Simplifying Agency: 5 Habits for Valuing Student Voice
Cindy Blackburn
4 min read

Agency can seem like a daunting concept. We want to empower our students to have the efficacy they will need to react to life’s challenges – to have the language and skills to take control of their own learning and growth, but how can we foster this in the classroom? Habits, the small decisions you make every day, can have a profound impact on the culture in your classroom. What lessons are you teaching by how you spend your time and interact with students each day?

We can work towards a culture of agency by embracing meaningful habits. You can think of these habits as little ways, every day, to remind students that they matter, their voice is heard, and they have a choice in their learning.

I don’t believe in big new year resolutions but these habits have anchored me through 2020 and I hope they do the same for you!

1. Share Choices

A common problem faced by teachers is decision fatigue. We make a million small choices a day, and frankly, it can be exhausting. A simple way to make life easier and build agency is to share choices.

So what kind of choices can we share with students?

  • how groups are formed
  • where to work
  • managing time and tasks

One habit I have formed is what I call, ‘The Blind Vote’. Throughout the day, when there are decisions to be made, I present students with 2 options. Then, they close their eyes and vote. Closing their eyes helps students to make their own choices without being influenced by the desires of their friends. We do this multiple times a day, for decisions big and small.

2. Know and Share Your Why

Systems thinking is an essential part of agency. As important as innovation is, we have so much to learn by studying the ways experts work through problems. I highlight this in the classroom by sharing why I am making the decisions I do. If you have a reason, share it!

For example, this year I have been influenced to spend more time on sentence level work after reading an incredible book, The Writing Revolution. At the start of the year, I showed the book to my students and explained the great things I learned and wanted to try with them. Sharing my thinking and intentions led to buy-in from students and excitement to try out something new.

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