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A Staff That Serves

So, I often write about the incredible school I call home and the people and things that make it such an incredible place. So often, these “things” are collections of moments; some so small and seemingly inconsequential that you might actually not even notice them if you weren’t paying attention. And I try to pay attention. Because other times those moments are great big things that happen — the type of things that cause one to be filled with inspiration and appreciation for the people who are creating them. So I try to pay attention because quite frankly, I don’t want to miss a single tiny or big moment.  I don’t want to miss them because this incredible school, with the incredible people who make these incredible moments happen, really must be shared. Last night, I experienced another of those moments. This one was part of one of those great big moments we have here, one that deserves it’s own post.

For a little backstory, two years ago couple of teachers got together with some students and formed a club called “The Giving Tree“. The club meets monthly to volunteer in the community.  Here is a feature story about this club. Last night the club had one of those events. We went out at 6pm and, for a couple of hours, we helped the “Feed the Hungry” campaign. This is a national campaign and we sorted and packed meal kits which will be delivered to places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Kentucky…all over the world. There were about 40 of us there, including staff, students and a few parents as well.

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All the credit for these moments, these acts of love and service, go to the wonderful educators that plan and organize them and inspire so many of us to get involved as well. What a difference these teachers are making in the lives of so many others…including myself.

I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to stand together as a group and serve others. It was such a great opportunity to make a difference that had nothing at all to do with school, but everything to do with school. What I mean by that is, there is just something special about working together like this. We laughed, we packed, we got tired, we danced (there was music) and we celebrated as we announced the completion of each box we filled with meals.  All in all, we helped pack enough food to feed aroud 35,000 people. And we did it as a group. A family.

We have had the opportunity to get involved in so many other activities like this as a staff, some as part of the club and some not.  Making cards for veterans at the local assisted living facility. Helping at the local food bank. Working on a house with Habitat for Humanity.  This is a school that serves.  Those moments are big, but inside those big moments are the small, tiny ones. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you feel like you are a part of something very special; something unique. Something bigger than each of us. We are a staff that serves. That loves. That cares. That makes a difference inside and outside of school.

We are a staff that thrives on making moments and celebrating life. Do you think this spills over into the campus? The kids? The classrooms? What about instruction? Lesson design? Collaboration? You better believe it does. But, those incredible moments I will save for another post….

 

 

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Why Me, Here, Now?

berryLast week was our district’s leadership conference and the learning centered around the word “thrive“.  For our keynote, we were honored to hear Dr. Bertice Berry  speak about servant leadership. During this address, she said something that really resonated with me and, judging from our district conference hashtag, many others as well:

Walk with purpose and you will collide with destiny.

I thought about that remark. I thought about the word “thrive” and what it means for our school community. For my relationships. For me. To help us focus in, we were asked to take a few minutes and ask ourselves:

Why me, here, now?

Think about that question for a moment. It’s not as easy one to answer, is it? In fact, it requires a great deal of self-awareness to begin thinking in terms of one’s purpose. For instance, I might start by asking what service I am able to provide– here, and now– that will help both my campus and district thrive. What can I do to help my relationships thrive?

This will be my second year as an Assistant Principal. Last year, my goal was to survive. It was really that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I still have so much to learn. But this year, I want to really focus in on the service I am providing.

And I don’t want to just “do my job”. I want the job I do, to help our campus, and our district, thrive.

I am going to start by asking myself this simple question every day: Why me, here, now?

Look at this tweet that went out one day during the conference:

Relationships. Communication. Empowerment. Trust. Indeed these are the types of things one might find in a thriving organization. In thriving relationships. In a thriving life. So why me, here, and now? How can I contribute to a thriving culture at my school? I believe that to lead, one must serve. So what service do can I provide this year, at my campus, in my district? How can that service help the students and staff thrive? How can it help me thrive?

Here are some more thoughts that I discovered in the hashtag stream that I want to share with you:

These thoughts…how do they shape the ideas I have about purpose? About thriving? About helping others thrive? I am only just now beginning to discover.

