SOURCE: Educational Administration Quarterly
Vol. 27, Number 1 (February 1991) 5-29

Authors' Note: This article is a revised and expanded version of papers presented at the 1989 University Council on Educational Administration meetings in Phoenix and the 1990 American Educational Research Association meetings in Chicago. Don Van Houten's critical reading of an earlier manuscript helped us to clarify and align the relationship between theory and example. The editors and reviewers at EAQ improved the article enormously by showing us ways to sharpen and reorganize the material in the first two sections. Finally, our students in the educational administration programs at the University of Oregon heard these ideas a lot. Their collective feedback was invaluable.

Rethinking Power in Schools

Diane M. Dunlap Paul Goldman

Understanding facilitative aspects of power u necessary for analyzing processes and outcomes in today's schools. Facilitative, interactive power has become commonplace when no single individual or role commands decision-making control without dependence on expert knowledge and cooperation of colleagues. Specific examples of such circumstances include the individualized educational program process in special education and current practices in clinical supervision. These demonstrate the limitations of traditional concepts of power and the usefulness of facilitative power for capturing the essential nature of professional interactions between principals, staff, and nonprofessionals in schools.

The most recent educational reform movements stressing site-based management, school restructuring, and teacher empowerment have begun to change how we look at power in schools. Academic theories about power have not fully anticipated these changes. We in academe continue to characterize power primarily as a vertical system of authority based on formal organizational roles. Most research in educational administration describes how leaders (usually principals and superintendents) exercise power from the top down, simultaneously managing and leading, coaching and evaluating. Even where these leaders do not visibly exercise power or influence over others, activities of others arc directed toward them as decision makers, problem solvers, and as providers of organizational legitimacy and reward.

Reformers are proposing and testing throughout the country an agenda of school restructuring and teacher/community empowerment that purportedly changes power relationships in schools (Lewis, 1989; Murphy, 1990; O'Neil, 1990). This has forced practitioners and researchers to align old realities and new expectations (Dunlap & Goldman, 1990). Basic questions are being asked about top-down power: Can power be shared effectively with teachers, parents, and others? Can schools be managed collectively? Can they be managed as independent units within larger systems? Can managerial functions be organized in new ways that make education more effective?

The questions are easy to pose, but the answers arc more difficult. Often ignored are underlying assumptions about power relationships between actors in schools. For example, administrators typically spend little time in classrooms; rather, they coordinate people and activities, circulate information, span boundaries, resolve conflicts, plan, schedule, and budget (Pitner, 1982). Hanson (1985) and Bacharach (1981) described the "contested spheres" that arc arenas where administrators and teachers compete for power. These include curriculum formulation and teaching strategies about which principals may or may not have expert knowledge to guide curriculum or make teaching decisions. These illustrations use contradictory metaphors, implying simultaneously both classically expressed top-down power' resistance to that power, and more participative power sharing. The current educational reform movement, with an increasing emphasis on professionalism and now forms of collaboration, emphasizes this underlying tension and makes a new approach to defining and interpreting power in schools that is particularly appropriate for today's classrooms, schools, and districts (Muth, 1984).

Our observations of and experiences in multiple school site programs have led us to reconsider the dominant sociological theories typically used to explain power in schools. In this article we argue that facitative power, an alternative to traditional interpretations of power in organizations, more accurately describes how power is exercised in school settings. We develop the argument by presenting and critiquing the traditional authoritative emphasis in writings about power. We review briefly participatory and libertarian conceptual approaches to power. We pose a reconceptualization of power and then use the model to examine two existing school phenomena that represent emerging educational trends: individualized educational programming within special education and current trends in clinical supervision. Maltese examples illustrate the extent to which facilitative power is already in place in many schools.

We argue that depicting power as a system of facilitation is a viable alternative paradigm that complements definitions of power that reflect a hierarchical system of authority. Power as a "system of facilitation" is characterized by mutuality and synergy within the structured organizational context of public schools. Facilitative power replaces neither hierarchy nor authority. Instead, we suggest a shift in perspective. Thinking of power as facilitative rather than hierarchical may better- enable us to identify and predict what sorts of leadership activities actually occur in schools. In our view, power may primarily be an act of relationship between equals where acts of domination are the least desired alternatives. This does not reject authoritarian or hierarchical concepts of power but suggests placing them in a broader context of power as that which facilitates the work of others. Our intent is to add a chapter to, rather than rewrite the book on, power.


Bertrand Russell (1938, p. 1) called power the "fundamental concept in social science" just as energy is the fundamental concept in physics. Power within ourselves and power over others has fascinated scholars throughout human history. Yet, this concept, which seems so fundamental to understanding human interactions and institutions, remains puzzling, maddeningly elusive, theoretically complex, and enigmatic. Historically, theories about power were first developed to explain such collective human activities as military and political organizations. Hobbes (1839) and Machiavelli (1532/ 1952) built the classical arguments and causal conceptions that equate power with authority. Later theorists codified theories of power as authority, applying them to business and government settings. Weber (1947, p. 152) defined power as "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests."

