In this paper we present elements of a case study involving a Catholic boys' school in a large rural centre in Queensland, Australia. The study sought to identify philosophies and practices that might be interpreted as either enabling or constraining boys' educational outcomes. Given that positive and generative teacher-student relationships are positioned as central in improving educational outcomes, this paper focuses on relationship issues at the centre of boys' experiences of school. Here we present boys' desire for greater control and autonomy over their everyday school lives and their resentment with being controlled and constrained by their teachers' enactments of authoritative power relations. We look at how particular teacher assumptions might be associated with this resentment and discuss some of the implications of authoritative power relations in constraining boys' educational outcomes. Against this backdrop, and with the purpose of constructing more equitable and generative relations, we support the call for schools to develop professional learning communities so that they can explore how the socio-political dimensions of gender continue to be implicated in shaping and constraining relationships between teachers and students in their particular context.
Teachers are central to positive outcomes for students (see, for example, Lingard, Martino, Mills & Bahr, 2002). Variations in students' backgrounds, differences between school socio-cultural contexts and the relative dearth of evidence linking whole-school factors with improved student learning outcomes (Lingard, Mills & Hayes, 2000) lead us to approach the extent of teachers' impact on students' educational experiences with caution. Critical analyses of claims in support of the school reform movement (Thrupp, 1999) carry similar caveats. Nevertheless, "after holding student backgrounds constant, teacher effect upon student outcomes is much greater than whole school effect" (Lingard et al., 2000, p. 108); so it is clear that what teachers do is central in shaping students' experiences of schooling. Moreover, in relation to improving boys' educational outcomes and their engagement with schooling, quality pedagogy and generative teacher-student relationships have been identified as the most significant factors (Martino & Meyenn, 2002; Lingard et al., 2002). Furthermore, positive teacher-student relationships are seen as particularly important in addressing the needs of at risk behaviour in boys (Lingard et al., 2002). In determining positive learning outcomes what matters most are teachers who are friendly, firm, relate well to their students and have a sound knowledge of their subject area (Lingard et al., 2002). The importance of teachers drawing on sophisticated research-based understandings about gender to inform their practice and relations with boys has been positioned as central in developing sustainable approaches to improving boys' educational outcomes (Lingard et al., 2002). Within the context of competing philosophical debates concerning the 'construction' of masculinity and continued disagreement on how best to address issues of gender, but more specifically masculinity, within the school environment (Education Queensland, 2002; Lingard et al., 2002), it seems particularly important to explore the sorts of 'sophisticated research-based understandings' that might be seen as either enabling or constraining the development of positive and 'generative' relationships between teachers and their male students (Lingard et al., 2002). This is particularly critical given that research (Alloway, 1999; Connell, 2000; Davies, 1993; Keddie, 2003; Kenway & Willis, 1998; Mac an Ghaill, 1994) continues to confirm "that various constructs of masculinity are implicitly involved both in teachers' interventions, and in the ways in which these interventions [are] taken up in classrooms" (Alloway, Freebody, Gilbert, & Muspratt, 2002, p. 128). In this regard, it can be seen that teacher practices can work to constrain boys' educational outcomes through ignoring and reinscribing rather than challenging and reworking gender inequities and dominant constructions of masculinity (Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003).
In referring to the 'constructs of masculinity' that might be relevant here, research in this area has illuminated how teachers' understandings of gendered behaviours along essentialist lines are implicated in constraining educational outcomes (Alloway, 1995; Epstein, Elwood, Hey, & Maw, 1998; Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998; Lingard & Douglas, 1999). For example, teachers' essentialist understandings of masculinity, through positioning boys' gendered behaviour as pre-determined and inevitable and thus as invariably fixed and unchangeable, can be seen as endorsing limited and conventional notions of masculinity as oppositional to femininity. Within this paradigm, boys' (and girls') behaviours tend to be homogenized and gender difference tends to be taken-for-granted as the way things are and ought to be. To these ends, negative elements of masculinity are normalized because issues of gender, power and domination are left unquestioned and by inference validated (Davies, 1993; Keddie, 2003; MacNaughton, 2000). In this sense, boys are not likely to be positioned as responsible for their own behaviours and teacher interventions are often reduced to those characterized by authoritarianism in their attempts to control boys' problematic behaviour (Lingard et al., 2002).
