Teacher Agency: What does it mean to empower teachers?

At the EIS Professional Learning Conference 2020, Professor Mark Priestley, from the University of Stirling gave a keynote presentation on Teacher Agency and the meaning of 'empowerment' for teachers' own practice.

Covering expansive ground within his presentation, he posed many critical questions. What is the purpose of education? What is the curriculum? Who decides on its content and who is it for? How are pedagogy and assessment aligned to it? How do we consider context, including the 'hidden curriculum', when engaging in local curriculum making? How do we take account of the perspectives and experiences of traditionally marginalised groups?

Professor Priestley also questioned the extent to which Empowered Schools is about real devolution of power. Is it about governance from a distance; or is it truly about the delegation of authority, and the shifting of decision making to where it makes most sense to occur? If the latter, he asked, how do we promote and support it to avoid unintended consequences and perverse incentives?

Actual empowerment, he argued, has crucial ingredients: government policy that facilitates and provides resources, including high quality professional learning- participative rather than something 'done to' teachers. Key national agencies need to provide leadership, relevant expertise and a solid ‘infrastructure’ for curriculum making.

School leaders need to create and sustain a vision, and space for professional dialogue and communication, including with experts beyond the school. They need to encourage risk-taking and innovation, providing the necessary support, permission and protection. And they need to play their part in minimising the barrier of bureaucracy. 

For more on this topic, see School based curriculum development through Critical Collaborative Professional Enquiry, a paper by Professor Mark Priestley and Dr Valerie Drew.

Mark has indicated he welcomes questions and contact from teachers who are interested in this topic. Mark's academic work and contact details are avilable via the University of Stirling.


Teacher Agency Presentation