Living with Agency: Considering Agency in an Holistic Approach to Learning

Living with Agency

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We are living exciting times with regards to education. With the arrival of our new buzz word ‘Agency’ we are seeing educators give more value and recognition to the voice, choice and ownership of our students. Surely this should have always been good practice, but now it has a name,  ‘Agency’. With this seemingly ‘new dawn’, I see bright days ahead for the education of our Students.


But what do we really mean by ‘Agency’?

This was a question I was puzzling over one day as I drove home from work. I suppose I had always considered ‘Agency’ in its simplest form as an approach to learning. Providing children with ownership and choice in their learning experiences. I began to ponder if this view was to narrow.

Believing in a holistic education, I started to think about the concept of Agency and what this meant for the development of the whole-child. I started to think about the variety of ways that students could express Agency away from my narrow traditional learning concept which I had first thought. There has to be more to Agency than just an as an approach to learning?

I have posted some of my wonderings below:


Emotional Agency:

The freedom and independence to express our emotions is one of our first fundamental rights. Our classrooms should be a supportive and understanding environment in which our children can clearly express their emotions, take ownership and make a choice whether they are happy, sad, or excited etc. Our children’s demonstration of emotions should be encouraged, acknowledged and dealt with in an appropriate way. Suppressing negative emotions can cause depression, low self-esteem and in some extreme cases physical illnesses! The expression of emotion should be considered as opportunities for students to understand, celebrate, comfort and be empathetic to each other.


Social Agency: 

Students should be made aware of their voice within a variety of social settings. This could be within their friendship group Are they equal owners when they engage in play? Are their friendships built on mutual respect and understanding? 

When collaborating with others do they take equal ownership in the activity? Do they have the ability to express their ideas in the decision making? 

Whether it be with their teacher, peers or family they have the right to speak and be heard. Students behaviour in certain social situations is often changeable but that should be by choice. They should be given equal ownership and voice within their interactions with others.


Cultural Agency: 

Everyone has the right to celebrate and share their culture with others. Students should be made aware of this voice. They should be given a choice to choose their own cultural identity and express it in a way that is personal to them. Very important to our Third Culture kids.


Technological Agency: 

In our modern and technological driven world this is an ever increasingly important one. Students need to be given a choice in their technological use. To take ownership of its use and express their voice through it.


Play Agency: 

Play must always be the ownership of the student. They must always be given the choice in their expression of play as this is their very first voice.


Spiritual Agency: 

Everyone should have ownership of their own beliefs. These beliefs should be personal and by choice. They should not be expected to adopt a set of beliefs but choose their own. And if they do they should have a place to share their spiritual understanding and have ownership of it. They have a choice to choose, a choice to change and a choice to adapt their spiritual beliefs because they are the owners. Many may choose not to have any spiritual beliefs at all but the choice is theirs.


Physical Agency: 

I think it goes without saying that the students should have ownership over their own bodies. Make choices about how they wish to use them. Some will run while some will walk.


Environmental Agency: 

Students should have ownership of their environment. Not just in the classroom but more importantly in the natural world. Again this is a very important aspect as students’ voices need to be heard and respected when it comes to the future of our planet. They need to be given the choice and opportunity to make positive change.


When I began to think of Agency in much broader terms than just learning, it gave me so much more hope for the future. By recognising and providing greater opportunities for my students to express their Agency in a broader sense I am in a better situation to support and develop the individual. The next generation must be made aware and given opportunities to express their Agency in a variety of ways. We must ensure that they have a voice and a choice and that they take ownership in all aspects of their lives.

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