Agency, Change, Diversity

Don’t Say “Agency” Unless You Really Mean It

The IBO recently shared a graphic as part of it’s work in revamping the Primary Years Programme. To be clear: This is their communications graphic illustrating the new organizing structure; not the new programme model. Agency (Voice, Choice, and Ownership) feature heavily. As I looked at this and thought about each of these components of agency, I imagined what I might look for in a classroom in which this existed. I thought in questions:


And then I read this. An amazing post by Will Richardson. I started to highlight the parts that resonated and then found the whole article highlighted. Seriously. Here is one of my favorites:

So, don’t say “agency” unless you really mean it, unless you truly intend to create classrooms where kids “have mastery over themselves” and the freedom to employ that mastery with other learners.

-Will Richardson

I watched a second webinar today on Inclusion. A lot of what was said came down to respecting all students as individuals – and in doing so, creating the type of classrooms that Will Richardson mentions above.  And not just for some kids, but for all kids.

Ideas - 54

It made me think …if our classrooms really were places in which kids “have mastery over themselves” wouldn’t they also be inclusive? If an inclusive classroom is one in which all students are supported where they are at right now, it seems that the two are mutually co-dependent.

So, what needs to change? Lots!  Change is one of my favorite topics. For someone who has moved around a lot in the last 18 years, you would expect as much. But there is a lot that needs to be in place for change to be effective. Some of the challenges are outlined above and there isn’t a one-stop solution or a prescription for how an inclusive, agency-based classroom can be created. But there are some steps that can  be considered in order to make any attempt at change more successful.

Change researcher, Anthony Ambrose, theorized that five elements must be present in order for change to occur and that if one or more of them is missing, there is a specific emotional response. The change equation will allow leaders to plan the change strategies and also analyze where previous change efforts may have gone wrong.  They need only ask the question: “Why is this person reacting this way?”  The equation looks like this:

Because We Believe in Change (4)

And here’s what happens when we don’t plan for change:

Because We Believe in ChangeBecause We Believe in Change (1)Because We Believe in Change (2)Because We Believe in Change (5)Because We Believe in Change (6)

You can read more about this process here.

As the changes to the PYP come about and as people start to change their classrooms to be more inclusive and agency-driven, it is going to get messy. Schools who have not started this conversation are going to find themselves falling behind as more change-focused schools work to reimagine education. I feel very fortunate to be at a school who has been having these conversations for years already and is actively seeking ways to ensure we are a truly inclusive learning environment.

Here’s to building something gorgeous!

Because We Believe in Change (3)


28 thoughts on “Don’t Say “Agency” Unless You Really Mean It”

  1. Excellent and insightful Article Sonya! Very well put up in words what as a facilitator I thought I should be reflecting on.. Change has been, is and will be the need of time and as facilitators it is going to be definitely a challenge to make all our learners the masters!

    1. It has been an interest of mine too – I am a huge fan of Will Richardson’s work and the quest for more authentic schooling in which agency is developed. Do you have any resources to point me in the direction of as I continue to try and make meaning of this?

  2. Thank you for another insightful and resourceful post. Some very strong points made. Bene Benoit

    1. Thanks, Bene. I love this move toward agency by the IB – I just need to try and figure out what that means and how it will look! So much to think about!

  3. I was wondering what program you use for your note-taking/mind mapping You record your ideas in such a visual way, and I’d love to explore the program you use.

    1. Hi Joanna, I use Paper53. It is a free iPad app. I don’t have the Paper53Pencil but I use the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro. I have found the pencil to be AMAZING! I just love it. I have had a few people ask so maybe I will put together a quick post on it! I have done a bunch of workshops for teachers and students at my school about it.

  4. Hi Sonya, As a second year PYP teacher, agency has been a big focus for me this year. It seems like the next logical step to venture into in my own inquiry teaching journey. You can given me a lot to think about. It is messy–often! But like you said, so worth it! Thank you!

    1. I think the biggest hurdle is to avoid pseudo-agency: agency that is in name only. I think the institution of school doesn’t help but I also think it is going to take a committed group of educators who are willing to make a change for good. Be the change!

      1. Thank you! I certainly want to be the change! Brought up the idea of big changes up at lunch today. Excited to see what we can do!

  5. Thanks Sonya – this was a rich article about agency for me, with great links for to explore and learn further. Your graphics for what happens when we don’t plan for change are the clearest I’ve seen!

    1. I really like that Change equation. It really was an “aha” moment when I read about it – it just really made sense to me. The graphics that came with the example were ok but I love design and graphics so created that one in “danger” or “under construction” type coloring. It just really resonates with me and I find myself referring to this often when I feel like initiatives aren’t working or are stagnating – what is missing?
      What have you found on agency that has stuck with you?

  6. Sonja – I too am so very excited about the changes and provocative ideas being shared as we learn more about the paradigm shift in regards to the IB and other organizations that are the key players in education today. It will be very interesting to see what happens in regards to early education …and will this have any effect on the upper grades? I see such a disconnect in regards to what we do as leaders in primary education in comparison to what is still expected in the middle and upper years. I am hopeful that we will lead the charge/change! Thank you for your insightful post and for the graphics that so clearly illustrate some of the obstacles in the process. It sheds light on what is possible!

    1. I would love to think that what happens in the Early Years will have a significant effect up the school. As I move from PYP to MYP, I hope I can lead some of this change. I just read “Lifelong Kindergarten” and highly recommend it if you are looking at how to apply the principles of play, passion, projects, and peers to upper school and beyond.

  7. Hi Sonya. Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about agency lately and you pushed my thinking further.
    I, too, loved your graphics and would welcome a post about how you created them.
    I’d also like your permission to use them in a workshop I am conducting next week.

    1. Shoot! I didn’t reply! I hope you went ahead and used whatever you needed for your workshop. I am fine with people sharing and using what they find useful. Paper53 is my app of choice. They just did a MAJOR update though and I am still coming to grips with a few changes that seem redundant and take away some of the features I love so much about Paper53. I am working on my post though – stay tuned!

  8. Great post! Do you mind if I use your graphic with the questions about agency in a slide show for teachers?

  9. This is a lovely website. Very useful. That you. Do you know any specific resources for student agency in the foreign language classroom? More specifically in the PYP context that you can recommend?


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