Issues of power, control and authoritarianism are key elements within the masculinities literature and are positioned as particularly significant in understanding how positive teacher-student relationships might be facilitated (Davies, 1993; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). Research in this sphere highlights the associations between how teachers model authority and power and the maintenance of students' disruptive behaviour. Boys have been found to adopt the authoritarian styles of 'power over' conflict resolution that many teachers apply in their attempts to control disruptive behaviour (Askew & Ross, 1988; Clark 1993). Davies (1993) suggests that this model of authoritarianism, which reflects some of the more negative aspects of hegemonic masculinity such as domination and control, can be associated with how boys take up ways of being male in their wish for control, agency and power. Ironically, the dominating and controlling behaviour of particular boys may be perpetuated and sustained by the very same behaviour modelled by teachers in their attempts to control such behaviour, perversely "giving boys considerable power over what happens in the classroom" (Clark, 1993, p. 23). To these ends, it does seem that "[t]he first imperative of some teachers when teaching boys appears to be 'controlling' rather than teaching them" (Lingard et al., 2002, p. 4).
Teacher-student relations characterised by control and domination are seen as constraining boys' academic and social outcomes through installing restrictive understandings of masculinity and reinforcing the inequitable power relations of the gender hierarchy (Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). Lingard and his colleagues (2002), for example, talk of the potentially negative impacts teachers' authoritarian relations have on some students in terms of their rebellion against school cultures. Recent work gives us insight into boys' responses to authoritative teacher relations (Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). In So What's a Boy? Martino and Pallotta-Chiarolli illuminate boys' feelings of oppression and powerlessness within hierarchical school structures. This work details boys' general disengagement: with being controlled and constrained by authoritative school cultures that they claim not to understand; with a lack of autonomy and involvement in school decision-making; with a lack of connection, agency and mutual respect in their relationships with their teachers; and with not feeling listened to or understood. Issues of authoritarianism and control and their negative impacts on the relationships between teachers and their male students represent perhaps most significance when considering their pedagogical implications (Keddie, in press; Lingard et al., 2002). Much of the research which examines the socio-political power dynamics of boys' enactments of masculinity (Alloway et al., 2002; Keddie, in press; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003), positions teachers facilitating boys' exploration of their personal experiences of what it means to be 'masculine' as central to enhancing academic and social outcomes. Through pedagogies that connect with boys, the aim here is to broaden understandings and enactments of masculinity to be more inclusive and accepting of difference and diversity (Alloway et al., 2002). Here, Boys Literacy and Schooling, for example, talks of pedagogies that seek to enhance boys' understandings of the multiple ways masculinity is constructed, performed, negotiated and navigated in different contexts and how all this impacts variously on their lives (Alloway et al., 2002). Research in this area has been telling us for some time that it is the facilitation of boys' deep knowledge and understandings of gender[ed] procedures, practices and norms that is central in boys learning to come to terms with the potent and often destructive nature of their dominant storylines (Alloway et al., 2002; Davies, 1993; Keddie, 2003; Lingard et al., 2002; Martino & Mellor, 1995). Part of this process necessarily involves critically analyzing, questioning and problematising essentialist and hierarchical constructions of masculinity, as associated with power, control and domination, and reworking these constructions to be more inclusive of difference and diversity. One would think that a critical part of this process would also involve positive and generative, rather than authoritarian and controlling, teacher-student relationships (Alloway et al., 2002).
The predominantly controlling and managerial (rather than pedagogical) focus characterizing student-teacher relations in Queensland classrooms (Education Queensland, 2001) is of clear concern in constraining boys' educational outcomes (Keddie, in press). An environment where teachers are controlling rather than teaching boys would seem more likely to validate boys' investments in masculinities mobilized around control and domination than effectively to facilitate generative explorations of issues related to enactments of masculinity, power and domination.