Writers about Western educational organizations also used these ideas to explain how power operates in schools. They assumed the interconnectedness of power, authority, and domination where the roots of power come from formal roles within hierarchical organizations. Power was predicted from structure and from roles within the structure; other aspects of individual power or unique situational circumstances that were not predictable from structure were seen as far less important. The centrality of formal roles in defining power expresses the intellectual theses that authority structures mirror actual influence and that power flows vertically. This conceptualization has allowed observers of organizations to describe and measure acts of power as (a) "legitimate" or "illegitimate" by their relationship to the authority structure (Thompson, 1956), (b)directly related to superordinate and subordinate involvement determined by the authority structure (Etzioni, 1960), (c) tactics to "retain or obtain control of real or symbolic resources" within the structure (Bacharach & Lawler, 1980), (d) discretionary control of strategic contingencies or resource dependencies needed to influence goals in the organizational structure (Pfeffer, 1981), and (e) a system of organizational politics where "insiders are not always . . . obedient" (Mintzberg, 1983, p. 171). Most of the literature on how power operates in schools and other types of organizations has focused on arguments about increasing control of necessary resources and on who should be included in the controlling groups. Unfortunately, these conceptualizations of power are limited by the central acceptance of power deemed as acts of domination that come from the legitimated hierarchical structure. Although observers of organizational behavior continued to identify individual and group power that did not seem to come from the organizational structure, it was dismissed as illegitimate, undesirable, or unpredictable.

The conceptualization of power as legitimated domination is a "black hole" of nonexplanatory capacity from which generations of leadership theorists have not escaped. The very phenomenon sought in analyses of leadership, the extraordinary capacity to lead others to desired consequences or remarkable efforts, is not explainable by hierarchical domination no matter how participative or critical that domination is in scope.1 This is as true for structural-functionalist theories as it is for conflict theories and theories of political exchange. Instead of viewing these theories as opposing perspectives of justice or hierarchical distribution as is typically done, they can be viewed as variations on the theme for they all use a similarly ambiguous conceptual frame of power as domination (Mush, 1984).

Part of the problem stems from the equation of a Weberian notion of force with control and domination. A coercive element is essential to this definition, even though it is "incompatible both with a variety of analyses and common sense" (Mush, 1984, p. 27). It is difficult to describe voluntary acts of leadership or followership from a frame of domination and coercive control. Such individual agency is exceedingly difficult to describe or predict when it is seen as adjunct to and subsumed under hierarchical structure. Perhaps the frequently cited framework of power proposed by French and Raven (1959) comes closest to offering ways to identify and describe individual power in a hierarchical frame. French and Raven argued that in addition to legitimate, organizationally derived power, there are also informal (and less predictable) forms of individual power: the power to reward or punish, the power of expert knowledge, and the power of close association to other types of power. This conceptualization added capacity to the primary source of legitimate power, but is still embedded in that source. Mintzberg (1983) proposed a system of politics that resides in every organization alongside systems of authority, ideology, and expertise; he argued that this informal system of politics is what makes the formal systems work:

Distilled w its essence, therefore, politics refers to individual or group behavior that is informal, ostensibly parochial, typically divisive and, above all, in the technical sense, illegitimate--sanctioned neither by formal authority, accepted ideology, nor certified expertise (though it may exploit any of these). (p. 172, emphasis removed)
Individual agency is possible, even necessary, but it is still seen as fundamentally an illegitimate act. The quote from Mintzberg highlights a second consequence of defining the "highest" power as deriving from the organization. Power is fundamentally domination; it carries connotations of manipulation and prohibition at best, and oppression and negativity at worst. Not only is it difficult to explain unique acts of power, the very language used connotes lack of control in unpredicted acts of individual power.

A typical example of how writers about educational administration define power can be found in the American Educational Research Association's Handbook of Research on Educational Administration (Boyan, 1988). In that handbook, Abbott and Carecheo (1988, p. 241) defined power as "the most generic and most encompassing term in a conceptualization of domination in social interaction . . . a force that determines behavioral outcomes in an intended direction in a situation involving human interaction." They assert that an individual or group does not have power, but rather exercises power when certain conditions exist. They acknowledge Weber's influence on their thinking, giving his definition of power "as every conceivable quality of person and every combination of circumstances that may put someone in a situation where he can demand compliance with his will" (Abbott & Caracheo, 1988, p. 241). They argued that the only two real sources of power in any organization are formal authority and prestige, and both are demonstrated only through dominance over others.2

Abbott and Caracheo reflect the mainstream of sociological and political science writings about power; their approach characterizes most traditional theories in which power is defined as a system of authority. Their treatment is consistent with both the structural-functionalist normative theories of Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons, and the conflict theories of Hobbes and Marx. It also incorporates the more subtle distinctions that Weber and others have made between power and authority. They reference the emphasis of many Modern writers (Blau & Scott, 1962; Hoy & Miskel, 1987; Simon, 1957) on legitimate authority--that is, compliance through willing suspension of judgment which also assumes that power is a vertical phenomenon. Abbott and Caracheo concurred with Weber and Russell that power is an aspect of most social relationships, but also argued that discussions of power should exclude purely "personal" aspects of power, making clear that they discuss power only in an institutional setting. "We are not talking about power in informal groups, nor are we considering power a psychological phenomenon" (1988, p.241). For them, the meaning of power in reference to a dyadic relationship differs from its meaning in a formal organization or in a society as a whole. This distinction downgrades such social psychological approaches as Simmel's (1950) classical work on dyads and triads or Weick's (1979) discussion of organizing in which organizational phenomena are interpreted as magnified interpersonal and intergroup phenomena.

