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Agency, Action and Engagement

By Lydia Dennison,
P8 Homeroom Teacher


Agency, action and engagement Category 3 IB Workshop:

The objectives of the workshop were to inquire into the following:

How might school communities design and structure learning experiences and environments to support the development and demonstration of student agency through action and engagement beyond the classroom? 

We delved into,

• How agency is used to help learners understand their potential and impact on their communities. 

• Importance of having deeper conversations with students about how to engage with local and global communities. 

• Explore the concepts of agency, action and engagement and their manifestations across the programmes (e.g. service, service learning). 

• Evaluate approaches to learning and approaches to teaching that aim to support understanding of and engagement with complex issues in a way that honours personal and community needs and aspirations. 

• Identify opportunities for institutional growth, enhanced curriculum design and deeper and responsive community engagement.


The workshop commenced with making the case for engagement and looking at how learners in the IB community are connected in ways not possible in previous generations. New technologies, industries, vocabularies and communities provide learners access to myriad ways of knowing, acting and reflecting. At the same time, the world faces great challenges that must be resolved, likely over many generations. Many young people are aware of these challenges, and while they connect to the world in new ways, they struggle with how to engage with it, to make positive change, and use their agency to help each other and the planet. 

We then moved to understand the meaning of Engagement and how being engaged is…

“Beyond connection or even action, where the desire to act is combined with the compassion of how to do so. Teachers can support learners in choosing how to engage, using new practices that encourage positive action.”

In my opinion, this was the gist of the whole workshop, where we as teachers are facilitators to help our learners choose how to engage meaningfully in what they are passionate about. Keeping our learners at the heart of all our teaching and learning is imperative. It's certainly not easy to let go and let our learners, particularly our younger ones, exercise their agency. However, us being the facilitators, our primary job is to ensure that all our learners even if they are just three years old, exercise their voice, choice and ownership of their learning. We are encouraged to provide the learning environment where all our learners collaborate with us as co constructors of their learning experiences. All learners, being inquirers, are ready to engage and participate in the process of co constructing, planning & assessments as well. The question is, are we open minded listeners? Are we willing facilitators to take their ideas and passions forward and set our learners up for success? 

We also discussed ‘action and beyond’ that comes organically when we have engaged learners who exercise agency. For most of us, Action means to do something. However, Action is much more than that. We inquired into how action can be a change in saying, having, feeling, being and thinking.

Action is an integral part of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) as it provides students an opportunity to make a significant contribution to their local and global communities. It is entwined with agency and offers learners the ability to identify global inquiries that exist and not only make a meaningful contribution to the world around them but also be change makers with regards to  issues that are close to their hearts.

For students to take action, it is vital that they are provided with opportunities to research so that they can explore various aspects and inquire using different perspectives. In our recent P8 PYP exhibition the learners used MISO as a wonderful strategy for research where they use Media, Interviews, Survey and Observations to gather and sort information. 

Some learners from P8 being engaged followed their research with action and displayed agency as they tried best to take ownership of their learning.Some led a donation drive for the Stonehill Government School, where they personally connected with the staff and students and understood their needs and involved the whole Stonehill community in this initiative. Whereas for others, the action was of social advocacy and encouraging other learners to gain knowledge about politics from a young age. There were many more actions led by our learners driven by their passions or engagements related to issues local or global that are close to their hearts.

I believe that teachers should act as facilitators to explore these meaningful connections with the real world and help the learners to take their ideas forward and facilitate the change that they want to bring about. When students have a personalised connection to an issue they are likely to examine ways to make a difference in the world. Students should be given sufficient time to inquire and gather & sort information so that they could personalise the action they take, and understand that it is not just a task to complete but a commitment to themselves and others, and hereby become lifelong learners and global citizens who lead with kindness and empathy.

Some of the suggestions that we can take forward to encourage action and engagement in our everyday teaching and learning could be:

To conclude,

“Student agency is about pursuing learning for a purpose. It is about understanding the connection between the why and how of learning. Purpose is a bridge between identity and intent. What and who you care about is a matter of identity; it is fundamental to who you are. Yet purpose also expresses what you want to achieve and who you are becoming. That intent is made meaningful by being acted upon in the real world; our purpose should propel us into the world. A real sense of purpose is anchored in identity (who we are, what matters to us), intent (what change we want to bring about) and action (how we can make this change demonstrable). Schools need to become places where students can learn to develop their sense of purpose. That means giving them plenty of well-structured opportunities to imagine and experiment with a sense of purpose, to excavate their identity and to reflect on their actions, schools should be creative communities joined by a sense of cause. They should be purpose-seeking institutions, where students find and develop their sense of purpose.”

Learning on purpose: Ten lessons in placing student agency at the heart of schools, Charles Leadbeater.



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