On Friday 4th May, we bring together a collection of interested people – teachers, local authority managers, national agency people (SQA, EdScot) and academics for a one day work shop on teacher agency. This workshop is part of our current Teacher Agency and Curriculum Change research project (ESRC RES-000-22-4208). The project was conceived in the light of new curriculum policy that positions teachers as agents of change. We are interested in what this means, and primarily in the question of how teachers can achieve agency in their work. Is this for example about simply raising teacher capacity through CPD? Or is it also about changing the material and social conditions within which teachers work?
For a start, what is agency? This is a complex issue, and I cannot do justice to it in this short blog post (see http://tinyurl.com/7k7o7fm for a fuller treatment of the issue). Our starting point is that agency is not, as is widely claimed, something that resides in individuals to be exercised according to rational choice. Instead, it is something to be achieved by people in particular situations, drawing upon their own capacities and working within their environment (utilising available resources). Seen in such a light, agency is thus dependent upon the past (for example skills, knowledge and values that people bring to bear on everyday problems). These feed into forming aspirations for the future – and clearly if people’s experience is limited, then this will impact upon the types of aspirations that they form. Finally, prior experience and aspirations will shape the responses that people formulate in the face of practical/evaluative constraints and opportunities in their present daily lives, and the ways in which they are able to draw upon resources available to them. Clearly, the nature of the environment within which people work is important. Powerful people with strong aspirations may be unable to achieve agency due to the constraints of their environment. For example, excellent and experienced teachers may be unable to implement CfE properly because of demands created by accountability systems (see http://tinyurl.com/7yp6h95 for a book chapter covering this issue).
In our workshop (see http://t.co/3WR2fW7s) we will be addressing some issues that are relevant to schools implementing CfE. Professor Gert Biesta will provide an overview of the concept of teacher agency. Dr Sarah Robinson will explore how strong teacher beliefs translate into powerful aspirations, and how these enable teachers to become agents – to choose from a large repertoire of actions when faced with difficult dilemmas in their work. I shall explore how particular configurations of professional relationships in schools facilitate or inhibit agency – see http://tinyurl.com/7h6eznt.
The project aims to build understanding of the issues that inhibit and enable teacher agency. This has a serious practical value – it is about discovering how teachers can be come agents of change, fully able to develop the curriculum in their schools. Therefore, while raising teacher capacity through CPD is desirable and necessary, it is not sufficient on its own to increase teacher agency. We must also address the cultural and structural conditions which shape teachers’ work. There is more about the project at http://tinyurl.com/ckdk3dl, including access to electronic versions of all of the project publications to date.
I will be writing updates on these issues in future blogs, and would welcome dialogue with educators from all backgrounds in the meantime.