Most research on power that has been influential in education is consistent with Abbott and Caracheo's (1988) definition. Dornbusch, Scott, Laing, and Busching (1975) tied the exercise of authority to the right to evaluate. Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) defined power (which usually resulted from resource acquisition) as the ability to obtain preferred outcomes. Pfeffer (1981, p. 3) urged us to recognize and measure power by "the ability of those who possess power to bring about the outcomes they desire." His work on power in organizations helps to crystallize and sharpen issues. Like Abbott and Caracheo, Pfeffer's approach incorporates structure and function, and deals with consensus and conflict. His discussion incorporates two significant issues: the presumed ability of those with power to overcome the resistance of others and the ability to obtain preferred outcomes where there is uncertainty or dissensus about choices (Pfeffer, 1981, pp. 3-7). Muth's (1984) research on principals' power behaviors defined power as relational, potential, and probably asymmetrical but still fundamentally tied to the demonstration of power only in overt acts of domination. Even these capable researchers are trapped in the black hole of nonexplanations of individual agency. There is no way to explain away the unique individual leader or the successful site that breaks basic organization or hierarchical rules.

The same problem of defining power as legitimated domination can be seen in more participative and anarchic definitions of power. The traditional antitheses to the argument of authoritarian power is that power is either (a) pervasive and no structure is needed (anarchism) or (b) that power is pervasive and all participants have an equal vote in all decisions (participative democracy). Both of these counter-arguments are extreme stances that are administratively impractical.

For instance, participatory management (sometimes expressed as classical European anarcho-syndicalism) advocates employee election of management as well as policy development exercised through direct democracy (Bernstein, 1976; Zwerdling, 1980). This tradition, developed and sustained by employee ownership in the United States and Europe, has relevance to current discussions about site-based management of schools. However, the relevance may be superficial. In a recent issue of the New York Times, education correspondent Edward Fiske (1990) talked about how teachers are becoming decision makers instead of order takers. Conley and Bacharach (1990) argued that site-based management will require not only more decentralized decision making to the school building, but decentralization and participatory management at the school building. However, the burden of externally imposed regulations and policies makes fully independent schools virtually impossible. The expectations of parents for a traditional symbol in the principalship also create public relations issues. Teachers' desires for classroom independence for themselves and for their colleagues also militate against full workplace democracy with explicit responsibility for professional peers. Because direct democracy necessarily increases meetings, it increases the time pressure that most teachers already feel and increases uncertainty and ambiguity. Policy-making under direct democracy is inherently less stable and consistent than is bureaucratic decree. As one teacher put it, "I would never go into a school which had a staff room where every decision we made had to be by vote and we followed the vote" (Sikes, Measor, & Woods, 1985, p. 144). But the primary drawback to thinking of power in terms of participatory management is not in the impracticality of administration but in the continued embedded assumptions about power as hierarchical. In participative schemes, power is seen as more "bottom-up" or "all around" where everyone participates in decisions. Power is still defined in terms of organizational structure and dominance, but with more people sharing in the domination. The embedded assumptions about the nature of power recreates at the microlevel of classroom and school the same problems that exist at the district level (Ball, 1987; Blase, 1988; Hoyle, 1986).

Whereas definitions of power as a system of authority assume a gestalt of "top-downness," and workplace democracy assumes an almost equally restrictive "bottom-upness," anarchism allows no predictability at all, and psychological theories do not bridge from the individual to the organization. The unpredictability of anarchy is what led to organizational theories of predictable behavior in the first place, and what keeps both researchers and practitioners struggling for useful language. In practice, bottom-up systems, whether definable as formal or informal organization, serve as counterbalances, rather than as alternatives, to power exercised from the top down.

An interesting comparison occurs when one shifts from the sociological perspectives of organizational structure to theories of personal psychology. Although most theory in psychology is concerned with individual actions, and not that of organizations, there is some related psychological research. Actions in organizations fall under the subfield of interpersonal relations. Ryder (1972) summarized some of the issues in psychology's operational definitions of power as follows:

Power can be used in a behavioristic way to refer to particular categories of acts. It can be defined in terms of some set of "assertive" or "manipulative" or "yielding" behaviors. Second, power can refer to overt or implied role attributions. A leader-and-follower, or even a master-and-slave relationship might exist and be labeled as such, without worrying about the extent to which mastery depends on the cooperation of the slave. Finally, and here is a major source of difficulty, one can be concerned with actual or real power, or power per se, without being content to study assertive behavior or role attributions as such. A. 37)
A related and useful definition can be found in Hinde's (1979) work: "Power is in fact rarely absolute. In the first place, it is inevitably limited by the capacities of both individuals . . . power is a property of the relationship and not of one or the other individual (pp. 255-256).

When power is defined as being in relationship, but not being personal as well, then the same conceptual limitation earlier identified in organizational explanations exists. Whether the relationship is between two people within an organizational structure or between two people in a personal exchange outside of organizational structures, it is difficult to account for individual agency if the personal is excluded. When power is defined as wholly personal, it is not possible to predict actions within organizations.

The ambiguous meanings of power are not made simpler by the vague rhetoric of educational reform. As expressions, "restructuring," "empowerment," and "site-based management" are imprecise and confusing. Site- based management, for instance, has at least three relatively independent meanings. First, and most obvious, it implies decentralization of the decision-making process from the district to the building level, without implying how much is "enough." School districts differ substantially in current degrees of decentralization; some are controlled tightly from district or regional headquarters, whereas others function with each school as its own "foxhole." Note, however, that decentralization to the school building is not necessarily decentralization at the school building. Second, site-based management implies an attempt to match educational programs to specific characteristics of students, teachers, and the community in which the school is located. Third, site-based management for many educators implies participative management. General discussions of school restructuring and individual empowerment similarly display multiple prescriptions about what would be decentralized, how matches between programs and students should be made, and who exactly should participate in which educational and policy decision. School reform has its own black hole of nonexplanation; it celebrates individual agency, but is trapped by the need to maintain efficient operations while expanding individual control. Not everyone can participate fully in each decision; full participation is an economic and pedagogical impracticality. So what can practitioners and researchers use to examine how acts of power could and do occur in education?