I also enjoyed this visual of what “thriving” organizations look like:

And finally, I want to remember this simple piece of advice, given by our Superintendent:

Leave the place better than you found it.

Service. Purpose. Thrive.  The words float around in my mind as I begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Delivering textbooks to classrooms. Checking in with teachers who are starting to put their rooms together. Helping my principal prepare for our upcoming staff development.

Why me, here, now?

These are some things I am thinking about as I get ready for the new year. Perhaps you are thinking about them, as well.

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5 Important Things From My First Year as an AP

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I can’t believe that my first year as an Assistant Principal is in the books.  Recently, I was asked by my district to share some insights with the next crop of new APs at the July leadership training. I am supposed to talk with them about the transition to administration, what advice I would give, and so on. What’s funny is, as I sat down to think about what I might want to share, I couldn’t come up with any big…significant…”Here is what you must do/not do” things to share. Instead, I ended up jotting down some pretty simple, basic things. But, these simple things really helped my first year go smoothly.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to list the “learn everyone’s name” or “get to know the kids” stuff because you already know those things. These suggestions are more concrete things that basically kept my head above water and helped make the first year day to day stuff more manageable. Or at least made it appear that way 🙂

1. My “Need To Do” list.

I realized pretty quickly that there was just no way I was going to come into school and start working through a list. Too many things come up unexpectedly and, as an AP, I found that I could sum up my role like this: I am here to respond.  Seriously, I am here to respond to whatever comes up, from whoever, and at whatever time. That being said, I did keep a “Need To Do” list. But, I worked on those things as my day allowed — and not the other way around. I decided early on that if I let them rule my day, I would not be an effective administrator. I let go of my need to check things off a list. Instead, I focused on being present.

2. Keep a daily journal.

I used Mead Composition Notebooks. Each day, I started with a blank page that I wrote the date on.  Every phone call I made, or question that came my way, I wrote it down. Every time something came up that I needed to take care of, I wrote it down.  Sticky notes or supporting papers (even if just scratch paper) got taped or stapled into that day’s pages.  This was invaluable to me.  It is amazing how much stuff comes at you each day and there was no way I was going to remember it all. Especially being in a new role and a new campus. I was constantly referring back to earlier pages to refresh my memory on what I did or who I talked to, or what I was told. This was probably the most crucial thing I did. It’s also pretty cool that I have a record of my first year that I can look back on!

3. Save up questions.

I was completely amazed at how many questions I had on a daily basis. Seriously. Questions about things that I didn’t even know existed. Questions that I never even imagined would come up. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I decided early on that instead of going to my principal with each question (which on some particularly crazy days could have been like, 10 times), I would do this instead: Every time I had a question, I wrote it down. I saved them up. When I got to, say 5, I would go in with my notebook, sit down, and say, “I’ve got 5 questions”.  I did this usually at the end of the day. This accomplished several things. One, it limited interruptions for my boss. Two, it allowed me to sit down, ask the questions, and jot down information. Sometimes when you are just asking on the fly, you don’t take time to store that information in your memory, or ask follow up questions. Overall, I think this was a pretty good strategy for me in dealing with my own many questions.

4. Look Up.

You will soon see that when you stop and get on the computer to take care of that email, inventory, form, or other paperwork that has been hanging over your head, someone will walk in. It’s totally ineveitable. Sometimes it’s a question or problem, but for me, a lot of times they are just stopping by to say hello and chit-chat. It can be really tempting to just keep typing away and answer them while multi-tasking. There is just so much to do!  And besides, in this job you get really good at doing many, many things at once. Or thinking about one thing while doing two others. It’s a necessity. But don’t get lured into this. Instead, make yourself stop and look up, giving your full attention. No matter how much it happens. Relationships are what your job is all about. Nothing that you do as an AP matters as much as the relationships that you build with everyone. So, no matter how fast you feel like you are going, or how much you really need to do this or that, right now…stop and look up. An AP’s job is about people.

