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” (King, 1993) appealed to me, and I realized it was how I wanted to teach all along.

Now I spend much of my time circulating in the classroom, helping on an individual basis, and participating in group discussions.  I spend very little time at the front of the class, and I feel that it is better creating a learning community that motivates students by placing more of the power in their hands (and heads).


Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

King, A. (1993). “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side.” College Teaching: 41(1): 30-35.


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