We propose (at least) a "ninety degree angle" change of perspective to rethink both "top-down" and "bottom-up" concepts of power, allowing us to look in new ways at individual and collective agency within school structures. The term we use is "facilitative power." Facilitative power is rooted in the kind of interaction, negotiation, and mutuality descriptive of professional organizations The sociological literature persuasively demonstrates that professional expertise and behavioral codes clash frequently with bureaucratic preferences for standardization and budgetary control (Freidson, 1986, pp. 158-184). Sociologists, however, often focus more on professional ideologies and world views than on the actual work that professionals do or on the circumstances of that work. That is a serious problem in describing professionalism in schools. In schools, teaching requires situational autonomy and judgmental discretion. Solutions, or even approaches, to problems of individual and group learning usually are not reducible to standardized formulae. This problem identification and problem solving, however, introduces tactical issues not entirely compatible with touchdown exercise of authority. Administrators cannot dictate decisions, yet they need sufficient time and control of resources to manage effectively the decisions of others. A process must be found that balances all needs.

Facilitative power reflects a process that, by creating or sustaining favorable conditions, allows subordinates to enhance their individual and collective performance. If dominance is power over someone, facilitative power is power manifested through someone--more like Clegg's (1989) images of electrical or ecological circuits of power than like the ability to break or smash something by force.

In schools, we see administrators exercising facilitative power when they engage in any or all of four relatively distinct activities. First, they help to arrange material resources that provide support for educational activities. Second, they select and manage people who can work together effectively, paying attention to both the skills and the personalities that comprise the mix. They may also provide training for, and modeling of, collaborative behaviors. Third, they supervise monitor activities, not to exercise hierarchical control, but to stress feedback and reinforcement and to make suggestions. Fourth, they provide networks for activities, adding members to groups, linking groups to activities elsewhere, helping groups to "go public" with activities, and diffusing new ideas. In short, administrators use facilitative power to work through others rather than to exercise power over them.

In practice, this means that the power teachers and other specialists have to determine approaches to problems increases. Tentative solutions may be at variance with what the administrator might select or prefer, yet still provide the basis for mutual discussion and collaborative problem solving. An administrator might still make a unilateral decision, but that would be the least preferred choice rather than the most preferred choice implied by hierarchical theories, the consensual choice implied by participative theories or the absence of choice or controlled outcomes implied by anarchic theories.

Facilitative power exists in schools because teachers and administrators have become more professional. Their knowledge bases have become larger and more sophisticated just as other educational specialties have become more specialized and differentiated. Training times have increased for entry programs and continuing education, and it is becoming the norm to specialize in one or two areas and to be considerably less familiar with others. This trend makes it more likely that teachers, support specialists, and administrators may all have comparably extensive training, but very different knowledge bases to apply to any particular problem situation. Increasing specialization coincides with growing reform, requiring man! collaboration between professionals whose expertise has less in common. Facilitative power is one way to overcome both explicit and implicit areas of disagreement.

To examine the efficacy of this formulation of power over more traditional formulations, we have selected two examples of current school practice that are widespread and also reflect the additional collaborative practices that current reforms are attempting to achieve.


Special education, in the post-Public Law 94-142 era, provides an illustration of how the context and the reality of uses of power in schools support reconceptualizing power. Program design and delivery in special education stress an almost continuous interactive process of assessment and instruction. This process frequently requires the integration of interdependent, and sometimes competing, professional expertise and political interests. Typically, regular classroom teachers refer, school psychologies and special education teachers assess, principals facilitate, and teams consisting of parents and several professionals place students and evaluate progress through the individualized educational program (IEP) process. Specialists then deliver specific programs to individuals or to small groups of students inside or outside the regular classroom.

The IEP process in special education has four singular features, each of which have begun to spread to regular education as reform accelerates. First, each situation--each child--is by definition special and unique, entitled to individual assessment and an individual program. With vague diagnostic categories, wide variation in labels from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and an imperfect fit between problems and available programs, most special-needs children become "projects," subject to meetings, negotiations, and decisions (Zeller, 1990).

Second, special education is iterative; placement decisions are not final and have to be reviewed and renewed explicitly at least on an annual basis. Moreover, regular and special education teachers and parents monitor progress during each year, and adjustments or changes in placement and program frequently occur in midyear. Special education has an indeterminate nature, as educators search for programs that will "work" for each student.

Third, the current emphasis on mainstreaming blurs the boundaries between regular and special education. Special educators stress each student's individuality, focusing on specific techniques for identifiable problems. Regular classroom teachers, by contrast, are by necessity group oriented and norm driven. Increasing use of consulting, where specialists work with teachers rather than directly with students requires teachers to share space and students (West & Idol, 1987). Collaboration brings both tensions and opportunities as teachers seek to negotiate latent and manifest differences in pedagogic style and instructional philosophy and learn for themselves how to work as a team rather than alone with students.

