How We Plan to Build the Agency of Learners & Families

September 26, 2016 by Rebecca Kisner



Last week, EdNavigator visited Denver for DK Hot Lunch and shared lessons from their work supporting families with school in New Orleans. The energy was high, and those who joined us were visibly excited by the clear potential of the EdNavigator model. People wondered, what kind of person makes the ideal navigator? How do you scale their support? And will there ever come a time when parents no longer need navigation because they develop the capacity and confidence to navigate on their own, perhaps even empowering other parents to do the same?

We’re thinking about these same questions in our work at ReSchool Colorado. In similar ways to EdNavigator, our Advocate Network plays a major role in building the agency of learners and their families to navigate their learning and lives. And since we know the word agency means different things to different people, here is a definition we work from: “Agency is the capacity and propensity 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.” –The Influence of Teaching (2015).

While we continue researching and designing a new education system, we’ve recognized from our prototypes there is already demand in our current system for Advocate support. To respond to this need and help learners thrive in our dynamic world, ReSchool is planning the launch of a Colorado-based Advocate Network in 2017. This network will build learner and family agency to navigate the education system by more purposefully aligning their chosen educational paths with their needs and aspirations. The result will be a cohort of learners who develop a strong sense of self and a set of transferable skills and competencies that are of value to them and to others. Given that learners and families will join the network with different contexts and varying levels of readiness, we created the Agency Pyramid (below) to better demonstrate how the Advocate Network partnership will work over time.

Advocate Network

  • As we wrote in Part I of this blog series, the first step for learners and their families will be to join the Advocate Network. That act marks the beginning of a partnership revolving around who the learner is as a whole person and what he or she needs to thrive. In short, the Advocate Network is the entity that gets to know a learner and family most deeply and comprehensively over time.

Learner Profile & Framework

  • Together, the learner, family and Advocate contribute to a dynamic profile based on the learner’s strengths, gaps, needs and aspirations. The profile articulates and categorizes the learner’s formal and informal learning to date, with each experience contributing to their competency in one of four domains: Academic Preparation, Self-Management, Social Intelligence and Solution Seeking. [Read more on the development of ReSchool’s Framework for the Future of Learning].

“Best Match” Learning Home Base

  • With support from their Advocate Network, the learner and family identify the best home base for them at that time. Given how our system currently functions, home base for the majority of kids will be a school. There are many different reasons families make choices about school, but maintaining knowledge of what’s available and discerning differences in quality and fit is a challenge. And although this is an important choice, we don’t believe learning stops with school. We know learning occurs anywhere and at any time, and success in young adulthood depends on more than college and career preparedness. That’s why we envision a day when a learner’s home base is their Advocate Network itself, and “school” as we know it is customized for every learner, curated from a broader landscape of both schools and other specialized learning providers.

Additional Learning Experiences

  • Beyond choosing a school, the Advocate Network will raise funds to connect learners with experiences to enhance their learning, many of which may already be available at no cost to the learner. From our prototypes we’ve learned money isn’t always the barrier to participation; sometimes language, physical isolation or cultural familiarity are even more prohibitive. These experiences may take place within the traditional school day, or after school, on the weekends and in the summer. Examples include:
    • A course in an area of interest not provided by a learner’s home school, such as art, computer science or Advanced Placement options
    • Support with accessing food, housing, health care or transportation
    • An internship or travel experience
    • Connection with a peer, mentor, or therapist

Leadership (Empowering Others)

  • As learners and families cultivate agency in their own lives, the nature of their relationship with the Advocate Network may shift. As lifelong learners they will more closely resemble the future ReSchool learner Katrina at age 27, leading and empowering others around them to shape their paths. As their personal agency ebbs and flows with the circumstances of their lives, they continue to seek their best match learning opportunities while serving as a model to others in their communities.

We often challenge people to think about the very best of what our current education system has to offer, for those learners who have abundant resources and unlimited access to meaningful learning. Perhaps that learner was you. Now imagine that, with the support of an Advocate Network, every learner could have access to that world; to experiences and relationships that build their knowledge and confidence, demonstrate their power to overcome challenges, and foster excitement about their lives. That, we believe, is the value proposition of ReSchool Colorado.

We look forward to sharing more about our plans to launch an Advocate Network over the coming months. Thanks to all of you who have engaged with us in the process so far, and to EdNavigator and others who continue to push our thinking about how best to build the agency of learners and families.

Contact Rebecca