Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
Agency ……………one of the core concepts of Australian early childhood education. Agency, we think we know what it is. We think we know how it looks. We think we know it’s purpose. The Early Years Learning Framework identifies agency as ‘being able to make choices and decisions, to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world’. Easy? No. Actualising agency has been identified as a huge dilemma for educators and the early childhood sector.
All approved frameworks require the provision of agency however an unambiguous understanding of agency does not exist, isn’t routinely evident in day to day practice. The National Quality Standard talks about ‘giving’ a child agency. From that you’d think we had the agency to give to the child, this implies that the provision of agency is determined by the educator. This statement challenges the EYLF, challenges the concept that children posses skills to enact their own agency. Informal professional conversations around agency illustrates inconsistency of knowledge and application. The opposing and conflicting interpretations of agency that exist amongst educators have a negative effect on pedagogy and practice and in turn adversely affects service delivery.
Our practice is guided by our curriculum position. Conformist curriculum positions often inhibit the provision of agency as they are goal directed, logical, have predictable outcomes and are based on reason not emotion. Reformist are child centred in approach, consequently working in real time, in context, with agency. Transformists see agency as ‘giving children respectful power in their world’ (MacNaughton, 2009).
With such a diverse cohort of educators bringing individual culture and principles to the role, the notion of agency’s position in development takes on many forms, from passive to proactive. Curriculum position, along with knowledge on child development influence philosophy, principles and practice. For example …..a young child exhibiting challenging behaviour may be dismissed as ‘attention seeking’ by the Conformist educator. We now know that these challenging behaviours are more often than not a child seeking connection, being an agent of their own learning.
Indulgent application of agency may also be detrimental to achieving required learning outcomes. Some educators allow children to do whatever they chose, in the name of agency. Agency applied chaotically can undermine an educators thoughtful and intentional teaching goals and possibly hinder a child’s learning and development. In his book ‘Feel Bad Education’ Alfie Kohn suggests we ‘let the students decide, except when there’s a good reason why we have to decide for them’.
Ann Stonehouse suggests that supporting children’s agency isn’t about letting children make all the decisions. Children need sensible and sensitive adults who help them stay safe and healthy and look after themselves, others and the physical world. There are many times when children need us to steer them in a good direction. However, it is important in the learning opportunities offered, interactions. conversations and intentional teaching that children are active participants – that we do things with them, not to them.
Are you a ‘go down the slide only’ Educator or will you embrace the learning and growth that can arise from climbing up?
Queen Teuta of Illyria
© Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates 2015 All Rights Reserved