5. Schedule Class Time

I didn’t do this until late in the year. This is something I need to improve on next year and I think the calendar scheduling will help me do that. It’s amazing how many things can slip by if not booked into your calendar. My calendar quickly fills up with 504 meetings, trainings, parent meetings, ARDs, RTI meetings, testing duties, and so on. When this happens, there is little time left to go walk classrooms. What I found is that I used that unscheduled times for other things. The result was I was not in classrooms as much as I wanted to be and should be. Classroom time needs to be a priority.  It is also a great way to work some magical moments into my day—something we all need, especially new APs!

These five things were particularly helpful for me this year and I plan to continue them next year. I still can’t believe the first year is over!  It was such a geat year…this is the best job in the world! If you are an experienced AP, what tips might you share?

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Teachers and Students Leading Professional Learning

One of the unique ways we have found to support teacher collaboration and growth on our campus this year is through a weekly Staff S’more.  This started out as a one-way communication from admin to teachers, but we quickly discovered that this is the perfect vehicle for teachers to share their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks. It’s also a lot more interesting and has led to many more “conversation starters” than if it’s just admin to teacher. More information on how that came to be can be found in this blog post I wrote a while back.

Teacher Led Professional Learning

So we started off by approaching teachers and inviting them to write the weekly S’More. We were hoping teachers would be willing to share a little bit about what types of things they are doing in the classroom, or want to try, or just what’s on their mind. Soon, teachers began to ask if they could write an upcoming S’More, on a topic that they feel pretty passionate about. For example, next week a teacher will be writing on the topic of teacher burnout.  We are thrilled with the teacher ownership we are seeing in this! Our weekly Staff S’More has enjoyed tremendous success, with lots of views each week and conversations in the hallways that sound something like, “Hey I read your Smore article, can you tell me more about how you...”  It’s one of those rare things that just takes off right from the moment you introduce it and just seems to power itself.

Student Led Professional Learning

This week, one of our fifth grade teachers was working on her S’More feature, which is about Book Clubs.  She had some artifacts, handouts, and descriptions that she wanted to share with teachers along with her article. After a few minutes of discussing the content, she suggested the idea of having her students produce a video, in which they “taught the teachers” about how she implements book clubs. What a fantastically unique idea! Soon, I received the email below, a student-made video explaining to the staff how Book Clubs look in their classroom:

Here is a link to the final S’More for this week, our Book Clubs S’More, which includes the article written by our teacher, the student made video, corresponding instructional ideas from our principal, and additional articles, videos, and other resources that I curated which support the topic.

Throughout this year we have learned alongside each other through this S’More, on topics ranging from formative assessment, differentiation, performance assessments, technology, learning spaces, growth mindset, Genius Hour, math stations, guided reading, and so much more! And now, our plans are to continue to invite students to add to our learning through our weekly Staff S’More.  We are going to ask students to begin sharing their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks…right alongside their teachers. We truly believe that as a learning organization, we can exponentialy grow in our practice by listening to the voices of one another, and that includes our students.  We are very excited for this next phase!

Up Next

In a future S’More edition, our P.E. teacher Mr. Rob will share with the staff about the 21 Days Of Healthy Snacks Challenge, which he launched in his classes this week. He will ask some students to create a corresponding video share to with our staff about how they are engaging with the program. Is the message of healthy eating important to them? Why or why not? How are they implementing this at home, if they are? What challenges have they faced? What solutions can they offer?

I will keep you updated on our teacher and student-led professional learning journey as it continues to unfold this year! What unique ways have you found to infuse teacher and student voice within your learning community? We would love to learn from you!