This paper draws on the data from a broader study to present teacher-student relationship issues that concern boys. Here we foreground boys' desire for greater control and autonomy over their everyday lives and suggest an association between boys' negative understandings of their teachers, as controlling and authoritarian, and teachers' understandings of boys' disruptive behaviours as somehow pre-determined and inevitable. To these ends, the paper supports key research (Lingard et al., 2002) and provides further warrant for investigating what and how particular teacher knowledges and understandings of gender continue to be implicated in constraining the quality of their relationships with boys. This paper locates itself within the context of significant research (Alloway et al., 2002) which illuminates the importance of teachers providing an environment that supports student agency, choice and autonomy in genuinely connecting with boys to facilitate their exploration, questioning and reworking of dominant constructions of masculinity. We position authoritative and controlling teacher-student relations that seem to be underpinned by essentialist assumptions about gender, masculinity and schooling as constraining this process.
The purpose of the research was to provide St Bortoli's with an informed, comprehensive and contextualized socio-cultural analysis of their philosophies, programs, interventions and practices to illuminate how they might be implicated in constraining or enabling the strengthening of boys' educational outcomes, and to propose 'a way forward' to assist St Bortoli's in their pursuit of 'best practice' in boys' education.
In defining what might constitute best practice in boys' education, the study was strongly informed by research that examines the socio-cultural and political dimensions of masculinities and schooling within an equity framework (Alloway et al., 2002; Epstein et al., 1998; Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998; Lingard et al., 2002; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). Through this lens, the social processes and practices of schooling were positioned as powerful in shaping and regulating understandings of masculinity, on the one hand, but also in transforming and reconstructing understandings of masculinity, on the other hand. In drawing on the report Addressing the Educational Needs of Boys (Lingard et al., 2002), the research was framed around the two factors seen as most significant in enhancing the learning outcomes of boys: relationships and pedagogy. This paper explores issues concerning the former of these and in particular the boys' thoughts and feelings concerning what they like and dislike about their teachers and teachers' understandings and knowledges about gender, masculinity and schooling.
A simple student survey was constructed to explore the boys' thoughts and understandings regarding their teachers, and invited responses to two questions:
|Year Level||Distributed||Returned||Year Level|
The response rates reported in Table 1 are more than satisfactory for "take away and return when completed" surveys of the type employed in this study. As there appeared to be no substantive factors that would lead particular groups of students to avoid responding, we judged it reasonable to proceed on the basis that the returned responses adequately represented the views of the full student population of the school.
Data from the student survey were organized into year groups and then analysed manually to explore and identify dominant and recurring themes within the students' responses. In transcribing and presenting the responses to this survey, while we tended to correct grammar or spelling errors, punctuation (such as exclamation marks and capitalization) that the boys used in their original responses was transcribed (as written) and is presented (as written) in this paper. In this initial scan of the data it became clear that the boys had invariably responded to both items. This translated to a supply of balanced numbers of positive views for question 1 and negative views for question 2.
Drawing on the key literature detailing socio-cultural and political examinations of masculinities and schooling (referred to in this paper), a teacher survey was constructed to identify particular understandings and beliefs that might be implicated in either enabling or constraining relationships between boys and their teachers. The survey asked teachers the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a series of 32 statements (using the scale: 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree). The statements were structured around exploring a broad range of issues: understandings and beliefs about identity construction, gender and sexuality, educational disadvantage and behaviour management. A senior staff member administered the teachers' survey at a staff meeting. There were 46 respondents, a response rate of 85%.
While the eventual number of teacher respondents was insufficient for us to conduct a factor analysis of the full 32-item instrument, we have selected five individual items for discussion in this paper. These five items were selected because they relate: first, to behaviour and behaviour management, and in particular issues of power, authority and control (these issues emerged as dominant themes in the boys' responses to the student survey); second, to student-teacher relationships; and third, to essentialist understandings of gender. The five individual items selected for discussion in this paper are as follows:
We present the following interpretations within the context of the limitations of survey research which can yield only a superficial picture of respondents' realities. In this regard, our interpretations are offered as a broad and general snapshot of teacher-student relationships at St Bortoli's.
In terms of identifying dominant trends in the data, the importance of positive student-teacher relationships emerged as the major theme and characterized most of the boys' responses. Indeed, 70% or 254 out of the 369 responses referred to positive student-teacher relationships in replying to the question: "What things do you like about your teachers?" The boys seemed very much unified in expressing what they liked about their teachers. Strongly resonating with the research that positions teachers and their practices as central to good outcomes for boys, overwhelmingly the teacher figure that the boys reported to respond to positively is caring, friendly, interested, helpful, supportive and understanding; fun and easygoing; and respectful and fair (Lingard et al., 2002; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003).
