By Emily Mackie, 5th grade teacher
As mentioned in my Exploring Agency and Personalization blog on December 15th, I’ve been working with teachers to to better understand the principles of agency and personalization. As these are key elements of our district’s vision and mission, it is important to be able to articulate what those principles are, how they manifest in an elementary school classroom, and what impact they have on student learning. When I asked teachers to reflect on their growth, one teacher took the time to write an eloquent response. With her permission, I am sharing it here.
I used to believe that all good teachers foster agency in their classroom. It is something that just naturally starts to happen for most kids, and something that might happen very slowly, or in a limited capacity for others. After all, the reality is that some kids just have more buy-in to their own learning than others. Our students come to us with different personalities, hopes, dreams, family values, and beliefs about their schooling. Our students come to us with a vast spectrum of experiences, fostered from within and outside of our school district. Changing or growing their pre-existing belief system is no easy task. But now I believe that supporting every student in the ways they approach their own learning is quite possibly our most important task as educators.
After working closely with my team and the other hub participants, my thinking on student agency has really changed into a belief that supporting student growth in agency is slow and steady, and is fostered most effectively over time. When we can support students in building these habits of mind, they build a foundation for success in life that will extend beyond their school experience. Agency is grown through hard work and understanding. Building grit and academic tenacity takes focus, attention, and buy-in, from students and teachers alike. Growing agency for students is about goal setting and asking the tough questions about the WHYs of their learning experiences. Questions and considerations about learning that I have been asking my students to become aware of are: Why are you doing this? Why does it matter? Who are you doing this FOR? Is this for you, me, your parents? What you do, make, say, accomplish each day matters – for YOU. Otherwise, what is the point? Providing learning experiences and opportunities for students to grow this mindset should be the point…for all of us. Spending time, scaffolding opportunities for students to make decisions about their learning behaviors with intention is hard work. But it is important work. Helping students build an awareness about their own contributions and responsibilities toward their learning outcomes is one of the most important contributions we can make to them as lifelong learners. This is the work, the learning, the growing, that is most certainly worth doing.
Emily Mackie has been teaching elementary students for 13 years. She strives to make the classroom a student-centered space which fosters curiosity, exploration, creativity, and FUN so that all children feel safe, valued, and loved. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsMackieD3