My first thought about ‘influence’ is that we frequently mix up power and influence. When we feel powerless we are feeling our own lack of influence. I would argue that teachers need to be aim for influence rather than power. It is an important question for early career teachers who are often looking for answers to these questions and can be in danger of overcompensating!
This distinction is also important because it also gives us a pointer to the solution to the problem of losing ‘control’ in the classroom. We tend to look up to teachers who often brag about students who ‘behave’ for them. Those teachers often behave like they have a lot of influence but the reality is different.
I have recently gone through my NQT and RQT years as an older (though not necessarily wiser) person. Last year I had a particularly difficult year 9 group who drove me to distraction. My early heavy handed attempts to discipline them meant that there were frequent and embarrassing interventions from senior managers who often had had to remove several students from the class.
Eventually I learnt that my more successful classes were the quieter ones. Eventually, I saw how my words and curiosity were being reflected in their essays and in their progress. At the end of the year I introduced them to Macbeth and was pleased with their response. I had finally become an influencer as an English teacher.
When I look back at the year I can honestly say that the turning point came when I learnt to calm myself down. We have known about the importance of emotional intelligence for a long time. We know that people who have influence over others are those who have high emotional intelligence. And in schools they are not the braggers. They are actually often the introverts who have higher self awareness. They are the people who have made friends with themselves.
So, as teachers perhaps we need to listen more! Make sure you make good friends with yourself first, make friends with other teachers, listen to the quiet ones more carefully and no matter what stage in your career you are at, never be afraid to ask for help.