Thus care, friendliness, support and understanding seemed to be the characteristics of teachers that boys reported to like most often (70%, or 176 out of the 254 responses concerning relationships referred to these characteristics). The boys seemed to understand these characteristics as enacted through teachers showing an interest in their lives and demonstrating a willingness to help them. The following were typical responses to this question:
What the boys disliked about their teachers
Issues of fairness, legitimacy, respect and agency with regard to teacher-student relationships were seen as particularly dominant themes in analyzing the boys' responses to the second question: "What do you dislike about your teachers?" The major theme characterizing the boys' responses to this question (apparent in 214 of the 369 responses) was interpreted as relating to their feelings about the power inequities characterizing their relationships with their teachers. Generally speaking, the boys reported most commonly that what they dislike most about their teachers is how the student-teacher relationship positions them with a lack of power and control over what happens in their school lives. The boys reported of feeling unfairly treated by their teachers and in this regard their responses indicated dissatisfaction with being overpowered, controlled and positioned as inferior, in terms of what they seem to see as teachers using their position of authority in ways that they disliked. The following responses are illustrative:
Teacher assumptions and understandings of boys and schooling
In terms of basic descriptive statistics, responses to the teacher survey produced the following outcomes, as summarized in Table 2, below.
|Survey Items||Numbers of Responses||Mean||Mode|
|Girls and boys are essentially different and should be treated differently||8|
|Boys are naturally active, boisterous and high-spirited||5|
|Before teachers can meaningfully engage in 'teaching' they must establish firm levels of control over their classes||5|
|To curb boys' disruptive behaviour teachers need to assert their authority||1|
|It's important for there to be a clear social and emotional distance in relationships between teachers and students||4|
In analysing these descriptive statistics there seemed to be overall agreement with three statements:
While the overall agreement with the third of these statements might not necessarily relate to boys per se, here it can be understood within the context of the boys' data and in particular the boys' resentment at feeling overpowered, controlled and positioned as inferior. There is, apparently, a reasonable level of consensus among these teachers that students need to be controlled (by their teachers): revealing perhaps a lack of willingness to take the sorts of pedagogic risks that would be integral to more democratic and generative relationship environments.
The responses on the remaining two items reveal much less agreement across the sample of teachers as a whole. Indeed, there is a significant level of disparity apparent between the views of individual staff members on the items:
The tendency for staff to lean towards essentialist understandings of gender and masculinity, might also be seen as informing some of the teachers' understandings about the use of authority, control and distance in their relationships with boys (Keddie, in press; Lingard et al., 2002). As mentioned earlier (in relation to teachers' general agreement that boys are naturally active, boisterous and high-spirited), teachers are not likely to see how they can effectively challenge and transform boys' disruptive behaviours through appropriate interventions if they think of these behaviours as natural and inevitable. In this regard, relations of authority, control and distance might be seen as the only strategies that will work. Within understandings along these lines, alternative responses might be seen as involving too great a level of personal and professional risk for teachers.
In presenting the boys' comments and the teachers' assumptions we think that we have provided a snapshot of the predominantly controlling and managerial climate currently characterising Queensland classrooms (even within the cautionary confines we impose on our interpretation of single items). We hope we have also made clear how this climate can be seen as perpetuating boys' investments in controlling and dominating behaviours and how this is at odds with not only the development of positive and generative teacher-student relationships, but also with the facilitation of an environment where boys can explore understandings of masculinity, and in particular, problematise dominant constructions mobilised around issues of power and control.
This leads us to the issue of how teachers' assumptions and beliefs about boys continue to be implicated in constraining their educational outcomes and the importance of documenting the threshold knowledges about gender and masculinity necessary for teachers to reflect critically on the nature of their strategies and their potential effects (Alloway, 1995; Davies, 1993; Lingard et al., 2002; MacNaughton, 2000). Specifically, we see these particular threshold knowledges as relating to understanding gender as constructed, regulated and maintained through social processes and understanding pedagogy as critical and emancipatory practice (Keddie, in press). Consistent with research in this area (Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003), we point out that teachers understanding gender beyond a paradigm of pre-determined biology is crucial in moving beyond authoritarian strategies and controlling relationships. In teachers recognizing gender identities as constructed through social practice, and as thus fluid and contextual rather than fixed or pre-determined, they can begin to see how their practices can be implicated in enabling or constraining boys' educational outcomes (MacNaughton, 2000).