Fourth, special education is explicitly and implicitly a political process to which participants bring special rights and resources not always present in other educational settings. The IEP process requires consultation and establishes a normative context for finding consensus: Each participant who agrees with the IEP affixes his or her signature to the final document. Anyone who does not agree may attach a written dissent. Although this regulation was designed to protect parents' and children's rights, it also gives teachers and specialists leverage. The ability to participate actively in the process is reinforced by expertise in special education and familiarity with the law. To summarize, special education has become an open and continual political process that has multidirectional, inputs and broad-based legitimacy rather than a decision structure amenable to authoritative, top-down power.

Theories requiring the exercise of authoritative power do not fit these conditions. Building administrators cannot develop and implement policies from the top down when exception is the rule and where circumstances that encourage deference to staff and parent expertise is the norm. Although principals assume responsibility for special services in their buildings their authority is limited. Specialists are often itinerant, reporting both to central office special education administration and to the building principals where their programs are housed (Lietz & Towle, 1979; Sage & Burrello, 1986). Central office staff may not be oriented to specific circumstances in each school building. Building administrators, seldom trained in special education, are typically not knowledgeable about current programmatic issues in special education (Davis, 1980; Parke, 1984). Neither building nor central administration has complete control, and often they are competitive with one another to the detriment of on-site staff Stations and services to students. Facilitation to build cooperation between building and district headquarters and between specialists and generalists working at the same site is the ideal process for effectively achieving mutually acceptable educational goals.

In effect, no one has power and everyone has power. Successful special education programs have participants who use one another creatively and efficiently. Administrators provide resources, including space and funds for programs and meetings. Specialists provide expertise and, because they are itinerant, networks. Classroom teachers provide a willingness to disrupt routines and to do new learning on behalf of individual students. Parents and advocates provide energy that prods the system into action. Goodwill, trust, reciprocity, and compromise are parts of the process because special education requires constant adjustments and many formal meetings. Even more than in other educational programs, arranging combinations of people who can work effectively with one another is a key component of facilitation in special education. Facilitative power includes garnering external resources; buffering problems coming from central administration, parents, or the public; and providing staff development in collaborative skills. It is particularly appropriate, and perhaps even necessary, for educating special needs children.

To make this imagery more concrete, consider special education as a professional process. It consists of three interrelated activities: (a) needs assessment, (b) resource allocation through assignment of children and professional staff, and (c) program delivery. These activities implicitly professional and technical and can operate independently of formal power. Needs assessment is a process that is both knowledge-based and collegial. It brings together those parents and teachers who know individual students intimately with specialists in language, movement, and psychology. The specialists bring different disciplinary and experiential expertise to the discussions of each student's needs. Actual meetings have political overtones in that participants are influenced by the administrators' right to accept or veto team decisions and by the team members' often competing paradigms. Nevertheless, needs assessment is ideally technical and rational. The process represents collegial professionalism in its generic form: Individuals collectively and cooperatively apply their knowledge of general phenomena in their own specialty to an individual student. Whether the supervising administrator is a special education director or the principal, the direct administrative role is relatively small.

Resource allocation is similarly professionally embedded. Administrators are responsible for staff assignments, but these are incidental to group assessments of individual children. In fact, IEP teams are inclusive and often invite additional participation. It might even be argued that the advocacy potential of special education may increase the extent of professional practice by requiring staff to bring professionally justifiable evidence to their shared perceptions. Resource allocation may be administered by a hierarchically identified leader, but be or she is to represent the consensus of the IEP team. This responsibility requires skills in both facilitation and negotiation. Agreement may not be complete, the match between available programs and identified needs may be imperfect, and resources may be short.

Special education program delivery is moving toward the consultant model described by West and Idol (1987). Cooperation and coordination become even more complicated. Regular classroom teachers must familiarize themselves with the special educator's craft and must learn to work with one or more peer experts as well as with special needs pupils. Special educators reverse the process; they must understand the dynamics of regular classrooms. The learning is mutual and interactive, but resistance to it is as common as is ready acceptance (Sarason, 1982). Collaboration is a negotiated process rather than one that can be mandated from above. Effective solutions to problems will reflect individual teacher and student needs more than system needs.

These three aspects of special education are never independent of one another. Program delivery in special education is most significant in terms of elapsed time, but identification and allocation are ongoing as professions staff monitor the child's progress and consider program options for the next academic year. Similarly, assessment and identification of handicapping conditions takes place with resources and program delivery in mind because of the tendency for solutions--in this case staff expertise and training--to seek out appropriate problems to fit them.

The prescriptive literature on special education administration supports the facilitative approach to power. In the NASSP Bulletin, Leibfried (1984) stressed the principal's role in fostering and facilitating staff acceptance of mainstreaming. More recently, Brennan and Brennan (1988) urged principals to develop a deeper understanding of the goals, needs, and motivations of those involved in special education and to be guided by "situational ethics." By this they appear to recommend recognition of the uniqueness of virtually every special education situation and to prefer making judgments by broad principles rather than by bureaucratic formulae. McCoy (1981) emphasized the interface between student needs and staff abilities and needs. Similarly, Conoley (1982) argued that small schools are especially appropriate for special education placements because principal leadership can facilitate staff interaction, team teaching, and shared leadership.

