Paul Hamilton and Poppy Gibson
In this blog entry, we consider what teacher ‘agency’ is, and how educational settings can encourage and develop teacher agency.
Recently, I [Paul] led a session with ITE students on the subject of ‘teacher agency’. Asking them what their understanding/perception of agency is and what barriers and opportunities exist [if any] as an early-career teacher trying to develop agency. The discussion that followed was an interesting one, firstly [as a group] creating a broad definition of what ‘teacher agency’ is – as viewed from the perspective of those entering the profession. And then, secondly, how agency is achieved in an evolutionary fashion.
So what is agency?
Broadly speaking, it was agreed that agency for teachers is the ability to act independently, yet with accountability. A dynamism within a traditional structure, routinely following the norms but with the occasional bit of chaos for good measure. Something that develops over time, always there, ever-present, but requiring confidence, experience and expertise to develop towards something that has true purpose [the evolution of agency].
At the end of the tutorial, I displayed on the screen a quote from Guoyan (2020) that states, “from the perspective of agency, teachers (as agents) need to be seen as whole persons with their life experiences, commitments and concerns”. And perhaps, I would argue, this is the lens through which we need to view agency in our schools. We know that teachers operate in what sometimes feels like incredibly rigid environments with, at times, little wriggle room, but they will never not be human. Each with their own values, beliefs, likes and dislikes with the capacity to act purposefully and constructively for the improvement of education.
Ways to improve and develop teacher agency
So how can we develop teacher agency? Teacher agency is linked to feeling heard through teacher voice, and feeling that there is control over both the classroom, the pedagogical delivery, and the future. Here are some strategies that improve teacher agency:
These are just five ways that agency can be promoted, but the main thing is giving space to teachers’ voices and considering how giving agency and autonomy in the profession can empower teachers, leading to greater job satisfaction, and ultimately higher levels of wellbeing.
Guoyuan, Sang. (2020). Teacher Agency. 10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_271-1.
Priestly, M. (2015). Teacher agency: What is it and why does it matter. BERA Blogs.
Paul is a Teaching Fellow in History Education at Moray House School of Education and Sport with responsibility for the delivery of PGDE Secondary (History). Prior to joining the University of Edinburgh, Paul taught history in secondary schools for thirteen years in the West of Scotland, as well as implementing and delivering the National Progression Award in Legal Studies for S6 pupils in West Dunbartonshire.
For three years, Paul was an Associate Tutor at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education, supervising students on the MSc Educational Studies course. Paul is currently in the final stages of his EdD research at the University of Strathclyde, preparing a thesis that will examine the experiences of young people who participate in First World War battlefield tours.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @_PaulHamilton