Soft power is a concept developed by Joseph Nye of Harvard University to describe the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Nye coined the term in a 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. He further developed the concept in his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.
Put another way, soft power is essentially a country’s ability to gain global respect and influence through non-military means such as art, entertainment, product exportation, tourism, education, relief aid, etc. The term is now widely used in international affairs by analysts and statesmen.
Taking a page from the Innovator’s DNA, let’s ‘associate’ the concept of soft power with the classroom.
If teachers are leaders (I believe they are). And leadership equals influence (according to John Maxwell). Then, how can teachers increase their influence with students?
The answer is greater knowledge and usage of their soft power.
What are the soft powers of a teacher?
Traditionally, when thinking about teacher powers one might rank the power to grade and the power to discipline at the top. I would count these as hard powers. Soft power may be found in the following areas:
– Environment: How might we communicate an expectation non-verbally through the way we organize our desks, decorate our walls, post demonstrations of learning on bulletin boards, or be visible and present in hallways?
– Unit Design: How much influence do we gain or lose with students based on how engaging vs. irrelevant our lesson plans, assessments, and activities are? Do our students get the message of our passion for preparing them for the future vs. just doing a day job each day?
– Behavior Modeling: Want to see kids pick up trash after lunch? Model your expectations. Tired of students talking over each other? Demonstrate by not talking over them. Seeking to develop creative thinkers? Become a creative thinker yourself.
– Personal Connection: Show interest. Love kids. Ask them questions. Sponsor their clubs and coach their sports. Cheer them on.
– Opportunity Creation: Actively seek out or create opportunities for your students. Be their advocate. Let them stand on your shoulders. Advance them and position them for greatness.
– Communication: Be clear and consistent. Demonstrate preparation and thoughtfulness. Respond in time.
Soft Power vs. Hard Power
Soft power takes more time, energy and finesse. It is a skill to be developed and practiced. It is not limited to the items outlined above. In contrast, hard power is often easier and more expedient, but not necessarily as effective. Anyone can assign detention or silent lunch. Thousands of teachers use grades as a means to manage or control classroom behavior. It is the rare and highly skilled teacher who uses soft power to lead his/her students and actually gains the full commitment of their pupils.
How might you make greater use of your soft powers? What soft powers can you add to the list?