2019-20 IBSC Action Research

Developing Agency: Boy Voice and Choice

IBSC members can view the full reports for 2019-20 in the Member Center.

“Agency is the capacity to take purposeful initiative — the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives” (Ferguson et al, 2015, p.1). Developing a sense of agency empowers boys to take control of their learning and their lives as they come to understand that they have “the potential to bring about a result” (Cox, 2016, para. 4).

Agency is fostered in schools where students have the freedom to truly develop their own voices, make significant choices, collaborate, innovate, problem solve, ask their own questions, and think deeply (Williams, 2017).

Projects in this cycle might examine ways student agency underpins meaningful learning in inquiry-based learning, maker learning, project-based learning, or STEM programs. Agency needs to be developed to support the shift in pedagogical models (MacKenzie, 2016).

As young people often drive social change, projects might focus on developing and encouraging student voice in authentically collaborative leadership programs or social justice programs (Mansfield et al, 2018). Research shows this can improve school climate and culture, reduce disciplinary incidents, and lead to a better understanding of inequality focused on race, religion, and gender.

The focus might also fall on how a sense of agency is critical to successful learning in flexible classrooms or Next Generation Learning Spaces (NGLS). For example, when students feel a sense of ownership and are more at home in a child-centered environment, anxiety is reduced and academic engagement is encouraged (Barrett et al, 2015).

“A sense of agency allows room for, as Carol Dweck wrote in 2006, the sense of ‘not-yetness,’ the sense that expertise and mastery are attributes that are built over time through persistence in the face of failure, and through drawing on the expertise and knowledge of those around us to compile the knowledge, understandings, and skills needed to achieve the successes we strive for as individuals” (Williams, 2018, p. 10). This enables boys to refine their approach, build new skills, and make changes.


Barret, P., Zhang, Y., Davies, F. and Barrett L. (2015). Clever Classrooms. Manchester: University of Salford.

Cox. A (2016). School Research. Retrieved from http://dradamcox.com/2016/06/13/school-research/

Ferguson, R., Phillips, S., Rowley, J., & Friedlander, J. (2018). The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency. Retrieved from http://www.agi.harvard.edu/projects/TeachingandAge...

Mackenzie, T. (2016). Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice. USA: EdTechTeam Press.

Mansfield, K.C., Whelton, A. & Halx, M. (2018). Listening to Student Voice: Toward a More Holistic Approach to School Leadership. Journal of Ethical Education Leadership, (Special Issue 1).

Williams, P. (2017). Student Agency for Powerful Learning. Knowledge Quest, 45(4).