Student Agency

I am officially back in the office for the first day since returning from the Google Apps for Education conference in Homer’s Glen, Illinois. It was a great conference that focused on student achievement and student engagement enhanced by technology, specifically Google Apps and other related apps and add ons. It was a great conference and I felt privileged to attend.

One idea that kept popping up throughout the conference was the idea of student agency. There were several definitions for student agency given at the conference, but here is my attempt at one: Student Agency is when we provide opportunity for students to think, question, and create into deeper problems and deeper learning, choosing a path driven by their passion. Just as adults have hobbies (hunting, fishing, woodworking, sewing, golfing, etc.) wherein they strive to get better and enjoy themselves, students should have the time and resources to pursue their passions in education. Corollaries to this idea pertain to student voice, student choice, student-centered learning, and student engagement. The central idea to all of this is the student.

Much of the conversation around student agency revolves around the concept of “Genius Hour,” “20% Time,” or passion driven learning. Just as Google at one time allowed employees 20% of their time to create and follow a passion of their own within the company, all of these ideas concern giving students the time to develop themselves with what I call “structured-unstructured time.” This is where we allow students a certain amount of time to think and create and research (structured) a subject, problem, passion of their own (unstructured) wherein they develop themselves, their ideas, and their ability to independently grow.

How can this be done in a small high school with limited staff, limited budget, limited space, and limited (no) corporate partners? How can this be done and we still proficiently address the core subjects? How do we motivate students enough to instill within them a desire to have a passion and then to actually follow it with hard work? (That truly is a subject worthy of lots of thought.) I don’t fully know the answer to these questions yet, but I do see possibilities. I see easily next year a handful of students given the opportunity to take on a problem or a passion. I can see a handful of students given a period a day to become “geniuses,” to follow their educational passions, to solve problems, to find good questions and good solutions. And maybe if these handful of students can see this in themselves, and maybe if others in the building, both teachers and other students, can see them see this in themselves, then perhaps we can see a way for all students to gain greater student agency.

Lots to think about.


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