In terms of enhancing boys' behavioural outcomes, this social constructionist approach is vitally important if relationships based on mutual respect, care and compassion are to be facilitated in meaningful and contextually sensitive ways. Thinking about gendered understandings and behaviour as socially constructed acknowledges their location within broader cultural contexts and positions them as amenable to questioning and transformation through alternative ways of thinking and acting. This is necessary in moving beyond authoritarian behaviour management strategies to approaches that acknowledge boys' problematic behaviour as invariably associated with masculinity, power and legitimation. This provides the framework for teachers to develop productive pedagogies that seek to enhance boys' understandings of the multiple ways masculinity is constructed, performed, negotiated and navigated in different contexts (Alloway et al., 2002).
In developing these sorts of pedagogies, and facilitating conditions for best practice, research in this sphere (Lingard et al., 2002; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003) talks about the importance of breaking down the power imbalances between teachers and students. Here Martino and Pallotta-Chiarolli (2003) discuss how mutually respectful teacher-student relations are central to teachers developing meaningful connections with boys so that issues of masculinity, power and marginalization can be explored in affirmative and generative ways. Consistent with a significant issue raised in this study, these authors also talk about the importance of breaking down power inequities between students and teachers as central in reconciling disparities between schools' pastoral care rhetoric of respect and compassion and students' school life realities. In reconciling these sorts of disparities, Lingard and his colleagues (2002, p. 47) discuss alternatives to "administering punishments to enforce a particular power relationship between teacher and student". They illuminate how boys' social and behavioural outcomes are enhanced through democratic disciplinary approaches. Here, within the context of positive teacher-student relations, power is shared in classrooms and students reflect critically on the consequences of their actions and resolve conflict by talking through issues rather than resorting to inappropriate behaviour. This encourages students to accept responsibility for their own behaviour and learning. Against a backdrop of well informed and coherent whole school policy and support, these approaches have been seen as particularly effective in enhancing relationships between boys and their teachers and creating an environment that can facilitate productive pedagogies (Lingard et al., 2002; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003).
In working towards best practice in boys' education, ongoing teacher professional development, within the context of professional learning communities, is seen as vital (see, for example, Seashore-Louis & Marks, 1996). Here, enhancing student learning is positioned as a collective whole school responsibility with teachers collaboratively developing contextualized frameworks and strategies that draw on sound educational research and gender theory (Lee & Smith, 2001; Lingard et al., 2002). In making such a statement we accept that those who want teachers "... to succeed at new kinds of teaching must understand that the process of change requires that teachers have time and opportunities to reconstruct their practice through intensive study and experimentation" (Darling-Hammond, 1997, p. 223). Such study and experimentation will necessarily involve the resourcing of regular, continued and informed dialogue and collegial support concerning how best to deal with these issues. This will be critical in schools extending their pedagogical and strategic repertoires beyond under-theorised and simplistic approaches to those that draw on research-based understandings in contextualized and contingent ways. A focus on enhancing teacher understandings of how gender issues continue to be implicated in school and classroom practice has been seen as having a positive impact on student learning. This is particularly important, given that debates along essentialist lines continue to produce counter-productive outcomes in working with boys.
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|Author details: Amanda Keddie lectures in the areas of pedagogy and educational foundations within the Faculty of Education at The University of Southern Queensland. Her research interests and writing involve gender, pedagogy and social justice, feminism and poststructural theory.
Rick Churchill is Senior Lecturer - Professional Experience within the Faculty of Education at the University of Southern Queensland. His research, consultancy and writing interests are in the areas of educational change and teachers' work lives, middle schooling and beginning teacher professional knowledge and learning.
Please cite as: Keddie, A. and Churchill, R. (2003). Power, control and authority: Issues at the centre of boys' relationships with their teachers. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 19(1), 13-27. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer19/keddie.html