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Building Agency Through School Strategy

Dr Phil Cummins explores how schools can build agency through strategy that balances perspective and context.


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If “vision” is who and what we want to become as a school, and “action” is what we will do to bring about this preferred future, then our strategies are the choices we make about how we are going to get there and how we will give priority to the allocation of the resources that we will need to bring this journey about with success. Strategy is always about a conscious decision to travel in a specific direction; implicitly or explicitly, it is also about what we choose not to do instead. Strategy brings confidence to a school about how it will make progress on individual, group and whole school levels. Strategy helps us to balance the enduring needs from yesterday, with the urgent needs of today, and the long-term-needs of tomorrow. If we lack clarity about what these choices are and how we can connect them with the daily life for all in the school, then we limit the possibilities for how we might grow and develop together in our agency as a community of inquiry and practice.

The essence of strategy is an abiding sense of hope that tests possibility in agency on behalf of all in a learning community; Kirsten Ferdinands puts it well:

You’ve got to pick people up and create a clear vision, but also believe for the kids that they can achieve and they can do well.

Kirsten Ferdinands | Game Changers insight*

Locating Agency In Strategy


The strategy of a good school needs to align its intent to its everyday matters so that students graduate with the perspective to balance the local, the regional, and the global as responsible citizens – this is based on the employability skill of planning and organising​, which is exercised through capacity in initiative, taking action, managing risk, managing resources, implementation and review​. How does a strategy for agency operate within a school’s community of inquiry and practice that is committed to the graduate outcome of responsible citizens?

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Creating Excellence in Agency Through School Strategy

If this is what the strategy of a good school achieves 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 by aligning strategy and operations**?

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Adriano and I describe the challenge of strategically creating agency in a community that wants to enact today’s learning for tomorrow’s world as follows in our recent book***:

Successful leaders in schools recognise the need for a strategically envisioned and operationally aligned community … they are typically and inherently dissatisfied with the status quo and seek to redesign – or at least renovate – the structures and processes required to realise the vision and direction of a great school committed to graduating responsible citizens.”

Ref: Game Changers: Leading Today's Learning for Tomorrow's World (Hawker Brownlow Education 2022) p. 136

A checklist for this work might look like the following:

  • Is the school clear on the strategy that will bring about meaningful growth and change towards realising our vision for an education for the future-fit character, competency and wellness of our students? 
  • Are the strategic initiatives of our school aligned with the nature of our stated values, educational philosophy and desired outcomes for both the school and our students and our strategy for achieving this preferred future?
  • Do staff clearly communicate and model our stated values and graduate outcomes in designing and delivering an education for character, competency and wellness?
  • Do our students clearly communicate and model our stated values and graduate otcomes in how they learn, live, lead and work, especially in the interactions of our older students with our younger students?
  • Does our school have a strategy for achieving success in educational innovation, especially in the use of technology in learning?

Let’s go!


* You can listen to Kirsten Ferdinands’ Game Changers Episode here:

** You can learn more about aligning the strategy to lead with school operations 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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