Have you ever thought about the learning grapple that your students experience on a daily basis? For some, its a grapple every day, in every lesson.  How exhausting must that be?

Last week in #the-chemistry-of-learning I shared about the T3 - Teacher Think Tank day in which we spent the day unpacking what Student Agency is in different contexts.

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The lens we put to student agency - or I would prefer to call it learner agency - is this..
Learner agency is about the actions that learners need to take to keep learning happening. If learning is the connection of knowledge and understanding to make meaning, then learner agency is the ability to manage that process to enable higher order learning. (The Education Hub. 2018)

The learners in our classes have a continuum of capability around managing this.

To achieve higher order learning, learners need to truly know and understand themselves as a learner. Learners with high levels of learning agency are able to identify WHAT they are learning, HOW it relates to what they already know and HOW to take new ideas (new knowledge and understanding) to make new meaning to build a deeper understanding. Learners with high levels of learner agency are able to identify what support they need to enable that learning, and demonstrate high levels of capability in managing the learning grapple.

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Learners who have high levels of agency are able to manage the learning grapple. Agentic learners are able to drive their learning, and exhibit many of the Learning Power dispositions identified in the work of Guy Claxton (2018).

I've been reflecting and thinking about the learners I have had in my classes over the last 20 years, and also my son as a learner, and I have come to the conclusion that the learners in any classroom - in terms of their ability to manage the learning grapple, to be able to put new ideas together with old ideas to make new meaning -  fall into four broad categories that a teacher can use to inform decisions about how best to support a student and grow their learner agency. These headings are very broad and are not intended to be taken literally.

These headings are framed up around the different levels of learner agency you see in the classroom and the actions teachers need to take to support these different levels. As you can appreciate there is a whole continuum of learners and learner agency in a classroom. Learners who have the capability to DO learning. These learners have good levels of learner agency and have the skills and capabilities to drive their learning.

Learners who are in the NEED quadrants are still great learners, but need more support and scaffolds to be able to make the connections between new and old knowledge in order to make meaning, and deepen their learning. These learners are still learning - in some cases it is quite surface level learning. HOW can we build learning supports that grow their learner skills and dispositions (refer to last weeks blog - click here) and deepen their learning at the same time?

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  • Fast Learner (Learning agent)

  • Get me Started (Learning agent)

  • The Plodder (Learning agent)

  • It's a Struggle (Learning agent)

It's the teacher's job to know the learner, know what kinds of things are needed to support each of these kinds of learners and know when to deploy said support. - All of that "knowing" is what I call Teacher Agency.
This week I want to begin to explore what Teacher Agency is exactly.

Put simply; Teacher agency is the ability of a teacher to know when to step in and drive the learning, and when to step out and leave the students alone to drive their learning.

If we can build a greater understanding of the learning journey of our students, we will be able to plan for learning more deliberately.
Learning in the classroom needs to be scaffolded in different ways for different learners. How a teacher scaffolds and resources for the learning, needs to be built in consultation with the learners in the class. It also needs to incorporate the understanding of the learning start point for the learners in the class, and the learners next logical steps.
Over the years I have read and I have heard said - "it is essential for teachers to know their students”. I agree wholeheartedly.
Knowing your students is a central piece of the student agency puzzle that teachers are piecing together on a daily basis.
But the "knowing your students" is about understanding your student's needs and requirements for learning, and the required learning steps each student needs to take, more than anything.

After all, there is a famous saying - "All roads lead to Rome".
There are many ways students can make the required learning connections to enable deeper learning. How they connect the knowledge dots to make meaning when they are learning something new or deepening their understanding of something they have met before. What we need to be doing is asking ourselves...
"What is best for this student? It is important to not only think about the perspective of your class as a whole but also to know each student and what works for him or her. Because each learns differently, it’s important to ask, “How does this student learn best?” and “What are some ways students can demonstrate their knowledge?” (Couros, 2015).

The only source of knowledge is experience
— Albert Einstein

Over the next few weeks, I am going to explore the four kinds of learners in the classroom and what teachers can do to shift the agency of these learners where needed. We will look at the elements of Teacher Agency that support each of these four kinds of learners
As mentioned earlier, the learners in your class, and fall into four main categories that you as their teacher can use to inform decisions about how best to support a student and grow their learner agency.

Fast Learner
These are the academically able students who will succeed no matter what the teacher does. These learners are the academics of the school, they pick up new concepts really quickly and are very good at the assessment game.

Get me started
Learners who are labelled as "get me started" by teachers are those who can manage their learning most of the time, and do alright in assessments. The Get me Started learner agents need a bit of help to get them started on their learning and the thinking that goes with learning. However, once they are started, they generally are off and racing with their learning.

The Plodder
The Plodder learner is the learner who has enough understanding to get by, but without some structured help, won’t be able to get themselves much further. These guys need help to deepen their learning.

It’s a struggle
It's a struggle. Everything about learning is a challenge, and for these learners, learning is exhausting, cognitively and emotionally.
In some cases, these are your learners who are thought of as low ability/learning needs learners.
These learners recognise that they are different, slow, behind the rest and often label themselves as dumb. 
Over the next few weeks, I will be unpacking each of these types of learner - their level of student agency, and what it means for teachers regarding teacher agency.
When students meet tricky stuff; do they feel defeated and shy away, or trot out past solutions that do not really suit the new problem? Or do they roll up their sleeves, take a fresh look, and get stuck in?

That all depends on their level of agency....  next week we will take a look at these levels of student agency and begin to explore what is it that teachers can do to help grow their students learning agency.

Go well…

#deepenteacherinquiry #themostpowerfultoolforteacherlearning
#learningculture #change-read tribes #thechemistryoflearning


Claxton, G. (2018). The Learning Power Approach: Teaching Learners to teach themselves. California: Corwin

Couros, George (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Holt, John (1964). How Children Fail. New York: Pitman.

The Learning Hub (2018). Science of Learning / Overview. How to promote deep understanding in your classroom



Here are two more ways I can help you:
1. Download my White Papers -

  1. Finding your inquiry genius - An exploration of the power of Teacher inquiry to enable teacher learning. - click here

  2. Re-lensing Learning- An exploration of the power of harnessing the power of contribution to enable change. - click here

  3. Teacher Think Tank. - An exploration of the power of collective innovation to un-think | Re-think | out-think for future possibilities in education. - click here

2. Work with me one-to-one

  1. Teacher Inquiry - If you would like to work with me directly to solve challenges with Deepen Teacher Inquiry, reply with the words "teacher inquiry"  and we will arrange a time to discuss your situation and see if we might be a fit.

  2. Teacher Think Tank - Bring the Teacher Think Tank to your school! Build coherence - enable change-ready Tribes and accelerate change in your school. A great way to start the new school year with everyone on the same page and gain the buy-in of strategic goals and actions. If you are keen, reply with the word "Think Tank"  and we will arrange a time to discuss your situation and see if we might be a fit.



I am really excited to introduce a way for teachers and leaders to innovate solutions that are outside the box... check this out - information video and testimonial to be found within.

February 2019

T3 - Teacher Think Tank - STEAM Principals - - Wellington Based Teachers
See my front page for video details on how you can get involved. Including a testimonial from Sally Pendergrast - Rototuna Junior High School

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January 2019

Teaching as Inquiry 101

Auckland Based Teachers


Tabitha Leonard