Leading and Learning: Building Teacher Agency

One of the questions I am digging into as we wrap up this year and begin to plan for next is how to continue to build teacher agency.

What is teacher agency?

Teacher agency is defined as “The capacity of teachers to act purposefully and constructively to direct their professional growth and contribute to the growth of their colleagues.” As in any profession, it’s no secret that people are more productive and report higher levels of job satisfaction when they are able to have a level of control over their work. Too often I have heard people complain that professional development is top down or that it isn’t relevant to them. Look no further than some of the internet memes geared towards teaching to get an idea of what I mean. We’ve all been there.

For those running staff meetings it is a tall order to ensure that week after week, the PD being offered meets the needs of every single teachers on staff–including single subject, student support staff and teaching assistants–especially if you are just one person! What then can be done to make learning meaningful for all staff?

Moving away from a top down, one size fits all approach

This school year we began teacher inquiry groups at our school. This idea came out of our previous teacher survey. It indicated to us that teachers wanted more autonomy and control over there PD. Because we had a very experienced staff, this was no surprise.  We asked teachers what they might like to inquire into and ordered books and other resources that could be used in these groups the following school year. We scheduled a total of eight “Inquiry Sessions” over the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, teachers were asked to set a purpose, possible outcome and identify the impact on student learning and/or well-being. The most exciting outcome was that we were able to run an “internal PD day” in February 2018, where 22 staff members presented their learning to their colleagues. We had sessions on everything from mindfulness and growth mindset to design thinking and translanguaging. The feedback from this event was overwhelmingly positive and, as a leadership team, we were able to respond to teacher feedback and capitalize on our internal capacity within the school.

Where to now?

As in any international school, we will have a new group of teachers next year and be losing some of our previous teachers who really drove this PD opportunity. The questions I am asking myself as I begin to think about next year are: How do we continue to identify, widen and deepen those ‘pools of talent’ within our community? How do we bring new staff into the ‘fold’ and give them that sense of agency right from the beginning? What more can I do to support teacher choice and voice?

It is an exciting journey and one that I am looking forward to continuing as I listen to and learn with my colleagues. What are some ways you have increased teacher agency in your school? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.

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