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My Struggle With Wait Time

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Wait time was something I tried to practice regularly as a classroom teacher. It is always in our nature as teachers to want to jump in and solve a student’s problem, help them when they are stuck,  respond immediately to a question they ask or problem they have. It took a lot of focused and conscious effort on my part to “unlearn” this.  Wait time allowed for several things to happen. One, the student had the opportunity to think longer, which usually allowed for deeper thinking as well. Two, it allowed me as a teacher time to think about my response and consider what might I say to guide that student toward more critical thinking or problem solving. Wait time was something I struggled to develop but tried really hard to do. Now I’m an Assistant Principal.  There are so many times throughout my days when I’m faced with a problem that needs solving, a question that needs an answer, or an action that needs a response. I’m not referring to emergency situations in this post, just the general day-to-day things I am experiencing.

In my first three months, I have found that my natural tendency to lunge into immediate action in response to, well basically anything, is still present in this new role.  I want to respond to things in a timely manner. If a problem presents itself, if a concern or question is brought to me, or even if we as a campus are seeking ideas for this or that, I want to immediately offer them up–I am in full brainstorming mode and sometimes, or a lot of times, I am the first one to say, “Well, what about this…”. It’s not that I think I have all the answers. I have so much to learn and I definitely do not want to present myself as some kind of expert.  I do all this with good intentions, just like when I was a teacher. I want to help. I want to do a good job. I want to fix or contribute or move things along. The problem is, “timely manner” to me often means right now. It was the same way when I was in the classroom. I thought about this a while back. How this is so familiar to me, how this mirrors my struggle with wait time in the classroom.

Some may ask, “Well, what’s wrong with that? You are efficient.  Johnny on the Spot”.  Well, a lot of things are wrong with that, I am learning. Here are a few examples:

  •  I don’t always have all the facts. I may only hear one side of something and my immediate response is not the best idea when I hear the rest of the story.
  • Waiting a bit and mulling over a situation allows me time to push past “immediate idea” and I have time to think a little more creatively.
  • If I wait and think about my immediate idea or “gut instinct”, I then have time to think of what would be on the other side of that decision. This often allows me to see how a new or different problem might arise based on my response. I am now thinking broader.
  • Situations that may have one or more parties in strong emotional states have time to cool off if I wait. This helps everyone go from “venting” to “conversing”.
  • In response to, “How might we facilitate _____ on our campus” type of conversations, my immediate idea might be a good one but the timing may be off, or the steps I offer up may be better done in a different order. If I exercise wait time, I might have a better chance of realizing that, laying out a different set of action steps.
  • Giving myself wait time allows me to get input from others who have more experience than me. Who may have done the same thing I am thinking of and can share their experiences. Who may have a much better idea that I have not thought of. Who may pose questions that I have not thought of, that allow me to clarify my own thoughts.
  • Waiting gives me time to see things that I may be overlooking.

Today I happened to wake up very early and I dropped into #satchat. The question that came through my feed was about what traits are usually seen in highly effective leaders. Questions like this really jump off the screen and hold my attention as I watch the responses flow in from everyone. As a new AP, I really want to hear this! Here is a  response that came in which really jumped out at me:

Wait time!  I may be effective in my normal state of immediately attending to things.  But am I highly effective when I do that? Probably not. I know I’m not. Who would be?

Later today, I was co-moderating #nt2t (New Teachers To Twitter) chat and somewhere during the conversation I posted this Tweet:

Sometimes it seems like things just sort of start popping up…little reminders to ourselves that we might miss if we are not paying attention to them. As I think about my first three months in this role, I think about the principal who shared that advice with me a while back. I think about my current principal and how she does such a good job of modeling “wait time” for me. I am reflecting on how my natural tendency to rush and act may be something that hinders my ability to be highly effective. How my struggle with wait time still exists and seems continues to be an area in which I need to grow.

I need to remember that while trying to do a good job in my new role, wait time is still important. There are things that require immediate action, but there are other things, things that make up the majority of my time, that really would benefit from some wait time from me. Which brings me to a final reminder. This was shared at the end of a chat today, and the idea of “courage” written in it really hit home:

What do I fear, that causes me to fail to wait? Do I fear that I might seem unsure? Do I fear being “uncertain”?  Why do I fear that? For some of us, for the “Johnny On The Spot”s like me, courage doesn’t necessarily mean act.  Sometimes, it takes courage to wait.

