Building Agency

“Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader. They set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role. It’s always about the goal.” Lisa Haisha

One of my students chose to make a paper mache 3D model of a heart as part of the Who We Are unit of inquiry; The effective interactions between human body systems contribute to health and survival. Initially she was very excited about it, but in the middle of the project she struggled to put things together. “It’s a lot harder than I thought,” she said.

Seeing her perplexed, I moved closer to her and asked, “Do you need help?”

She looked at me and replied, “No, I will figure it out, remember you always say it’s ok to make mistakes, but it’s more important to try.” She managed to complete the project successfully.

20180527_222247     3d model of a heart

I was elated to receive this reply. This interaction got me thinking about my teaching practices and I decided to explore this conversation further during our class circle time, one of the many ways to receive feedback from my students.

During the class circle time, I asked my third grade students, “What are the things that I say or do that makes you feel confident, excited or nervous in the classroom?” I got some interesting answers, but the most thought-provoking reply was when some of my students said, “We feel excited and nervous when you say, today we are going to do something new and different.”

I was surprised to get this answer and asked them curiously, “Why are you nervous and excited when we try something new?”

The students said, “when we do new things it is fun, but at the same time we do not know how difficult or easy it would be for us or if we can do it correctly.”

Yes, of course! Fear of failure. Don’t we all go through the same feeling when we take a risk and try to do something different? It is a common feeling irrespective of gender, age, beliefs and values.

As rightly put by Brain Tracy- “It’s not failure itself that holds you back; it’s the fear of failure that paralyzes you. “

I have the courage to say, “Let’s try something new and different” because I am supported by a leadership team who believes in innovation and encourages constructive reflection. After all, every innovation was once a thought, an idea, and an experiment. Does it make me less nervous before trying something new?

No! Just like my students, I am excited and nervous at the same time.

Innovation requires a lot of efforts, but it also comes with a tag of uncertainty. As an educator, I can think of incidences when risk taking did not get me the desired results, yet there are occasions where I am glad, I took a different route. Sometimes the results were better than my expectations.

growth mind set

I can remember an outdoor task I planned with my students to inquire into how and why archaeologists excavate the ground. They had to take on the role of archaeologists and dig the ground to find artifacts. I was really excited about this, but was not sure how my students would respond. At one point, I expected them to complain about the weather and how difficult the task was, instead they asked for some more time to find all the pieces of the artifact. During reflection, I realised students had a better understanding of how archaeologists work. One of the student also said “It’s not an easy job to be an archaeologist”.20180115_111654
Third grade archaeologists at work.

20180115_114858Students are trying to fix the pieces together to identify the artefact.

Student Agency v/s Teacher Agency   

Student agency is such a recurring term these days. We want students to have a voice, we want them to choose, to think, to innovate, be empowered, but can we undermine the role of teacher agency in achieving the desired results. Educators would agree that one of the best ways to develop the right attributes and attitudes in students would be to model them as adults. If we as teachers are fortunate enough to have the the freedom to take risks, innovate and design our own pathway to achieve the goal, students will certainly follow.

During the journey of teaching and learning we have to remember that there are no failures or challenges, you either succeed or it’s a learning experience. There will be plenty of learning experiences, what works for one year may not work for the next year because if we encourage student agency, each individual  has different ideas and they make different choices and connections. It is an endless web of learning and growing all directed towards student empowerment and making students responsible global citizens.

When I think of promoting agency a lot of words and phrases float around my head. It often leads me to question my own practices. Are my efforts in the right direction? What is it that I can do better? How can I model agency effectively, so my students feel it is a way of life? To make this more concrete I presented all the ideas using a visual cue(see figure below). Most of the ideas are a result of my interactions with my students and other educators. I plan to use this model as a reflection for all the practices I should continue to follow regularly to empower my students. I will also  incorporate it during the planning process and classroom discussion from the next academic year. This is in no way a perfect one and I will look to enhance it based on discussions, feedback, and reflection.

I would like to conclude this article with one of my favourite quotes by John Wooden- “The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own example.” Let’s continue to inspire and make a difference.

Copy of teacher student model-8