Building a culture of agency…

It’s exciting to see so many teachers relinquishing control and empowering their students. Stephanie in Singapore had kids do their own set up on the first day of school and the inspirational folk of Studio 5 at ISHCMC have broken yet more moulds.  Right here in Aus, at my own school, some students are planning their own inquiries in the same way that teachers plan, and teachers are releasing control and reflecting candidly about the process in the pursuit of learner agency.

What if you’re not ready to release control to this extent? How might you start small? What might some first steps be towards an increase in agency for your learners?

Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces provide a platform from which to embark on your journey. Just apply them to agency, instead of thinking! How might you build a culture of learner agency in your classroom?

What sort of language will you use?

Do you talk about learning, rather than tasks and work?

Is your learning framed as a question that invites learners into the process?

Do you ask the learners’ opinions and really listen to what they say?

Do you notice and name learning assets?

Do you refer to your students as authors, mathematicians and scientists?

How is the environment organised to foster agency?

Who designs the learning space? Whose thinking is on the walls?

Are there options for where and with whom to sit and learn?

Are materials and resources well organised and easily accessible?

What sorts of opportunities are offered?

Are there opportunities for learners to pursue their own inquiries?

Are there opportunities to write for an authentic audience and to extend learning beyond the classroom?

Are there opportunities for learners to wrestle with challenging problems and design solutions?

How is time managed? 

Is there time for thinking, reflecting and inquiring?

Who manages the time? Is self management encouraged?

Is time used constructively for meaningful learning, rather than just completion of set tasks?

Do students waste time waiting for the teacher, when they could be doing something more worthwhile?

What dispositions do you model?

Do you model vulnerability, apologise when you’re wrong and talk about your mistakes?

Do you openly change your mind and your plan?

Do you model decision making and talk through the process aloud?

What routines are in place to encourage agency?

Are there routines for accessing equipment, sharing learning, asking for help…without waiting for the teacher?

Do they start when they’re ready, rather than waiting till you have finished giving the same instructions to all?

Are there routines for giving and receiving peer to peer feedback, without being told?

What kind of expectations are clearly set?

Are learners expected to and trusted to take ownership of learning?

Do they have (at least some) choice and voice in what they learn and how they learn?

Is initiative valued over compliance?

Is intrinsic motivation expected and encouraged through powerful, engaging learning experiences? (no Class Dojo)

How do interactions foster agency?

Are interactions between you and your learners mutually respectful?

How well do you know every child’s story, her interests, her passions and her insecurities? Can she tell that you care?

Do your interactions demonstrate belief in the learners’ capacity to own their learning?

Can they tell that you trust them to learn?

What small action will you take to shift the culture in your class?

Image from Presenter Media

Adventure Time – an experiment in student driven learning…

Most formal curricula have hundreds of outcomes. If you were to address them individually, you’d need to be at school for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for about 20 years…

What if you relinquished control and let learning happen?

What if the students had opportunities for authentic, meaningful, self-directed learning, through which many of the curriculum areas were addressed?

Last week I visited Jina’s class as they were preparing to present their pitches for ‘Adventure Time’. The couple of pitches I witnessed incorporated multiple curriculum areas and a broad range of trans disciplinary skills.

It’s interesting, then, that teachers think they can’t spare the time for this sort of learning!

I’ll be observing the learning with interest as this experiment unfolds and documenting it here.

Here’s what the kids are saying…

The need for choice…

I really like Chobani Greek yoghurt, but I am tired of the three or four flavours sold at my local supermarket. A bit of research further afield has revealed no less than twenty flavours available. Apparently, if customers request, my local supermarket might stock a bigger variety.

My choice was limited by what I was offered and what I knew.

It reminds me of schools…

Parents‘ expectations and demands tend to be based on school as they know it, on impressions formed when they themselves went to school. They choose homework and grades for the same reasons that I chose mango or strawberry. I didn’t know what else there was. It’s up to us to show them other possibilities.

Many teachers continue to teach the way they always have, because they haven’t tried the blueberry and have never been exposed to pomegranate. Their schools, like my supermarket, provide limited choice for professional learning and it hasn’t struck them that they can explore further afield. Have they tried requesting other options or initiating their own explorations?

Most importantly… How much choice do students have in their learning? Do they have opportunities to explore and discover what’s out there, follow their passions and direct their own learning? Or do they only get to choose between the options their teachers present, in the same way that I was limited by my local supermarket? Have they discovered the honey flavour? What do they think of the lemon? Have they considered mixing flavours?

Can they make their own yoghurt?

I choose...

Teachers owning their learning…

Have you ever been presented with PD and then had no time to follow up?

How often do you have an uninterrupted chunk of time to inquire into something that interests you, to push your thinking and improve your practice?

Do you have enough opportunities to explore and think collaboratively, to unpack and discuss big ideas with others of varied experience?

On Monday we will have a half day of professional learning, different to any of our previous PD days. It’s based on a survey in which staff  indicated their preferences for the structure and content of the day.

Here’s what it said on the Google doc which was shared with teachers:

This table shows by far the most popular choices in our survey. Please put your name in the group you’d like to join. Use red if you are willing to facilitate the group inquiry (more than one person is fine!) Note: There will NOT be a presentation. The purpose is to work on a shared inquiry.

I have no idea how the morning will go, but, here’s what I do know…

  • Teachers should have ownership of their learning, just as children should.
  • Having choice in what and how you learn is powerful for all learners.
  • Teachers voted for time to inquire in small groups.
  • Teachers chose what they would like to work on.
  • The volunteer facilitators have taken their role seriously and done a great deal of thinking in advance.
  • The most meaningful professional learning I have experienced has been by teachers for teachers.
  • It is rare to have a chunk of time at school to explore something you want to take further.
  • You never know if a new idea will work till you try it!
  • If this is successful, next year we will extend it further…

A friend commented on the fact that I often write about innovations, before they happen. He thinks it demonstrates confidence on my part, since I am willing to blog before the vision becomes reality. Maybe. Or maybe not. Perhaps blogging in advance means that if it’s a failure, I can simply avoid writing about what went wrong! Or  (more likely) … I like the excitement of visualising and planning new learning experiences, even if I can’t predict the outcome. Watch this space… maybe!