Building Student-Agency in Hybrid and Remote Classrooms

“I want my students to be more independent” and “I want my students to develop more intrinsic motivation.” These are comments I’m hearing from teachers across the country regardless of the model of instruction they are working in.  Most teachers I work with initially believe that the first step to developing student agency is to offer classroom structures like more student choice or “early finisher work”. And yet even with those structures in place, we still have students, including high-performing students, who come to us and say “Ms. Schuster, tell me what to do next?” For teachers who have been trying to develop student agency, a comment like this is always a blow to the gut. But why does it keep it happening? I believe the key to solving this challenge is to focus on classroom culture, not just structures.

When I talk to teachers about this dilemma, one that has become a more urgent need during remote and hybrid instruction, I ask them about what culture they have developed around student self-efficacy and collaboration. Are they explicitly having conversations with their students about why self-efficacy as a student is important? Are they explaining to students how they can practice those skills? And, are they highlighting best practices when students are taking more ownership in their classrooms?  This is where I see a lightbulb go off and they say “Hmm, I don’t know if I’ve done that.”

Peter Drucker, a business author and consultant, once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” - meaning that if your culture is not in place, whatever strategy you are trying to implement in your organization, group or classroom, will not be successful. If our hope is to further develop student agency, to truly have self-directed, collaborative learners (our strategy), we can’t just think about systems and routines, we need to develop the culture in our classrooms first. 

At LINC, we define classroom culture as “the way of thinking, behaving, and working that exists in a classroom” or more simply put, student mindset


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