Mike Crowley had a wonderful blog post the other day about the need for self-care and giving educators permission to say ‘no’ instead of jeopardizing their professional efficacy or mental health. Vicki Davis also wrote recently about the need for educators to say no, which then frees up space for them to say yes to other things that are important to them. Both are thoughtful posts and I agree with everything they said.
Our students almost never get to say no.
Students rarely get to say:
- ‘No, I don’t have time for that class assignment in my life. I’m too busy over here instead.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to stay cooped up in this classroom. I need to stretch my legs and get some sunshine and fresh air.’
- ‘No, I don’t think that worksheet is worth my attention today. My learning time would be better spent doing this.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to read the assigned novel and talk about it for the next month. I feel like that kills my interest in reading.’
- ‘No, my time for the next hour would be better spent recharging and taking care of myself. My energy level is low and I’m exhausted.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to put away my smartphone. It’s a powerful resource and I want to use it to further my learning.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to work on that project in that way. I’d like to do it this way instead.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to sit still and be quiet for 48 minutes. That’s not the most conducive learning environment for me.’
- ‘No, I don’t believe that the assigned homework furthers my learning much. I think I’ll pass.’
- ‘No, the best thing for me right now is not to work on that, it’s to reconnect with people who care about me and refresh my mind and spirit. I’ll do that later.’
- ‘No, I’m not interested in taking that class or subject that’s required for graduation. I’m interested in learning more about this.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to read out of the textbook and answer some questions. I’d rather find a video on that. I learn better that way.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to take that quiz or test. I want to show my learning in this manner.’
- ‘No, I don’t want to march through 8 different class periods. I want to focus deeply on this one thing for the next few days.’
And so on…
Many of us are talking about the need for schools to provide greater ‘student agency.’ But true agency doesn’t exist when we only give our students limited choices within whatever constrained parameters we decide to allow them. True agency only exists when we respect students as human beings and treat them as authentic partners who are able to exercise control and ownership of their own learning drivers, processes, and products: the what, how, when, where, with whom, and WHY around their learning. True agency also only exists when students have meaningful input into things that are important, not just tokenistic, inauthentic, powerless participation opportunities.
Want to know who has true agency in a school? See who has the ability to say no.