Some thoughts on PD about agency

Recently I’ve been invited to visit a school in China to help poke and provoke their staff’s thinking about student agency. So being the keener that I am, I started putting together my workshop for them!

It was beautifully planned down the very last detail:

First I will provoke their thinking with a range of quotes, videos, and tweets. Then I will tune them into what they already know, or think they know about the concept of agency using a Frayer model and a Growing Definition. The I will get them to create their own questions using the Question Formulation Technique. Then I will give them a resource doc and have them inquire into the different resources and capture their thinking using a Connect-Extend-Challenge. Then I will get them to complete an agency self-reflection tool and put together a personalized action plan. Then to finish it off, I will have them complete a reflection activity called “I used to think… Now I think…”.

At first I was quite pleased with myself – inquiry-based, interactive, hands-on, lots of choice, full of Visible Thinking Routines and other best practices. Done and done!

But then I caught myself…

I couldn’t help but notice a pattern: “I will…, I will… I will… I will…” whether it was, “give them, get them to, or have them complete…” I was definitely the one engineering the learning.

So I began to wonder…

If the medium is the message, am I respecting and supporting their agency as learners?

Am I modelling for them what I’d hope to see them do in their classroom with their own learners?

Does the structure I have planned help them learn about agency, or through agency?

So I scrapped everything I had and went back to the drawing board, keeping those guiding questions in mind.

Now my plan looks totally different:

First, I will be transparent about the structure of the workshop. Explaining why the medium needs to be the message and what that has to do with my vision of them as capable, competent learners who know themselves and know what they need and how they learn best.

Next, they will construct their own personalized success criteria that shows what they hope to know, understand and/or be able to do by the end of our time together.

Then, I will present some systems and structures that provide a plethora of potential ways to learn about agency: a variety of optional sessions led by me, a structure for workshops any of them want to offer for each other, a resource Google document with many resources about agency that is editable so they can add new resources they find/create, an expert wall where teachers can sign up for aspects of agency they feel confident helping one another with, a conversation wall where they can add topics related to agency they want to discuss with one another, some possible time slots for one-on-one or small group conferences with me, opportunities to Skype with other educators experimenting with agency etc.

Next, I will provide them with blank schedules where they will fill in what they want to learn, how they plan to learn, where they will learn and with whom they will learn over the course of our two days together. Also blocking out potential breaks and time for lunch as they see fit.

Also, we will discuss planning for documentation. We will discuss all the different ways to document learning – Evernote, Google doc, Google slides, Twitter, notebook, bubble catcher, personal blog etc. – and then they will choose how best to capture and record their own learning.

Then the majority of our time together will be them learning – hopefully, with some conducting personal inquiries, others learning collaboratively, some choosing to attend my sessions, others attending peer-led sessions, lots of conversation – one-on-one, small group, and large group – with me and with each other. Not to mention taking breaks, eating, drinking, time for play and fun.

Towards the end, they will self-assess using their personalized success criteria to evaluate their own learning and ascertain their next steps in their learning journey towards understanding and implementing agentic models of learning.

Finally, to wrap up our time together we will collectively brainstorm why we reflect, how we can reflect and what specifically we can reflect about. My hope is that this generates a menu of “how” options ranging from conversation, to painting, to vlogging, to writing, to sketchnoting and “what” options ranging from what they learned about, to how they learned, to how they felt about their learning. Then they will reflect in a way that is most comfortable and purposeful for them as learners.

Obviously I won’t know how it goes until it actually happens… but I can say that I feel much more comfortable (and less hypocritical) with my second plan, compared to my first.

I know there are many of us in the education community charged with supporting teachers to learn about agency and shift their practice towards a more agentic model of learning. I think if we want to do so successfully then we need to be very purposeful in crafting professional learning experiences where the medium is the message – where teachers experience agency as learners, in order to be able to then go back into the classroom and respect and support their students’ agency as learners.

What are your approaches to helping teachers understand and implement more agentic models of learning?

