Learner agency and classroom management…

How does learner agency influence the need for ‘classroom management’?

Posting the question on Twitter brought responses such as these:

After listening to Derek Wenmoth’s video, our teachers collectively came up with a list of words that characterise agency. These included concepts like initiative, empowerment, intentionality, self-regulation, trust, awareness, active involvement, interdependence and, interestingly, wellbeing…

Inspired by Nadia Ellis’ post, we explored the meaning of ‘management’ and compared our agency list with synonyms for ‘manage’ – control, handle, master, manipulate, dominate, rule, oversee, supervise…  No wonder that little blue guy is pushing back!

So how might we create a culture of learner agency in our classrooms, a culture in which learners are empowered to take ownership of their learning and the need for classroom ‘management’ is diminished?

We’re exploring agency through the lens of Project Zero’s Eight Cultural Forces: language, time, opportunities, expectations, interactions, routines, modelling and physical environment. How might a thoughtful approach to each of these support the development of a culture of agency? What might we need to change? We’re compiling a collaborative list, so what are your thoughts?

Images from http://www.presentermedia.com/

6 thoughts on “Learner agency and classroom management…

  1. A synonym that wasn’t included was autonomy. Autonomy is one of the three psychological needs identified by Self-Determination Theory. (See Ryan and Deci) The other two are competency and relatedness. It’s no surprise that there is less need for classroom management when learners have autonomy because “discipline problems” correlate to situations where their needs are not met–or are actively thwarted. The animation is brilliant!


    1. They weren’t synonyms, they were words that came up in the video they watched and, yes, I wonder why autonomy wasn’t one of them?!
      It’s no surprise indeed. Yet, do you think all teachers realise that? Some fear what will happen if they release control.


      1. Not only do teachers not realize it, but given the obsession with one-size-fits-all standards and testing in the U.S., they are hard-pressed to give learners agency. More and more are trying, while still trying to “teach to standards.” When you read all the research about self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan) and The End of Average by Todd Rose, it’s apparent that public education, at least in the U.S., is the antithesis of what research suggests about learning.

        Here’s a paragraph from Ryan and Deci that shows the link between autonomy, competency, and relatedness and the “need” for classroom management.

        “When individuals experience need-thwarting environments, such as contexts that are overly controlling, rejecting, critical, and negative, or that otherwise frustrate autonomy, relatedness, and competence needs, individuals are more likely to become self-focused, defensive, amotivated, aggressive, and antisocial. In fact, the presence of these more negative human capacities is typically indicative of social contexts that are thwarting of fundamental or basic psychological needs.…In short, the support versus neglect of basic needs is critical in influencing the flourishing or diminishment of people’s inherent capacities to fully function.”

        (Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press. p. 9)

        One can’t help but relate these words to the “discipline problems” that frustrate so many traditional educators. Is the problem really with the learners? Or with the learning environment?


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