top of page
  • Writer's pictureMcKinley

Wheel of Power and Control - Schools

"Survival sometimes means not responding to oppressive behavior directly. To do so could result in physical harm to oneself, even death." - Beverly Daniel Tatum

Some folks close to me are aware of what I have been experiencing at work over the last two and a half months as we bring more children back to in-person learning. Inspired by the toxic and abusive experiences that I have had during this time as well as previously, I adapted a version of the Wheel of Power and Control for Workplaces to be more specific to schools.

Another variation of this could easily reflect the harmful experiences that students have at the hands of some teachers and other adults in their schools.

During the process of a grievance I am currently navigating, I have referenced the Workplace Wheel of Power and Control to document experiences to which I have been subjected. Some of those are reflected here. Others I have experienced in the past or had colleagues share with me that they have experienced.

I chose the quote at the beginning not because it entirely relates to my own experiences - in this context and as a white, cis-het-passing, able-bodied person, my privilege is high while navigating experiences of this nature in the workplace. I chose the quote because for many other people, specifically educators who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other People of Color, navigating workplace abuse can mean risking much more harm.

For anyone who is in survival mode while living within oppressive boundaries of work or home, not responding can be a matter of maintaining your safety.

Being able to identify what you are experiencing as violent, harmful acts can be validating and empowering.

The image is limited in that it cannot exhaustively reflect all forms of how power and control show up in schools for teachers and other staff.

Another important piece of analysis is the overlap between characteristics of white supremacy culture and the areas of this wheel. I have included the common characteristics I have identified - though it is important to note that all characteristics of white supremacy culture are pervasive in the education system.


Quantity over quality

Only one right way


Either/or thinking

Fear of open conflict

Power hoarding


I believe all of the behaviors seek to achieve one overarching goal: maintaining the comfort of administrative staff at the expense of others.

Have you had experiences of this nature working in schools? What have your experiences been like?

An orange background with a white circle split into eight pieces. In the center of the white circle is another smaller, orange circle that is labelled Power and Control. At the top of the outer circle it is labeled “School Edition” with one word on each side.  The eight slices are divided up into Intimidation: Creating discomfort by behaving aggressively, placing one's body in a hostile position, purposefully using forceful language in emails, scrutinizing your work more than others' or assigning tasks outside your scope. Tone policing; Emotional Abuse: Shaming, name calling, creating guilt instead of growth from mistakes, humiliation, and gaslighting (sowing doubt in one's ability or work ethic, acting as though a person's perspective or interpretation of a situation is invalid).; Minimizing, Denying, Blaming: Dismissing reports of toxic or abusive behavior, victim blaming those who are abused or harmed, prioritizing intent over impact, disregarding impact identified by individuals, suggesting teachers' experiences of burnout should be resolved by self-care.; Isolation: Separating teachers from collaborating, especially when unions are involved or active. Threatening teachers for collaborating on their own time outside of work.; Using Co-Workers: Pitting teachers against one another, asking staff to observe/investigate another's actions informally and report back, not resolving communication conflicts through mediation but letting them persist.; Employer Privilege: Making decisions without input from teachers or staff whom it impacts, remaining disconnected, aloof, and/or unempathetic about the consequences of decisions. asking staff to not use work time to communicate grievances, having time limits on when an employee can report harm.; Economic Abuse: Expecting work outside of paid hours, not having reasonable time to complete tasks. Discouraging staff from talking about their pay. Applying consequences for work not done within unreasonable amounts of time.; Coercion and Threats: Expecting teachers to work when sick, stigmatizing taking time off for mental health, threatening discipline when staff are advocating in opposition to harmful practices. The handle @resiliencetogether is on the bottom right corner and a note in the bottom left corner that this was adapted from Adapted from Scott, H. (2018). Extending the Duluth Model to Workplace Bullying: A Modification and Adaptation of the Workplace Power-Control Wheel. Workplace Health & Safety, 66(9), 444-452.

177 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Reciprocal Authenticity

I named “reciprocal authenticity” to one of my closest friends, Leona, on December 11, 2021. I’ve thought about and referenced it a lot since then, in a number of contexts. I knew a blog was percolati


bottom of page