Agency in the Exhibition

‘Thinking beyond ourselves empowers us to act.’

This is the central idea for this year’s exhibition and it has been powerful in driving learner inquiries towards action. We started by asking students and teachers what they do to go beyond themselves in their school, in the community, and in the world. There followed a series of powerful, engaging provocations including a whole day conference with workshops led by NGO’s, charities and other social justice groups, a series of opt-in excursions to similar venues, short films, documentaries and guest speakers. Once immersed, students began to identify areas in which they felt they could explore going beyond themselves.

But this post is not really about the obvious learner agency idea of choice. I’ve come to understand that agency is more about learner investment. We tried to rethink the process of the exhibition this year to bring agency and action into its every aspect:

Examples of this included:

  • students ‘running’ the conference – catering, audiovisual aspects, welcoming guests, giving inspirational speeches, self-selecting workshops
  • opt-in guest speaker sessions throughout the exhibition process
  • mentorship with adults based on rapport and personal connections rather than an interest in a similar area
  • allowing students to plan, implement and evaluate peer-learning lessons and workshops with younger students
  • discussion groups run by students for students of the same year level – themes included Perspectives of Bullies, Bystanders and Bullied Students, ‘Exploring Fear and Coping Strategies’, and ‘The Masks we Wear to School’
  • cross-year level collaboration and flexible timetabling – teachers saying ‘yes’ to students turning up at their door wanting to interview other students or even the whole class (as long as it didn’t disrupt something terribly important)
  • one on one student sharing sessions throughout the journey with various thinking routines used to scaffold conversations and provide feedback structure
  • extended email engagements with primary sources and mentors
  • students organising their own immersive experiences
  • students organising and implementing food drives without teacher intervention

As a teacher, once again, I’ve tried to say ‘yes’ amidst the chaos. Let’s face it, the beautiful chaos of exhibition can push those teacher control buttons. Sometimes rightly so. There have been times where staggered sessions of high structure and teacher choice have been necessary for the well-being of all learners.

The externalisation of my thought processes about agency continues to be a strategy I use when negotiating learning experiences with students. It’s my way of modeling my own inquiry and has engaged students in conversations around this. When learner agency is high, students should be able to articulate reasonable justifications for their plans and choices.

This is a short post, sorry. There are eight days to go until the exhibition, nine days until the end of the school year, and I’m pretty well cooked. But I wanted to make a little space to remind myself that I’m still doing all of this with something bigger in mind.

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