We are in the early days of Connected Educator Month and I am already inspired. Last year I blogged about how I describe a connected educator (using technology to build communities and share knowledge), but this year Digital Is tapped me to be a CEM blogger so I plan to delve more deeply into the idea of connected education.
Among the ideas that have inspired me are important and interconnected ideas of Agency and Voice. I want to explore these two important ideas that play an essential role in both connected education and National Writing Project work. I believe (quite strongly) in fostering agency and voice in both students and teachers. I believe powerful learning opportunities come out of classrooms where agency and voice are supported and I believe teachers given the opportunity to exercise their agency and voice are the catalyst for these powerful learning opportunities.
Agency is simply the power to act independently and to make individual choices. PBL (project or passion based learning) is a terrific example of giving students agency in the classroom. I know, from my own experience, that students work harder and achieve more when allowed to choose the direction and focus of their assignments. In recent years I have built all my classes around passion projects and I have found this teaching experience to be the most rewarding of my career whether I am working with first year students or graduate students. It isn’t always easy to teach this type of class (it is not for the control freak or the faint of heart), but the often messy, noisy class vibrates with excitement and energy that cannot be found when students are engaged in someone else’s work. I love how technology helps us give our students agency to create their own questions and seek their own answers as well as develop their own support system to do so. That is how I see connected educators supporting student agency.
It is important to remember that educators need agency as well – especially in our current political climate where teachers are made the scapegoats for all that is wrong with our education system (from preschool to university). Our national obsession with standards and accountability is not a terrible thing in itself, but the ways that it plays out in our classrooms and schools are often monstrous and frequently dangerous. We too often take away the agency of our highly trained, professional educators and everyone (especially the students) suffers as a result. However, connected educators are given agency through technology even when they lose it in their classroom. They have the power to talk, to share, to teach through technology even when they teach in an environment where agency is feared and blocked. Connected educators find power through technology to connect with others and to take action.
For writing teachers, voice is often about a distinct, individual style. I believe this is so, but for me voice is about more than style – it is about expression and personal views – it is about your personal stance and opinion and beliefs. I see voices, student voices and teacher voices, being stifled all around us in schools and institutions of learning. I have experienced it myself and I have learned not to speak certain ideas in certain places, but technology allows us to find our voice and share our words with a much wider audience. My students blog as I do, my students use social media as I do, so that we can exercise our voices for our own personal benefit as well as the collective good. Student voice is celebrated in my classroom in a number of ways, often through and with technology, and I know my own experience is enriched as a result and I believe that theirs is as well.
How do you foster student voice and student agency in your classrooms? Do you believe it is important to support student voice and student agency?