The ‘AGENCY’ – Why, What, How

Wooohooo … the first week of school after coming back from Christmas holiday is over!

On the first day back at school, I felt energized and inspired seeing my colleagues and the kids again.  I have been feeling that I have many ideas which I would like to implement in the classroom.  I started taking down the ‘Christmas’ displays and planned to make students voice more visible in the classroom.  I would like to give students more choice in learning.  Is that a new resolution?  No.  I have no new year resolution.  Just the old ones which I have still to continue making them better.

I have (always) been inspired by Sonya Terborg’s post about students agency.  If I reflect on the teaching and learning in my class, I would not dare to say that students agency happens properly.  Yes, I feel like I already do that, but there are some elements which may hinder 100% the implementation of students agency.  I feel like it’s not a true agency…….yet.


The word ‘agency’ may not be new but seem to be the headline nowadays especially since the IB communicated about the enhanced PYP in late 2017.  A few teachers, who were sent to the regional IB the workshops, came back with this ‘agency’ in their minds.  Regardless whether it’s about art, play-based learning in the Early Years, well-being, it seemed that the workshop leaders have been informing them about the enhanced PYP and highlighted the agency.  They’re all excited and can’t wait to make changes and make it happen.  I would totally keep this excitement and put it into action but of course, it needs clear action plans.  Why agency is so important?

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 06.28.01
Source: Preparing for the Enhanced PYP.

Lots IB PYP educators/practitioners are excited and looking forward to the enhanced PYP which will take a place this year.  Excited about the change that would affect the whole school community; the learners and the learning community.

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Head of PYP Development, Nicole Bien   (Source: Preparing for the Enhanced PYP)

Who are the learners?

I am still exploring this term and learning a lot from many IB PYP discussions in the social media. At first, I was wondering why ‘agency’ is the centre.  Isn’t it the IB has always put the learners first?  Is it student-centred or learner-centred?  How is it different?

I remembered a few months ago, there was a post on Facebook asking about the using of ‘learner’ and ‘student’.  Lots responses mentioned that the term of learners refers to everyone in the learning community.  This includes teachers, parents, administrators and of course students. And referring to the agency, this means everyone plays important roles to make the agency happens.

In the context of the PYP, the school is considered to be a community of learners.

Source: Making the PYP Happen, 2009, page 5.



What is agency?img_0821

Source :


There are three main elements in the agency; voicechoiceownership. I used the questions on each element to reflect on the practice in my class.  Where am I?  What have I already done?  How have I given the opportunity to my students to share their voice?  Have I given them choices in learning (what to learn, how they learn, where and when they learn? How can I reinforce the voice, choice and ownership in my class?

The more I ask and reflect, the more I realize that there lots of things that need to be worked on. Seeing the big idea of agency makes me excited to make it happen but at the same time, it can also be overwhelming. I decided to take baby steps and focus on one element at a time.

Some parts in my head said, ‘I already do that‘ as I used the questions to reflect on myself.  But, is it a true agency?  This is the next point that I should answer and I feel that what I have done is not enough to be called a true agency.


Whose voice?

I decided to start with the voice.  The learner’s voice.  I relate to the definition of the learner and try to focus on the student’s voice.


Adobe Spark (1)
Learner’s voice: Who are the learners? – Created using Adobe Spark.


This is how I break down the voice in the school community.  I believe there may be a few other ‘learners’ which can be included, depends on the setting and size of the school.  Each group of the learner in the school community deserves to share their voices and given the opportunity to explore different ways and strategies to move forward.  Ideas, suggestions, opportunities to grow and eventually take action.

I started with the one that is closest to me.  The kids.  The students.  The people whom I work closely every day.

Adobe Spark
Based on

As created this visual about students voice, I feel like hearing these little voices (of me and my students) in my head. I realize one of thing that may hinder students voice is me as a teacher who sometimes feels that they are not ready yet.  It’s a matter of trust.  Yes, I do let the kids share their opinions, ideas, thinking but sometimes I feel like questioning their ideas and eventually I can’t help myself interfere with their original ideas.  The voice may be encouraged in the class but not supported by giving them the choice, giving them the opportunity to actually do it (space and time), make it real, take actions.

I believe that the voice and choice are interconnected.  Now, how can I start?  How can I re-enable the power of voice and choice in my class? Listen, discuss and let the kids take responsibility to make it happen.  How?

I am fortunate to have colleagues who can always give me inspirations.  Each class is different and unique.  Yes, we do have some guidelines on how to set our classes but they way each teacher set their classrooms is different.  There is always something to learn from others.  There is always something you can do more than you have done.  That’s the mindset I should keep in mind.  I know one colleague has been implementing free seating in her class since the beginning of this academic year.  She has also been letting her upper-primary kid organize the timetable and decide when they would like to do the assessment (This means the kids need to learn to decide when they are ready to be assessed).  I remembered a post about letting students planning their days.  This is a good way to let students share their voice and give them the opportunity to decide on what, when, where they would like to learn.  This has given me ideas on how I can adapt this to my little ones.  Again, I always think that these little ones are not independent enough.  What if…they mess up?  What if….it’s chaotic?

During the first week, I have been telling myself to take more step back and listen more to them.  I started by asking them what they would like to change in the class.  They shared the ideas of what they think they would like to have. More games, more pillows, a sofa next to the bookshelf, more educational game.  As they shared their ideas, I encouraged them to discuss the ups and downsides of their ideas.  I could hear a few kids showed their empathy towards one’s idea or supporting others.  They asked me to move the clock and the timetable so that they can be easily seen.  They asked for more interactive games to help them learn as they enjoyed learning through playing.  I told them perhaps they can also create the games and share.  I shared a problem which is relevant to them and I was impressed with all their suggestions on how to solve it.

It’s still a tiny baby step which hopefully will lead to the true agency.  It’s still far away but without taking the baby step, it won’t take me anywhere.

I am still learning, unlearning and re-learning how to empower agency, particularly in the classroom.  Look forward to learning more ideas from all of you.  How have you empowered agency in the classroom?



  1. Thanks for this piece of inspired yet practical writing. Sharing your voice gives others can give them the confidence to question, open up discussion with self, others & possibly their students. Your discussion added a different perspective & encouraged my thinking. Thank you.


    • Thank you, Victoria. Reflecting on my thoughts and the current teaching and learning in my class helps me plan and organize steps to improve my practice. I am looking forward to hearing other ideas/feelings about the agency. How do people feel? What steps have people taken to start? etc.


  2. Such a great article. Thank you for sharing Victoria.
    This article reminds me about the growth mindset. Let the ideas go leash free by unlearning and relearning them.

    The ability to learn is not fixed but it can change with the efforts.

    Looking forward to read more of your articles.


  3. Thanks as an art teacher I’ve benefited from the others I’m waiting for the others and I’m wondering what the teachers have launched the agency.


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