Research reports support these prescriptions. Lietz and Kaiser (1979) found that sound faculty-administration relationships and effective delivery of services to educationally handicapped children were correlated. Reporting on two studies in Ontario, Trider and Leithwood (1988) found that "empowered" patterns of school administration were related to implementation of special education policy. Finally, in studying two schools for severely retarded children, Cherniss (1988) reported that less staff burnout occurred in the building where the principal did fewer classroom observations and more planning and coordinating activities, interacted more with her own superiors, and discussed work-related problems more than administrative issues. The research argues that special education may need administrators who are active, reactive, and hands-on in matching policies to individual student situations and programs.

Power in special education, and perhaps in schools generally, is clearly not only, or not even primarily, the ability to enforce policies or even to "get results." Rather, it is the ability to help a group of professionals integrate their respective expertise to resolve an iterative series of complex, often intractable, problems. The many complicating issues make authoritative administration extremely difficult. The individualized nature of pupil needs in special education argues for multiple inputs. The peculiarities of any particular school site make prototypically top-down administration virtually impossible. Moreover, the different paradigms by which special and regular education teachers may have been trained argues for facilitative rather than authoritative leadership. Even delegation downward may not substantially improve professional practice without a facilitative structure that puts student assignments, team composition, program delivery, and budget allocation into teachers' and other specialists' hands so that they may use their collective expertise to empower one another.

Before pursuing further useful formulations of power in schools, let us examine a second example of current educational practice: clinical supervision.


Supervision of teaching is a second area of school life where ambiguous and conflicting definitions of power are in use. The unresolved issues about whether supervision can contain formative, supportive, and summative judgments simultaneously in the same process provide a second illustration of how embedded concepts of power affect individuals' ability to change practices.

Recent writers about school supervision advocate organizational systems where teaching methods, supervisory systems, curriculum, and schedules are linked tightly together around a "one best knowledge" about learning and teaching (Acheson & Gall, 1987; Glickman, 1990). These theoretical approaches to supervision are driven by a larger overall vision of education and are generally compatible with thinking about power as a system of authority. The first such codification models to receive widespread attention were developed by Goldhammer, Cogan, and others in the Harvard education programs of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Robert Goldhammer, refining earlier conceptualizations by Morris Cogan, published the first widely used "clinical supervision" methodology (Goldhammer, 1969; Cogan, 1973; Goldhammer, Anderson, & Krajewski, 1980). Goldhammer and Cogan proposed and tested a five-step supervision cycle: preobservation conference, observation of teaching, analysis and strategy development, supervision conference, and postconference analysis. They argued that building principals who wanted to be called "instructional leaders" would need to spend at least half of their time engaged in activities related to curriculum, supervision, and general teacher development (research on common practice at that time indicated that most principals spent only 10% to 12% of their time on curricular interactions with teachers); most interactions were in groups and did not include direct classroom supervision. Although Goldhammer argued that clinical supervision could include group supervision between several supervisors and a teacher, he also argued that most supervision actually occurred at a distance without development of trust, mutual goals, or opportunities for interactions between respectful professionals. Goldhammer, Cogan, Acheson and Gall, and others argued that the only way to move to improved classroom performance was through a prescribed cycle that was predictable for both the supervisor and the supervisee, and included opportunities for input from both parties.

The primary difficulty with the clinical supervision approach in practice is that it leaves the judgment and "coaching" of classroom performance in the hands of (a) a person who is not necessarily expert in and familiar with good classroom strategies and (b) a person who also makes summary judge meets about merit, including decisions about tenure for probationary teachers. Principals, whose most recent training is typically in administration and whose administrative duties are full-time, spend limited time teaching in classrooms. The fact that the principal might or might not be a capable teacher or have the swills to teach about teaching adds to the problem of establishing an atmosphere that fulfills the dual charges of assisting development and judging competency.

This role complexity is mirrored in Sergiovanni and Starratt's (1979) definition of clinical supervision. "[clinical supervision] refers to face-to- face encounters with teachers about teaching, usually in classrooms, with the double-barreled intent of professional development and improvement of instruction" (p. 305).

"Encounters" that are "double-barreled" typically do not give supervisees a "safe" environment in which they may fully expose weaknesses in teaching to seek assistance. Instead, the language used here mirrors the "power over," aspects of hierarchical judgment and encourages teachers to perform only to expectations and to conceal weaknesses (in fact, the Latin root meaning of the word "supervision" is to "over" see). This oversight behavior satisfies the need for top-down judgment at the sacrifice of the collegial atmosphere conducive to further development of teaching skills.

The clinical supervision movement also made progress in distinguishing direct supervision of teaching from the broader issue of general supervision. None of its proponents, however, were successful in removing the power-as- authority aspect of the summary judgments that inevitably reside in the superordinate position. Even where a curriculum director or other administrator is directed to do the actual supervision, direction comes typically from the principal and still combines both formative and summative functions within the purview of a single actor.

Team teaching, "schools within the schools" and "family grouping" were all tried, but typically have been relegated to the category of "nice but generally ineffectual" informal approaches. Sergiovanni and Starratt exemplify the prevailing view:

Informal staff-development approaches should be encouraged and supported. Indeed, the benefits derived from such approaches are a good reason for supervisors and administrators to advocate patterns of instruction which encourage teachers to plan and work together. Team teaching, schools within the school, and family grouping are examples of arrangements which naturally stimulate informal staff-development activities (Sergiovanni & Starran, 1979, p. 296).
These models of voluntary "participatory supervision" echo the antithetical argument of participatory power described in the first section of this article. Peer consultation oriented toward teacher-directed professional development has been more successful in fostering collegial exchange (Smith, 1989). Unfortunately, peer coaching models do not resolve the dilemma of coaching and judging in the same act; they simply make them separate acts conducted through two different roles. These methods do not address existing systemic requirements for summary judgments; they avoid rather than resolve issues of power.

