The idea of ‘agency’ has been tossed about prominently for the last few
Even the PYP programme will be enhanced this coming Fall to more directly address agency and its role. With such a dynamic change to an established program, it seems certain that this topic is here to stay for
So, let’s first take a step back and define
According to the IBO,
While this is a broad definition encompassing the word’s meaning both in and out of education, I think a lot can be derived from those few words in terms of students and their learning. I think of the word ‘capacity’ and think of students being able to complete tasks and make choices, and being given the chance to do so. ‘Act’ automatically sends me to a place where the students are the ones “doing the heavy lifting” and being quite active in their educational journey. And the word ‘intentionally’ implies that choices are being made with purpose, through motivation, interest
Taking information from several websites, I was able to create this word cloud from their definitions.
Not surprisingly, some words like agency, students, and learning came up as big, bold repeated ideas. But I thought it was more interesting to look at some of the mid-sized words that were also clearly mentioned multiple times: choice, active, meaningful, initiative, motivation.
My thoughts surrounding the definition tie in well with the prominent words from the word cloud. Many seem to agree that the ideas of choice, meaning, motivation, intention are all part of the pathway to the future of our classroom.
But, these ideas are not really new
In Beth Holland’s 2015 Edutopia article she relates this idea to the work of Tyack and Cuban. She states,
“In their book Tinkering Towards Utopia, David Tyack and Larry Cuban describe education reform as both incremental and cyclical. Over time, schools make incremental changes. Meanwhile, specific conversations repeat themselves in cycles. However, as a topic reemerges, the environment has shifted. Agency and learner empowerment are not new concepts, nor are the recommendations
forhow to achieve them. However, the landscape no longer looks the same.”
For me, the answer is yes.
While many things in education (and life, for that matter) are cyclical, I think we must take this opportunity to evaluate the role agency could play in our classroom today and how we might move forward with this knowledge. With resources available so readily through advancements in technology, giving students the power over their educational journey seems more plausible than ever.
Schools that support agency in their students have customizable programs for their students, foster real and meaningful relationships between students and advisors, and provide equality for all learners.
What does this mean for you? Your classroom? Your students?
Let’s think about some simple steps teachers might be able to take in their individual classrooms. Maybe students can redesign the learning space to suit their needs. Instead of controlling the look and feel of the room, letting students have power over the space and how it’s used offers ownership to the whole learning community.
As a teacher, you could also try taking small steps with student choice in your individual subjects.
By offering a menu of review sessions and a series of other “could do” activities,
While this beginning step is still quite structured by the teacher, it’s activating
Offering students agency in their educational journey doesn’t mean you eliminate all structure and curriculum. It’s shifting the balance of power so that students take ownership of their learning needs. Students make the choices. Students determine what’s best for them. Students help build the structure and curriculum that suits their needs. As teachers, we must learn to let go of making decisions for our students. To do this, we should accept that not everything will always go perfectly, or always look ‘just so’, and we must come to understand that that is okay.
Now it’s time for you to be the agent of your own learning and take a deep dive into student agency. If you aren’t sure where to begin or aren’t sure what impact it might have, I would encourage you to start some research on the topic. Taryn Bond-Clegg has shared this amazing document full of links on her blog and both are quite extensive. It’s a great first stop for anyone beginning their journey into student agency and offers many suggestions and documents for you to use directly in your classroom.
What are your thoughts on student agency? What shifts are you or your school making that give the power back to the students?
“‘Student Agency’ Is Not Something You Give or Take | EdSurge News.” 16 Oct. 2015,
“Part 1: Student Agency? Teacher Agency? School Agency ….” 4 Dec. 2016
“Classroom (un)Set-Up – riskandreflect – WordPress.com.” 17 Aug. 2016,
“Standards: Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a ….” 9 Mar. 2015,
“5 Ways to Promote Student Agency – Cooper on Curriculum.” 20 Jun. 2017