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Building Agency Through Performance in Schools

Dr Phil Cummins explores how schools can build agency through performance characterised by direction and discernment.


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Good schools achieve the outcomes that the members of their community expect. Students consistently demonstrate growth in competency and progress towards demonstrating the school’s graduate outcomes; along the way, they also achieve results that correspond to benchmarks that the community believes demonstrate the capability of the school as a whole.

Thus, while it’s always about the students, it’s always about the school as well. Each has an influence on the other. And the results are judged together by stakeholders and observers alike in terms of the school’s capacity to demonstrate both patterns of individual and collective student achievement that seem and also that this achievement of outcomes occurs in the context of learning that is future-fit – replete with those employability skills that are so highly valued across the world.

So much of the value of a school’s performance can be found and measured in the success of its graduates in using their adaptive expertise and self-efficacy to find answers to complex questions in context:

If you've got empathy and you can create good relationships, then you can see the people. What do people need from you? Then you can start having to think about how the skills that you have relate to that problem. And I guess that's what we advocate for our young people today. Identify problems; turn that into opportunity.

Margaret O’Brien | Game Changers insight*

Locating Agency In Performance


Schools that are performing well are focused on helping students grow in both agency and the wisdom to provide sustainable direction to the world as solution architects – this requires the employability skill of problem solving,​ which is shown through evaluation, decision-making, creativity and innovation, reasoning, consultations with stakeholders and the generation of options. How does performance-focused agency operate within a school’s community of inquiry and practice that aspires towards the graduate outcome of solution architects?

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Creating Excellence in Agency Through School Performance

If this is what the performance of a good school looks like when it builds agency**, then how might such a school use the four sources of agency in a school community (students, systems, culture and adults) to stretch itself towards excellence in its student experience and outcomes?

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Adriano and I describe the challenge of attaining consistency and quality in educational performance that is defined by the agency that reflects today’s learning for tomorrow’s world as follows in our recent book***:

We need to focus on what lies ahead for our learners and their transformation … Schools that build good performance can ensure they meet these expectations in the eyes of their stakeholders because they understand … how to ask the right questions.”

Ref: Game Changers: Leading Today's Learning for Tomorrow's World (Hawker Brownlow Education 2022) pp.109-110

A checklist for this work might look like the following:

  • Does the school have a clear set of graduate outcomes that are driving our philosophy and educational practice and within all fields of learning and systems for the care and support of our students? 
  • Is there a whole-school total pedagogy that unifies our approach towards achievement and success in learning?
  • How effectively is the school tracking, assessing and reporting out on the development of our students’ character, competency and wellness?
  • How successful are those specific programs and initiatives that our school is using to highlight our educational objectives?
  • How well does our school draw on, appreciate and celebrate a diverse range of educational, citizenship, service and entrepreneurial narratives of achievement and success from our student and alumni population?

Let’s go!



* You can listen to Margaret O’Brien’s Game Changers Episode here:


** You can learn more about the hallmarks of performance in school communities here:


*** You can purchase your copy of Game Changers: Leading Today’s Learning For Tomorrow’s World  here:

Dr Phil Cummins FRSA FACEL FIML is the Managing Partner of a School for tomorrow, Managing Director at CIRCLE – The Centre for Innovation, Research, Creativity & Leadership in Education, Associate Professor of Education & Enterprise at Alphacrucis University College, and co-host of the Game Changers podcast series.

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