Student agency challenges not only the structures that define our schools - those of standards, testing, and accountability - but also the mindset of students, teachers, parents, and leaders. Those who are proponents of agency often talk about the power of putting students’ passions at the forefront of learning.
Although this affirmation of passions is well-intentioned, I sometimes hear people discuss student passions in a disparaging way, worrying aloud about whether an 8-year-old, 12-year-old, or 16-year-old could know what they’re passionate about and if the personal passions of children are worthy of the classroom. I worry that if we replace the word “agency” with “passion” that we are undermining the momentum toward student voice and choice.
As a dad and an educator, this makes sense to me. I didn’t find my professional passions until leaving college and making my way to the classroom. The word “passion” carries a weight of expectations and purpose that is counter to the spirit of exploration that’s at the heart of student agency.
Let’s agree not to use the word passion, not to slow the movement toward agency with an unclear definition of what we value. Instead, let’s replace “passions” with “curiosity”. When we encourage curiosity, we affirm the value of questioning. We remove the pressure of future jobs connected to learning. We promote the freedom to explore with freedom and to engage in a cycle of learning. Pursuing our passions suggests a journey toward a specific destination. Tapping into our curiosities provides an opportunity for reflection, growth, problem-seeking, and learning.
Words matter. Let’s embrace a definition of student agency that removes the pressures of passions.
Click above to share a practice that promotes student agency, ignites students' passions, or creates a bridge between classrooms & the real world.
Click above to nominate an educator to be celebrated by the Inspired Learning Project.