Student Agency?

This year in the interest of student agency, I opened my room to my students. They have access to all the cabinets and supplies. We have alternative and free-choice seating. Students make their own schedules. We honor and support student-led action. Students build criteria for their learning and even for their play. We hold class meetings (ala Sudbury) every day to share problems and get solutions from peers.  

But even as I think of the wonderful things students are doing and the amazing conversations we have had, I know that it is nowhere near enough. The furniture, cabinets and supplies are in the places I chose them to be, and I can always take the right away (and have) if they aren’t respecting the space. Their schedules follow my timeline and they must work on things I have chosen (“but they can pick the order they do things!”). They build criteria for summative assessments my colleagues and I have created. We hold class meetings and they frequently look to me to call on them so they can share their thoughts.

Is this student agency? Or a version of it? How do I balance the requirements of my district and the interests of my students? How do I convince administrators, colleagues, and parents that we should give students the chance to follow their interests and have true agency? How do I support learners in their journey without taking their choice away? Most importantly, do I have the courage to do what I think is right and rebel against this system?

What are ways you have tried to honor student voice and conquer the doubt this journey creates?

4 thoughts on “Student Agency?

  1. My team and I have these discussions daily! We feel your pain. We are very careful to throw around the word agency when there are still so many decisions that are made for students, but without students…

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  2. Well Done Sarah – and challenging scheduling and the use of space is no mean feat….
    Taryn had a blog post a little while ago “Go Far….or Go Fast” which I keep going back to …. maybe just one conversation, one cabinet is where to start….and then watch them fly.
    We also often reflect that with ‘power (agency) comes responsibility and accountability’ and these are life lessons to learn as we hand more responsibility, space and time to the learners… plus we’ve found the need to un-school ourselves and our learning community and all this takes time. After all we are challenging decades of institution thinking!!! And Hurrah! for it.
    So glad to hear and see that there are many quiet rumbles of the ‘rebel’ everywhere – may it long continue and we together we can make some REAL noise!

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  3. I think that in the beginning you need to make your own path and take the risks and jumps you are comfortable with. I resonated with your question “How do I convince administrators, colleagues, and parents that we should give students the chance to follow their interests and have true agency?”

    I’ll be honest, I have been working on my own version of what agency might look in the classroom all year… pretty much on my own. Sure, I’d bounce ideas off my PYPCo, he would see what I was doing on Twitter and cheer me on… but as far as the rest of my colleagues went (even my G3 teaching partner), I just had this notion in my head that they wouldn’t be open. That they would turn it down. That my version wasn’t good enough to share. That’s not to say my door was closed and I just got on with it. My door is literally always open and some people in the school did see snippets, but of course they all have their own priorities. One by one as my colleagues began joining Twitter and seeing parts of what I was doing I became more comfortable and confident.

    Last week I finally had a large enough chunk of time to present to my colleagues about what I have been doing. After all, with the enhanced PYP coming, I really wanted them to start thinking about ways they could start heading towards agency in their own classrooms. Plus, I had a fear that after I leave and my students move on to grade 4, all of this responsibility and independence they have developed will be taken away from them. I no longer have this fear though, because I shared. Because I was open. And the teachers received it all very well and became very excited. They were super impressed and hopefully inspired to start making some changes in their own classrooms (http://innovativeinquirers.weebly.com/blog/agency-as-and-for-professional-development is my reflection from that day).

    Sorry for that long reflection there – you really got me thinking about my own journey! I guess my point is keep going. Keep reflecting. Keep changing. My class’ planners change every few weeks because we realise things could be better. Things could be added. Things need to be changed. So we do! And as I told my colleagues, if I had a different class then it might look completely different for us right now. It is totally a product of your own students, just like units of inquiry are!

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