Learning to ‘Let Go’ in the Presence of Agency.

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 7.16.49 AMLike many in education I have been swept away by the wave of ‘Student-Agency’.  The new era in education is seeing the voice, choice and ownership of learning being willingly transferred from teacher to student. Our young learners are enthusiastically taking charge of their learning environments, increasingly making the decisions on what, how and when they would like to learn. With the aid of the learning environment we provide they are in every sense becoming their own teachers. So where does that leave the teacher?

To many educators the change in dynamics is welcomed but then to others it can be a challenging process to give up their authority in the classroom. It may certainly cause some bruised egos with the realisation that teachers are no longer the fountains of all knowledge or the central figure of authority and learning within a classroom in which they claim some ownership.

It is my belief, and even hope, that the changes that are taking place are irreversible and represent a new direction in education. But still, I have been left with much to ponder. This new learning environment is certainly much different than the one that I entered over a decade ago. I was much more certain in my role as a teacher back then when I was allocated ‘my’ classroom and it was ‘my’ responsibility to create detailed lesson plans for the week that ‘my’ ‘good’ students would follow. I can still remember the hours spent during my evenings and weekends creating a precise learning agenda for the week. Then the wave of ‘student-agency’ swept over my world.

At first, there was a period of time that I felt a little lost. I was insecure in my new role and setting. What was my purpose if the students had taken ownership of their own learning? The classroom was no longer my own and I was no longer the fountain of all knowledge. I had even given over control of my detailed lesson plans, which at one point, I had taken so much care and pride in creating and implementing.

I found myself going through a period of self discovery as I tried to find new purpose to my role as a ‘teacher’. I began my journey by developing a deeper understanding as to the ‘why’ these changes have happened. Once I fully understood the implications and benefits to the student’s learning all that was left was for me was to rediscover my purpose. It required a change in mindset and a sense of ‘letting go’ but once I achieved this it changed my world.

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 7.19.20 AMWithin the learning environment I am no longer outside the learning process but I have become an active member within it. No longer the fountain of all knowledge but now working alongside the students in their journey of discovery. The joy I once had of providing students with knowledge has been replaced by the increased pleasure of being alongside the children as they discover the knowledge for themselves. In my new role I find myself being a guide, mentor, motivator, counsellor, friend, facilitator, questioner, observer, philosopher, parent, listener and learner. I feel that the term ‘teacher’ can no longer be an accurate description of my duties.

My weekends and evenings are no longer spent in the creation of lesson plans but now I am more inclined to reflect on the days learning thinking ‘where to next?’. Rather than providing planning my role is to provide opportunities for learning and developing skills. Guiding my students to the next step in self discovery. I am reminded of quotes from Seymour Papert, who said “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” And second, from Carl Rogers, who wrote “I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior.”

Throughout my journey of self discovery I have come to realise that just as the students have become their own teachers, I have made the opposite journey from teacher to learner. With a change in my own habits I have more time to pursue my own interests. During my free-time I am more inclined to research educational theory, write educational articles and blogs, connect with like minded individuals on social media and exchange ideas and practice. Do I still spend hours planning? No! Does this make me less of an educator? Absolutely not! At no other point in my career do I feel more passionate and  informed about educational issues and child development. At no other point in my career do I feel more confident in being in a position to support, engage, and develop the students within my class.

When ‘Agency’ came it did not just give voice, choice and ownership to the students but it also gave it to the educators as well. It gave us greater freedom to take ownership within our own careers and the benefits are enormous to both the students and teachers. Providing agency to our students does not have to be a challenging process in fact it should feel liberating.

4 thoughts on “Learning to ‘Let Go’ in the Presence of Agency.

  1. Thank you, David for sharing your reflection. I share the exact same feelings about student agency and how it has impacted my practices. I have become more reflective than a planner and more learner than a teacher since I started letting go the controlling aspect and offer more choices to my class. Giving them choices makes them feel confident and heard and lets them take ownership of their work.

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  2. Pingback: August 27-31, 2018 | WIS Staff Blog

  3. I’m with you David! And what I love the most is that I spend more time really leaning in and listening to students’ ideas rather than trying to figure out who’s listening to mine (ie: “learned” the pre-set outcomes and skills from my lesson planning). It’s a different dynamic and it has brought a lot of joy and creativity back into the process of learning, in which there is more of a dialogue rather than my traditional “monologue” of the past lesson planning. And, for once, I’m no longer questioning if I’m doing “inquiry” right, because I know that when we follow the path of the learner, then how could it be “wrong”.
    Thanks for your reflections and insights! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi David,

    Thank you for the reflection. Many of the sentiments you express resonate with me. The movement towards agency is promising for our learners when they learn skills and can follow through by applying them to their own choices. In my opinion, we definitely have a teacher’s role still. Approaches to inquiry or agency need scaffolding, ensuring that students have a clear purpose when choosing what is meaningful to them. We still explicitly teach in the right moments, building their literacy, fluency and different areas. We track their ability to focus, we break down tasks for them to ensure they do not get cognitively overloaded. We are the pillar they lean on when they lack executive function, social-emotional needs…etc. These are children that will need agency as adults ultimately. We have to be sure that this is our end goal. IMHO 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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