The relationship between successful informal processes and the embed deaf concepts of authoritative power provides a contrast to Abbott and Caracheo's (1988, p. 242) more limited definition of power as it is displayed in organizations. They specifically exclude "psychological" phenomena, informal groups, and "dyadic relationships." However, the dyadic relation" ship implicit in supervisory encounters contains both personal and structural power. Conventional sociological definitions of power often include relational and interactive elements, yet retain coercion as the essential ingredient of all power interactions and deny or view as unimportant more personal aspects of power. These definitions unnecessarily limit our ability to describe what can occur in collegial supervision or, more generally, to predict acts between professionals within bureaucracies. Good and Brophy (1973), among others, argued that teachers not only do not mind supervision of their teaching, but will seek evaluation, if "effective and useful methods are available." However, no amount of improved process or better prepared supervisors can get around the problem of including a final summary judgment in the same act of supervision as an attempt to coach toward improved practice. The problem is not in "more effective methods," but in separating the power of authority from the facilitative intent to improve practice.

The prescriptive literature on teacher and principal professionalism further illuminates this issue (Ogawa & Bossert, 1989). If we think of supervision as primarily a counseling and support act, authoritative imagery is inimical instead of helpful. Many of today's arguments about "instructional leadership" focus on the need for the new school leader to support instructional excellence. This is best accomplished when the school leader is also a master teacher and when teachers being supervised have confidence that the leader is highly competent. Meanwhile, the demand for professional school administrators to be good managers has not decreased in the face of increased demands for excellent teaching skills. We expect administrators to become better supervisors because they are good managers and good teachers. Instead of solving the summative-formative problem, we have simply added more requirements to the already long list of necessary or desirable skills.

Acheson (1989), Joyce and Showers (1988), and Schon (1987) argued for reflective and peer supervisory models that separate acts of evaluative judgment for merit and promotion, from supervision for improvement of teaching or for teacher motivation and support. All tasks must be performed, but each must be achieved and perceived separately so that authoritative judgmental power does not preclude more collegial and supportive exchanges. The professional power of the administrator to help with teaching is exercised through the professional power of the teacher. The latter can accept that assistance only when there is little or no fear of subsequent negative evaluation resulting from expressing an area of teaching weakness. Power in this instance lies in professional teaching knowledge and expert counseling skills, not in coercion or prestige as contained within more traditional definitions of power.


Kanter (1989) argued that in the complex, interdependent, highly networked corporate world, giants must now learn to dance with one another. This is no less true of professional educators who, by traditional preference, have valued and defended independence and autonomy. And educators have been learning to dance. Both special education and clinical supervision practices demonstrate ways in which organizational power and professional actualization and integrity may be in conflict. They also provide two examples of power as a system of facilitation in which professional power is exercised and actualized through others on the basis of trust and reciprocity. This type of power, involving a relationship between professionals who behave as peers rather than as superiors or subordinates, differs from authoritative, democratic or anarchic power. It is consistent with both current educational reform emphases and with the earlier focus on effective schools and instructional leadership (Austin & Garber, 1985; Soltis, 1987).

Educational reform creates more professional interdependencies. Instead of formulating policies and mandating compliance, administrators can use power to broker interim solutions and subsequent adaptations. This more facilitative approach to using power allows educators to use one another's knowledge without necessarily sharing expertise, knowledge bases, and assumptions. It encourages recognition that there may be multiple acceptable solutions to complex educational problems. Problem solving becomes more mutual and can be negotiated on the basis of collegial, reciprocal norms. School leaders can help provide resources--human and material--that make their staffs more effective individually because they use one another's knowledge and skills. Leaders can use formal positions of power to establish and maintain conditions in which others can solve problems. Thus organizational power and professional actualization can complement and serve one another. Facilitation from above can promote effective professional problem solving which, in turn, provides solutions that are effective enough to free administrators from interminable trouble shooting so that they can continue to facilitate further problem-solving. Power is through other professionals, rather than exercised over them.

As leaders manage, lead, coach, evaluate, mediate, and coordinate as well as continue to provide the visible symbol of value and virtue demanded today, they must sort through issues of authority and power with those they wish to lead. Instead of trying to lead by controlling all events, leadership can be by increasing the capacity of others and by minimizing controlling acts. Instead of most of the administrator's time and energy being focused on control, most of it can be focused on facilitation of others' knowledge, talents, and expertise. Current educational innovations (for example, instructional leadership, site-based management, mainstreaming, and clinical supervision) promise changes for teacher and administrator professionalism and for school organization itself in ways that may extend well beyond the shifting of specific contested spheres These movements use professional knowledge as a source of internal political power. The new knowledge and skills, however, may only serve to highlight areas of ignorance, curiously increasing interdependency, the need for trust, and the desirability of facilitative management. They also threaten a status quo based on autonomous spheres, deemed professionally and organizationally, and on the organizational symbol structure rooted deeply in the experience and tradition of American schools. Power as a system of facilitation can be added to more traditional conceptualizations to provide a more useful conceptual frame for practitioners and researchers.