I am working on this.

 

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The Power of A Phone Call

I grabbed my notepad and began my typical routine that morning, stopping into classrooms and watching all the great teaching and learning going on in the building.  The first room I stopped into was a 4th grade math class. The teacher was just beginning to introduce decimals, and the class was having a discussion about what they know (think they know) currently about this topic.  The teacher asked for volunteers to come up and put a mark on a number line to show where they thought a particular decimal number would go.  Well, it was quiet!  It seemed all were afraid to take this risk and be brave! After some coaxing from the teacher, one boy raised his hand and offered to try it out.  He came up and put a mark on the line. Next the teacher asked if anyone else wanted to try it out. This time, a student on the other side of the room volunteered. While she was walking toward the front, three or four others raised their hands in anticipation of being the next to try it out.  He had started a “brave” moment!!

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I asked the boy his name, wrote it down on my notepad, and went on visiting a few more classrooms.  In each one, I saw at least one student who did something extraordinary, who had an impact on others, who added great value to the learning community. I spent the rest of the morning looking for students taking risks and being brave. Taking deliberate steps to “find” those profound moments changed the lens for me. It brought my visits into a different focus.

Later that afternoon, I called the parent of the boy I mentioned in the beginning.  As I told him who I was, I could hear this quiet “sigh” and a shaky kind of “yes”? After all, when an Assistant Principal calls you at work, it is usually not good. I told him I had been visiting classrooms that morning, and I happened to walk into his son’s math class, and “I just feel it’s important to call and tell you what I observed from your son while I was there”.  There was total silence, and then dad said, “Ok, let me close the door”.  He sounded very disappointed.

I then told him how the class was beginning a new unit on decimals. How the teacher had asked for volunteers to come share what their current thinking is on decimals. How nobody seemed to want to be the first to do this. And how, after a few awkward moments of silence, his son slowly raised his hand, walked up to the board, and said, “This is what I think”. How his bravery in that moment inspired another student to share her thinking, and that the next thing I knew, hands were up and students were having to wait for their turn to go to the front of the class. I told him how his son’s willingness to do that had created a sort of bravery chain reaction, and how much I appreciated his engagement in class and contributions.

Again there were a few moments of silence. Then dad asked me, “So, that’s it? There’s no shoe dropping”? I said, “Nope, I just wanted to call and brag”. He then began telling me how he couldn’t believe this, how he had never received this type of call, and how proud he was of his son at that moment. He thanked me multiple times and told me that he was going to take him for a burger that night and let him know how proud he was of his being brave in class. He told me that my phone call had made his day.  After we hung up, I sat quietly for a moment and thought about what had just occurred.

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Even though it was only a ten minute call, that call brought ten minutes of joy and pride to this father. And it would have a lasting impact on him the rest of the day. It would also have an impact that evening when father and son go out for that burger. I could do nothing but smile at the profound effects that one “Good Call Home” had on this family.

Imagine, if we do this every day. Imagine how this might change things for some parents. For some kids. For some entire school communities.

Scott Capro (@ScottCapro) and Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe) have started a great movement for educators everywhere: Placing Good Calls Home, and the power of a simple phone call! There is even a sign up sheet for educators to sign up, committing to making Good Calls Home. (I encourage you to check it out — here).

Using the hashtag #GoodCallsHome is a great way to build momentum and to hold each other accountable.   I shared the idea with my Principal, who enthusiastically supported it, and she made a commitment to do this as well! So we are now both committed to the #GoodCallsHome movement and we are holding each other accountable!  We have created a Google Doc so that we can each enter the name of the student(s) we call about, and we are going to include a space for reflecting on the reactions we have received.

I am grateful to my buddy Rik  for giving me the push to began my own Good Calls Home campaign. He wrote a blog about this movement, which you can find here. There is no way to really express the joy it brings….you really just have to try it for yourself.

 

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The Curious Concept of Agency

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Image from brian.magierski.com and retrieved from Google Images.

