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Conference Paper (Unpublished) ()

Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter? (Invited paper)

Priestley M, Biesta G & Robinson S (2014) Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter? (Invited paper). Teachers Matter - But how? International Research Conference, 23.10.2014 - 24.10.2014, Linnaeus University, Vaxjo, Sweden. Available from:

The concept of teacher agency has emerged in recent literature as an alternative means of understanding how teachers might enact practice and engage with policy (e.g. Lasky, 2005; Leander & Osbourne, 2008; Ketelaar et al., 2012; Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2013). But what is agency? Agency remains an inexact and poorly conceptualised construct in much of the literature, where it is often not clear whether the term refers to an individual capacity of teachers to act agentically or to an emergent ‘ecological’ phenomenon dependent upon the quality of individuals’ engagement with their environments (Biesta & Tedder, 2007). In this seminar, I outline the latter conception of agency, developing a conceptual model for teacher agency, which emphasizes the temporal and relational dimension of the achievement of agency. Why does this matter? Recent curriculum policy in many countries heralds a [re]turn to the centrality of the teacher in school-based curriculum development. In many cases, this renewed emphasis on teachers is explicitly tied to change agendas, with teachers described as agents of change. And yet such change agentry (Fullan, 2003) and teacher agency more broadly are often circumscribed by features of the contexts within which teachers work – for example accountability mechanisms and other forms of output regulation of teachers’ work – leading to engagement with policy that is often instrumental and blighted by unintended consequences. In the seminar, I illustrate how a detailed understanding of teacher agency and the conditions under which it is achieved offer considerable potential in enabling teachers to engage with curricular policy in more meaningful ways.

AuthorsPriestley Mark, Biesta Gert, Robinson Sarah
Publication date10/2014
Date of public distribution10/2014
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