2020 has been a year of growth and reflection while also being painful and disheartening at times. A pandemic will do that to people, I suppose. This roller coaster of a year has allowed me to be part of a new age in education. I have been able to support and witness our teachers develop renewed confidence in teaching with technology or trying activities in the classroom they previously would not have tried. It has also allowed me to see some of the best educators I know shrink because of stress and time.
Education is at a precipice in which we can transform education with new, engaging possibilities or continue to strip away student choice, exploration, and creativity to meet bare minimum expectations. I have seen policies enacted within classrooms and districts which have made teaching in the modern age more difficult than ever before. In addition to these policies, our educators are working harder than ever before while also fearing for theirs and loved ones safety. It's no wonder our students and teachers are feeling tired, overworked, apathetic, or burnt out.
However, I believe myself to be a "champion of possibilities" as my dear friend Wendy Cope says. I believe the more we intentionally develop opportunities for student agency, the less burn out we will feel and the more our students will benefit. It's a win, win.
Student agency is a crucial component to include in the education culture of any classroom or school. Agency references the power to make choices and ownership of learning. Including activities for choice and voice through menu boards is an example, but it's so much more than that. How are we embedding student agency into the culture of the classroom or the school - whether in person or virtually? How are we including activities that are relevant to our students, provide authentic audiences, are driven by student interests and inquiry, and initiated by the students?
If we want our students engaged, we need to be intentional in our lesson design to allow our students to reach their full potential. Education seems to be done to students rather than developed with or alongside them. You may have heard me discuss at length the need to consider Maslow's Hierarchy within our inclusion of SEL in the library or school culture (if not, listen here or here). Students need to be seen, heard, and nurtured for them to achieve their optimal level of learning. If students do not feel like they belong or are a part of something, they may be disengaged, apathetic, or even misbehave in class to avoid learning. They may also just be complacent in their situation without reaching their full potential. Both are harmful.
The most seemless way to include student agency is through creative agency. We need to begin thinking about creative agency as a means of student empowerment. When students have greater ownership of the creative process through making or creating, learning becomes more relevant and engaging. This creative agency supports the development of critical skills and literacies needed for full engagement in our digital world, and it creates epic opportunities to demonstrate achievement of standards.
Creating (think: graphics, videos, drawing, coding, choreographing, etc.) requires us to use a complex assemblage of skills that celebrate and encourage out of the box thinking to helps students connect with their learning in deeper ways. Not only that, sharing creations with others makes us consider audience, a crucial aspect of life beyond the classroom. Providing authentic audiences can lead to powerful, profound connections with peers, colleagues, communities, and families.
If you'd like to start moving towards incorporating student agency more in your classroom, especially by including creative agency, please consider collaborating with your school library media specialist. We love to help and have been incorporating creative agency in our MakerSpaces for quite some time!
School Librarian Advocating for Student Voice in Metro Atlanta