Magazine Feature

Toolkit for The Gentle Catalyst

As adults and authority figures, teachers have power over their students. This toolkit is an “adult privilege” checklist teachers can use as a self-assessment tool to help them think about their own privilege in the classroom.

The article reminds us that sometimes we need a “gentle catalyst” to help examine our privilege. The profiled teachers act as “gentle catalysts” for their students, providing thoughtful activities and lessons to carefully push students to look at the role of privilege in their own lives. In the same way, teachers can push themselves and each other to reflect on the role adult privilege plays in their classrooms. 

How do teachers, as adults and authority figures, have power over students? Educator, writer and activist Paul Kivel reflects on his own youth in an article on adultism: “At home, at school, in stores, at work, on the sports field, on the streets—adults had the authority to decide how we should dress, how we should talk, where we could be, who we could be with, and who we couldn't. They decided our future, through grades, discipline, records, arrests, report cards, evaluations, allowances, and/or the lack or neglect of all of the above.”


Essential Questions

  1. What is adult privilege?
  2. How does my adult privilege affect my students and my classroom environment?
  3. What are some ways that I can share my privilege with my students?

Below is an “adult privilege” checklist that teachers can use as a self-assessment tool to help them think about their own privilege in the classroom.


In the classroom:

Y/N ___ I set the schedule for what happens in my classroom.

Y/N ___ I make the rules and the corresponding consequences for my classroom.

Y/N ___ I decide what gets rewarded in my classroom.

Y/N ___ I decide what students should learn in my classroom.

Y/N ___ I can require that everyone talk to me in a respectful way, and if I don’t feel respected, I can hand out consequences or punishments.

Y/N ___ I have the power to decide who succeeds in my classroom.


In the school:

Y/N ___ I can tend to my own bodily needs on my own schedule (e.g., go the bathroom or eat a snack).

Y/N ___ I can be in the hallway whenever I want.

Y/N ___ I can talk to my friends and colleagues in the hallway.

Y/N ___ I know no one will physically restrain me or touch me without my permission.

Y/N ___ I get compensated for the work I do at our school.


Questions to consider:

  • What did you notice about your answers?
  • Did it make you think any differently about your classroom? Your relationship with your students? Your students’ experience in your classroom and the school as a whole?
  • How does your privilege or power in the classroom impact your students?
  • How does your privilege or power in the classroom benefit you?
  • Does your privilege or power in the classroom have any negative effects on your teaching and your relationships with your students?


Next steps:

  • Can I talk about adultism and my privilege in the classroom with my students? Can having such a conversation change the dynamics in my classroom?
  • What can I change about the way my classroom is organized to share more privileges with my students?
  • What changes can I make to my lesson plans or teaching style to share more privileges with my students?
  • How can our school culture change or shift to allow more privileges or agency for our students? 
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