As we have presented it here, facilitative power also appears to have two additional side effects. First, facilitative power may result from decentralization, but it may also both decentralize and enlarge the decision-making process by incorporating more involvement by more actors. Where facilitation is the dominant mode of administrative behavior, it generally involves efforts to increase the autonomy and decision-making capability of professional staff who frame problems and attempt to develop solutions. Implicitly, facilitation presumes that the quality of many educational efforts can be improved by bringing choices closer to problems and closer to the professionals who will actually implement specific decisions in classrooms and elsewhere. At least in activities that have specific legal ramifications, decisions must still be ratified by those who have legal authority as a consequence of their formal roles. However, negotiations can be conducted through facilitative processes rather than as reaffirmations of domination or of positional authority. What occurs in these two areas resembles a "negotiated order" very comparable to that which Strauss, Schatzman, Ehrlich, Bucher, and Sabshin (1963) found in their research on hospitals.

Second, facilitative systems appear to encourage nonstandardized approaches to and solutions of problems. Facilitation encourages actors to treat each situation as unique, even if the problem-solving process can be made routine through such explicit formats as IEP meetings. Moreover, specific solutions are functions of actors, individually and collectively, rather than functions of a bureaucratic system. Individuals or teams rely on their knowledge, skills, and experience to define specific educational problems and propose solutions rather than give priority to precedent or align themselves with what others are doing. There are likely several professionally appropriate courses of action for any given students classroom, or building problem. Where this is the case, professional solutions may be most effective when they are aligned with characteristics of professionals who deliver services as well as with characteristics of children experiencing problems. There is some danger of professionals starting with solutions rather than with problems, that is, seeking problems that fit the solutions they have on hand. Both special education and clinical supervision, however, do have an accountability framework that provides controls. At least one researcher has suggested that superiors' reliance on such professional autonomy appears to improve performance and motivation (Raelin, 1986).

We can anticipate that experiments with site-basing decisions and school restructuring will accelerate already existing trends that reduce standardization within and across districts. In practice' school staffs strive to match mandated educational programs to specific local characteristics of students, teachers, and communities. Professional, community, and parental pressure increasingly influences the adoption or termination of curricular and other school programs. Current federal policy in special education, for example, with its emphasis on individual programming combined with mainstreaming, increases variance within and between classrooms and schools, thereby reducing educators' ability to standardize assessment and program delivery. A second example can be seen in clinical supervision practices in which several widely used models of clinical supervision vary from site to site and supervisor to supervisor. The movements away from standardization in both special education and clinical supervision, combined with site-based restructuring activities, increase the likelihood that neither top-down power nor participatory democracy can adequately explain successful practice at any given site.

We have left at least two issues unexplored in our discussion of power. What occurs in special education and supervision may or may not be typical of other educators' professional activities. IEP decisions and supervisor observations, however characterized, are intrinsically interactive and require meetings. Yet, in terms of time, they are usually a small part of what most teachers and administrators do. We can anticipate that school restructuring will encourage more activities in which teachers share time, space, and students--factors that require some collaboration and benefit from external facilitation. These may include multidisciplinary curricula, thematic curricula, almost anything related to computers, education in multicultural settings, and so on (Goldman & Dunlap, 1990). To date, however, only a minority of teachers are now required to work closet with others while performing their core professional activities.

Finally, the increased demands for facilitative power may have effects on school administrators, especially on principals, that are difficult to predict in this era of reform. Special education, an area of little interest and training for many administrators, does not provide a strong test of the effects of movement towards more facilitative administration. Most principals have been happy to delegate special education and to broker resource allocation issues. Supervision is more complex and problematic because principals vary profoundly in their desire and ability to use supervision as a mode of instructional leadership and school improvement. It is an issue in which the tension between evaluation and improvement is necessarily sharp. If the use of facilitative power contributes to a cumulative reduction in administrators' formal authority, it will also likely reduce the degree to which they ale at the visible center of schools. They may become less able to intervene in professional issues and consequently less directly responsible for either school success or school failure. Given that motivation and reward systems for school administrators emphasize traditional centrality, fully facilitative power systems may force school leaders to redefine the types of ego rewards they can expect to experience in formal leadership roles.

In this article, we have argued that thinking of power only as authoritative and coercive unnecessarily limits our ability to describe how power is exercised in today's schools. Thinking of power as primarily facilitative and interactive does not preclude authoritative, vertically oriented power. Authoritative power begins to drop lower on the ladder of effective techniques for working with educational professionals. Facilitative power does not imply abdication of control. Instead, it emphasizes the potential of maximizing problem-solving capabilities by incorporating more of the professional skills available in educational organizations. Changing the way in which we frame issues of power may help us to see more clearly the power that we already exercise and identify more quickly new ways of working together in the rapidly unfolding future of education.


1. Weber's concept of charisma speaks largely to the psychopolitics of transforming systems rather than to the motivation and performance of people (Gerth & Mills, 1946, pp. 245-252).
2. In developing their definition of power, Abbott and Caracheo (1988, p. 243) collapse French and Raven's often cited categorization of power (legitimate, reward, punishment, referent, and expert) to the two bases of authority and prestige. They argue that reward and punishment are art exercise of power rather than a base of power and therefore are of a different order than the other definitions givers. They agree with French and Raven that legitimate power is authority. Referent power and expert power are seen as types of prestige, defined by Abbott and Caracheo as individual power through personal attributes. These might include, for instance, identification, expertness, intelligence, ability to lead, and past service record. They conclude that the only two bases of power, therefore, arc formal authority and prestige within the organization.