I always enjoy seeing students engaged in work that causes them to take action in one or another direction in their life. Recently, my daughter experienced this type of learning. She visited a doctor to have some allergy tests run, and when she came home she spent the next few days researching all she could about histamines and how they interact with and through various body systems. It amazed me how much she learned from that independent research, as she came out informing me of these processes using terms and ideas that I really am only vaguely familiar with. She is now on a quest to figure out the educational steps one might take in order to design her future the way she dreams of it: researching rare medical conditions and disorders of the immune system, conducting lab tests, learning…. This is not something new; she has spent most of her life on her computer, researching this or that, always with a particular interest in the areas of health and wellness.

So what changed? Why suddenly is this something she feels has given her life direction? Has given purpose to her education? Why did this experience cause her to feel compelled to act? Curious and driven to research, learn, teach, and contribute to the understanding in the field?

In a recent PBL chat with @newtechnetwork and others (see archive ), a word was shared with me that I really have not pondered much in my life. A word that I thought, at the time, I may not even fully understand. A word that I found out, after some research of my own, I actually do understand and a word that explains, at least in my opinion, the curious explosion that occurs when purpose and action collide.

Agency.

I considered my (vague) conceptual understanding of this word. It is a curious word. Or maybe it is just curious when considered alongside such words as empowerment, ownership, growth mindset, and engagement. It is not a word I hear much; it’s not frequently used in educational circles and conversations I have, at least not that I can remember. So I began looking into this word; more specifically, the ideas and concepts behind it. This idea of “agency”… What is it? How does it affect or contribute to student learning and achievement? How does one develop it? And how can we as educators support it?

One resource I looked at, which sought to define the term “agency” as a phenomenon related to education, was this paper written by Professor Gert Biesta of the School of Education and Lifelong Learning at The University of Exeter in 2006. This definition read, in part,

…the situation where individuals are able to exert control over and give direction to the course of their lives.

This aligns with well a general definition of agency as “…the capacity for autonomous social action” (Calhoun 2002).

New Tech Network, a nonprofit organization, offers this agency rubric on their website which I found to be marvelous. Interestingly, the rubrics, which are entitled “New Tech Network Agency Rubric, High School” reveal domains and criteria to be measured along the lines of growth mindset, seeking out of feedback, and reflective learning, among others.

Further researching turned up this article by Eduardo Briceno of Mindset Works entitled “Mindset and Student Agency”. He suggests:

Deeper learning requires students to think, question, pursue, and create—to take agency and ownership of their learning. When they do, they acquire deeper understanding and skills, and most important, they become more competent learners in and out of school. They become better prepared to succeed in academics, but also in 21st century careers and in life.

But agency is not something we can “give” someone else. It comes from within. What can we do in our schools and classrooms – even our homes –  to help promote agency in our students and in our own children?

As Briceno points out,  “growth mindset”, “grit”,  “motivation”,  and “college and career readiness” standards are important areas for developing personally aware and autonomous students “capable of driving their own learning”. These ideas, he suggests, are a part of  two distinct but complex components for developing and supporting agency:

Learner Mindsets and Learning Strategies and Habits

What are some examples of learner mindsets that we promote and invest in daily? I know for my daughter, who for those who do not know, is a 19 year old college student who is also autistic, we have focused a lot on growth mindset and perseverance. On self-awareness and familiarity with her own learning style and needs. On self-advocacy, reflection, and how to recognize feedback (both verbal and nonverbal) and then how to think through that feedback and use it toward continual growth and self-awareness. We have focused on confidence building and persistence. We have also focused on recognizing challenges and knowing when (and how) to seek help. We have also focused on purpose, a sense that she “belongs” and has gifts and contributions to make to the world. This is perhaps the most difficult mindset for her. Feeling “different” makes it hard to feel a sense of “belonging”.