*I’m also very open to feedback and suggestions about how I can make my plan even more agentic for the teachers I will be working with, so please feel free to leave constructive comments below!*

15 thoughts on “Some thoughts on PD about agency

  1. Adam Hill February 24, 2018 / 6:30 am

    Hi Taryn,

    I love this post! I have been in staff workshops that don’t reflect the message of the workshop. I’ve been in differentiation PD that wasn’t differentiated. I’ve listened to a Flipped Learning presentation that wasn’t flipped in any way. Both were excellent and beneficial, but the irony was noticeable. Good for you! We too often forget that good practice can almost always be applied to adults as well as students.

    Funnily enough, I was thinking about agency (and you specifically) on a flight yesterday. I watched ‘Mean Girls’ (slightly ashamed to admit it). If you’re not familiar with it, the character moves from Africa to America and attends school for the first time. There’s an interesting scene where she gets in trouble for going to the toilet. She says, “I’ve never been anywhere before where adults don’t trust me.” Worth a thought.

    Keep up the amazing work! I’d love to attend your workshop someday!



    • tbondclegg February 24, 2018 / 6:54 am

      Thanks Adam!

      I think that scene in Mean Girls is a great commentary on agency (or the lack of) in a conventional approach to education! Thanks for sharing that. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. MrBlowers February 24, 2018 / 8:21 am

    Hi Taryn,

    Excellent blog again! I was looking through the first plan thinking it looks great; visible thinking routines are there, constructing meaning together, clear progression from their starting point to the end of the session. It looks like a great plan!

    I love the phrase “medium is the message”. Definitely how I will start thinking about any PD sessions in the future. Takes me back to an experience sitting in on a concept based learning session, presented as a set of facts to ingest and remember.

    Since I began PYP I have had a lot of student choice and agency within the curriculum, but am inspired to give them more choice in the curriculum. Will try to follow your lead and blog about how it goes more often!



    • tbondclegg February 24, 2018 / 8:23 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Lee! And for adding your thoughts and reflections. Looking forward to sharing the journey with you! 😊


  3. Brian Deuth February 26, 2018 / 12:37 am

    Great blog once again! Agency is a different way of thinking. Thank you for another look into agency! My understanding of agency is slowly coming along. Keep up the great work and enthusiasm!


    • tbondclegg February 26, 2018 / 12:38 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Brian! We’re all in it together… one step at a time! 😊


  4. Melissa K. February 26, 2018 / 8:39 am

    That’s so awesome that you’re having so many opportunities to share agency with other international school teachers! You asked for feedback and constructive comments so here are my thoughts:

    I love the thought process behind your plan, but I do worry that only a few teachers will actually take full advantage of the time they have to think about and learn more about agency. As teachers we often have so much on our to-do lists that when someone gives us an inch of freedom some of us grab it and retreat into our own classrooms to chip away at the to-do list instead of doing what that well-meaning workshop leader or pyp coordinator was trying to get us to do (not everyone is going to be pumped about agency…yet). I also worry that giving some people a blank schedule could feel overwhelming. Some people will love the openess, but other people like a lot of structure because it makes them feel comfortable and safe, those people are going to be hyper critical about agency, they’re going to be your toughest audience.

    It might work better if you took a more gradual release approach. Start the day off more controlled, begin with the first plan, then begin to add more options: Choose one of these 3 visible thinking routines to do with a group of your choice, use this next block to do one of these 5 things, documenting your learning in one of these 7 ways. Then by the end of the day allowing teachers the full plethora of choices you included in your second plan. More of a slow easing into the agency pool instead of running to the top of the diving board and canon-balling into the deep end.

    Last piece of feedback in the form of a question: If your audience includes early years teachers, are you ensuring that their needs will be met? Will the strategies and tools you’re modelling and presenting work in a classroom where the students are stilling learning how to read, write, use technology and not put scissors in their mouths?

    Good luck with the workshop!


    • tbondclegg March 2, 2018 / 4:26 am

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, opinions and suggestions! 🙂


  5. hsopierce March 1, 2018 / 4:50 pm

    I love the second option. Please let me know what school and where the training is so that I can attend! I can only imagine how empowering it will be for that community of professionals to be treated as true professionals who chose what they need to grow, deepen their understanding, and develop an action plan that is unique and relevant for them. Awesome work, Ms.


    • tbondclegg March 2, 2018 / 4:23 am

      Thanks friend! I guess I’ll see you in China in October 😉
      So much of the thinking and systems came from our previous work together on Personalized Professional Learning – so thank you for the role you played in that!


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