Is Student Agency at odds with Standardization?


I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to teach in ways that allow for student agency to be actualized. We need to be experts with technology and curriculum, and more. However, we also need to move far beyond the technology tools and the curriculum expectations with our teaching, to ‘meet’ our learners where they are at. This is a big part of what it means to teach the whole child build agency.


The fact is that learning will happen. Whether a particular expectation is not met, does not negate the fact that learning could have happened. But what is more important, building that agency, or using standardized tests as true measures of learning?

Taking a holistic approach as an educator means studying each person as a whole. We engage in a lot of reflection, we make thinking and learning visible, we stay relevant and include social media and other tech resources in our learning environment, and we show our students everything that they can be, based on their needs and wants.

Yet often we experience conflicting ideas of what a student really is, and what learning really is.

Often, research and standardization measures only look at students as objects, not subjects. We look at the results as if they are final, and assume those results accurately tell us about the abilities of our students. This perpetuates fixed mindsets about student abilities.


However, standardization, and other forms of scientific behaviouristic teaching practices are most certainly not final. There is just is not sufficient evidence from standardization that would provide any meaningful knowledge that we would really seek about ourselves and our learners. Standardization provides a lack sufficient information that would really help us, and help others to become better learners, and people of the world.

If we are going to be successful at promoting agency, in addition to relating to the uniqueness of each student, and helping them overcome their own problems, then we need to be able to successfully project ourselves into the situations that we are looking at. This is as far from standardization as you can get. It is as unique as each student, teacher, and relationship. We need to learn the values, aims and hopes of all learners, and learn how they play out in all situations. This includes empathy. We need it to promote agency.


When we show empathy, and try to understand the actions of the whole learner, then we are in a better position to help students grow and transcend their present circumstances emotionally, physically, cognitively and behaviourally.

However, just because educators can try to understand students in more holistic ways does not mean that we react the same ways as our students nor does it mean that we do the learning for the students. It means that we have more understanding. What better way to develop more agency, than to do so in an environment that is more understanding and free from fixed mindsets about learning.


Nothing is more tiring and fulfilling as to engage in this holistic kind of education for students. It conveys to students that they are all worthy, important and learners. It conveys that all students come from important backgrounds that shape them, and that no matter what, they have the power to become better.

But perhaps most importantly, it is important for educators to care for themselves first, and make ourselves whole before we can successfully take those approaches that build student agency?


Call to Action:

What do you need to do for yourself before you can help students develop agency?


Deborah McCallum

c 2015




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