So what about learning strategies and habits? It is one thing to have these different learner mindsets I mentioned above as one’s goals. She feels aware and she focuses on growth not ability, and she seeks feedback and strives for purpose and belonging. Great! But what happens when she experiences something that challenges those goals? What happens when she is not successful despite her persistence and “I can do it!” mindset? And how does this look for our students? I think this goes a little bit farther, a little beyond simply “embracing failure”.  Just how do we support agency?

My daughter, just like so many other students (and adults), experiences setbacks frequently. We might not be able to teach “agency” but we can teach learning skills that support the development and growth of agency.  Here are just a few suggestions from Briceno for learning strategies to support agency, along with my own reflections about these suggestions. I will use my  daughter as a little vignette here:

Teach students how the brain works. My daughter has taken numerous learning inventories, and we shared information with her early on about what autism is and how it impacts her specifically. We did this to build understanding and awareness; to help her build capacity. She remarked one day, “So that explains why I do _______!” after reading the book “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers” by Luke Jackson (Terrible title, great read). This teaching, which was relevant and specific for her, seemed to not just bring awareness, but give her a profound understanding and acceptance of herself. Finally having a reason for her (sometimes odd) behaviors made her feel…well, normal. (I am not suggesting anyone take this approach, as this is a decision based on your own child and family, I am just sharing my own experiences and results).

Self-Efficacy. While she does have a growth mindset toward life and learning, she is also aware of paths to take should she need supports or information, or help. At school, this is again individual. For her, this came in the form of an IEP (for academics) and a few trusted adults to whom she could go to talk or ask a question, but could be any steps a student can take to meet their own needs. It is not enough to believe “I can do it!”, one also needs to know where, how, and to whom they can turn if they need help…if they can’t do it. These “paths” serve to truly support self-confidence…to enable someone to be confident in their ability to succeed, but just as confident in their ability to recover and go on in the face of an obstacle. How that looks is as individual as our students and their needs.

How To Work In Teams. While this was (and still is) a challenge for her, she has learned to offer up her particular strengths to help toward a common goal. Using her technology skills to create a video, for example, or doing the leg-work or research for a particular topic is something she does enjoy, and allows her to still work independently on her portion of a group task.

Developing desirable habits through cues and routines. Funny story to share here. She used to struggle with recognizing nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions or tones of voice. She would be talking away about the current tropical depression or other weather phenomenon occurring in some other part of the world, completely oblivious to the checking of the watch, walking slowly off to the side, and other non verbal ways her peers have of saying, “Nobody cares”!! She spent a great deal of time with her therapist and a computer program, learning to recognize these little cues and nuances which are so natural for you and I –but not necessarily so for others. She has learned to regulate; to recognize when the conversation has changed topic and how to adjust to that, and when it is time to really stop talking about a certain thing that is not interesting to the other person! This is all part of the important work that has gone on, and continues, for her to become a person with a strong sense of agency.

Because, if she does not believe in her ability to direct her own path, to be heard and understood,  if she doesn’t see a purpose and feel compelled to change the world, how will she ever go about changing it? How will she ever fulfill a purpose that she does not believe she is capable of fulfilling? She won’t. And neither will our students. Agency is the line between reacting to a world in which you are only a speck, and designing a world of which you are the creator.

By putting into our classrooms and schools practices which value and support growth, effort, and learning, by recognizing and responding to individual needs, through building relationships and knowing our students, and kids, as unique learners and people, we have the best possible chance at supporting agency in our students. It will also help our students avoid the crippling effects of its absence, which she also experienced in her early life and learning experiences.

The curious concept of agency. Turns out, it’s not so foreign to me after all.

What do you think of agency? What practices do you think are important when designing an environment which helps contribute to the development of agency? I would love to hear more!

Sources: Teaching and Learning Research Program (www.tlrp.org); Prof. Gert Biesta , School of Education and Lifelong Learning at St Lukes Campus ,The University of Exeter: Working Paper 5 “Learning Lives“; New Tech Network (www.newtechnetwork.org), Calhoun, C. (2002). Dictionary of the social sciences [electronic resource]/ edited by
Craig Calhoun … [et al.]. Oxford : Blackwell, 2002