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Enhancing Teacher Agency in Professional Development

By Tina Fossgreen
Enhancing Teacher Agency in Professional Development

Teacher Agency

In classrooms around the world, teachers are striving for ways to increase student agency to empower students, enabling them to have a more active role in their educational journey. What is less discussed is teacher agency, giving this same empowerment to the educators in schools.

Professional development (PD) for teachers is vital for educational growth, yet its impact often falls short due to a lack of teacher agency. Anne O’Brien’s article[1] in Edutopia states that educators desire more control and relevance in their PD. Many feel detached from PD decision-making, viewing it as a compliance task rather than a growth opportunity. The key to effective PD lies in aligning it with teachers' interests and desire to improve.

The concept of teacher agency in PD is pivotal for fostering effective and meaningful educational practices. Teacher agency involves allowing educators to have a substantial say in their learning and development process, leading to more engaging, relevant, and personalized professional experiences.

This empowerment isn't just beneficial for teachers; it has a profound impact on student outcomes as well. When teachers are actively involved in their professional growth, choosing areas that align with their interests and classroom realities, it results in improved teaching methods and a deeper understanding of student needs. O'Brien's article underlines the necessity of listening to and valuing teachers' voices in the design and implementation of professional development programs.

Effective Professional Development

At the International School of Tanganyika (IST), our mission is to challenge, support, and inspire all learners. The minor shift in the mindset of all learners emphasizes the commitment to learning for all, not just the students. The importance of creating a supportive environment where educators feel confident to explore, innovate, and share their experiences. This has meant rethinking the traditional PD model that often leaves teachers feeling disconnected and undervalued. Instead, a focus on collaborative, educator-led, and data-informed PD strategies has significantly enhanced the overall educational experience.

Based on the research studies on effective professional development[2], IST’s Personalized Professional Development (PPD) program was revised to include content focus, active learning, coherence, duration, and collective participation. At IST teachers and teaching assistants choose their inquiry questions based on:

  1. Content Focus: knowledge of subject matter and pedagogical content.
  2. Active Learning: active learning processes, engaged in the analysis of teaching and learning.
  3. Coherence: aligned with the school’s Strategic Plan consistent with other learning opportunities.
  4. Duration: sustained over time, 16 dedicated hours over the school year allow for the development, practice, and refinement of new skills.
  5. Collective Participation: group participation among teachers from the same school or area fosters a collaborative learning environment.

Though not stated in the research, it has been the experience at IST, that a sixth component be added to the list of effective PD models:

  1. Sharing Learning: an opportunity for educators to share with colleagues the learning and impact on student learning.

Initially, there was some reticence among teachers towards our new PPD approach. Previously, PD was often seen as a time for disengagement or attending to other tasks. However, this perspective shifted as the PPD program evolved to include the end-of-year celebration. This session has become a catalyst for stimulating learning and expanding thinking for the upcoming year. Feedback from teachers has been increasingly positive, with many appreciating the opportunity to reflect on their growth and share their insights, which in turn enriches the professional community. 

Teacher Feedback on PPD

The end-of-year evaluation of the Personalized Professional Development (PPD) program revealed a high level of effectiveness as reported by educators. Some notable quotes from the experience further underscored its success.

“This experience was valuable because I was able to connect to my personal goals as a teacher, as well as to school goals. I appreciated the flexibility of time to work at my own pace.”

“The inquiries push me to realize my potential as a teacher.”

“A great way to give teachers autonomy over their learning and teachers the space to engage in ways that interest them and to the extent they are able at the time. Flexible learning yet structured with expected outcomes that support the goals of the school.”

Theory Into Practice

At the beginning of the school year, educators begin to explore a topic for inquiry, and the following parameters guide the thinking:

  • Geared towards promoting student growth.
  • Central to improving teaching effectiveness.
  • And, instrumental in improving instructional practices as defined in IST’s Strategic Plan.

Sample inquiry questions:

  1. How might we develop an Approach to Learning (ATL) scope and sequence that is effective and articulated for the Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program, and Diploma Program?
  2. How might we develop best practices for phonics/guided reading with a Science of Reading (SOR) lens?
  3. How might specific phonemic awareness/encoding be part of the curriculum to improve writing skills?
  4. How might I utilize some of the components of balanced literacy with Kiswahili learners?
  5. How might I effectively impact the strategies utilized to support students with Autism?
  6. How might we be able to provide opportunities for service learning to the IST community?
  7. How can we better design our units to address universal design principles?
  8. How might we adeptly integrate AI into elementary education to equip students for an Artificial Intelligence-driven future, ensuring personalized learning and ethical understanding through collaborative implementation?
  9. How can we leverage data from observations to grow in our professional practice?
  10. How might we integrate artificial intelligence to inspire, challenge, and support the IST community?

Aligned to Appraisal

The introduction of this new practice in professional development is designed to complement, not replace, the traditional goal-setting appraisal process. It prompts educators to formulate inquiry questions, which can be done individually or as a group, aligning with the objectives discussed with supervisors. This method ensures a unified approach to professional development, skillfully merging individual goals with the school's collective vision.


The implementation of teacher agency in professional development transcends mere enhancement of teaching methodologies. It involves acknowledging and utilizing the expertise of educators. Our Personalized Professional Development model fosters a more adaptive, responsive, and efficient educational environment. This approach not only benefits teachers but also positively impacts students, underscoring the importance of teacher agency in shaping the future of education.


[1] Five Ways to Increase Teacher Agency in Professional Development We talk about student agency, but what about teacher agency?; Edutopia July 5, 2016

[2] What Should We Consider in Teachers’ Professional Development Impact Studies? Based on the Conceptual Framework of Desimone Ho Soo Kang, Jungju Cha, and Bong-Woon Ha; Creative Education 2013. Vol.4, No.4A, 11-18


Tina Fossgreen brings 30+ years of international experience from eight different schools on four continents including Bolivia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Egypt, Vietnam, and Tanzania. She believes the best part of her job is working with teachers on curriculum development and crafting experience for deep learning. She enjoys connecting with educators from other schools to share best practices, improve all students' learning and assessment experiences, and develop professional relationships within the region. Tina is the Director of Teaching and Learning at the International School of Tanganyika.

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