Systems & Operations (2) (1)

Building Agency Through School Systems and Operations

Dr Phil Cummins explores how schools can build agency through systems and operations that are structured for relationality.


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The systems and operations that sit at the heart of the community of inquiry and practice in a School for tomorrow, should be the embodiment of the articulation and application of a school’s whole program of education to build its learners’ capacity in character, competency and wellness. We can measure the success, therefore, of this community by the way in which students, teachers, leaders, teams and members of the broader community are brought together to collaborate to do the learning work that improves outcomes for more learners.

We can see this enacted typically in the development of rigorous systems as well as effective and efficient operations the richness in relationships and the cultural capital that arises from them, the strategic depth and distribution of leadership, and the performance that arises from the shared work of the community in learning to ask the right questions through a disposition towards inquiry and to form answers to them that allow all to benefit from practice that relies on the collaborative wisdom about what really works drawn from evidence-based and research-driven professional learning.

The agency of the most critical system of a school – the knowledge engine of the teacher community of inquiry and practice – must itself be both rigorous and relevant; as Glen Whitman puts it:

Professional learning has to be research informed. It has to involve thinking about real students and how it's going to impact the end user … it has to be sustained and iterative. And I would argue multiple modality and multiple sensory, no different than what we know is good practice for kids.

Glenn Whitman | Game Changers insight*

Locating Agency In Systems and Operations


The systems and operations of a good school need to enrich its capacity to provide an education that imbues in its students the willingness to work well in inclusive relationship with others to bring success and fulfilment for all of us as team creators – this is grounded in the employability skill of teamwork which comprises collaboration, cooperation, respect, ethical conduct, team wellbeing and professional culture. How does a strategy for agency operate within a school’s community of inquiry and practice that is committed to the graduate outcome of team creators?

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.Creating Excellence in Agency Through School Systems and Operations

If this is what the systems and operations of a good school can enable when they 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 the teacher professionalism** that is perhaps the single most critical factor in the success of the school’s community of inquiry and practice?

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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***:

We know that individuals can and should be enriched by the fellowship of others … At the heart of this needs to be our commitment to the notion that every human is home to a unique life, one that should merit the honour and respect of others.”

Ref: Game Changers: Leading Today's Learning for Tomorrow's World (Hawker Brownlow Education 2022) p. 157

A checklist for this work might look like the following:

  • Does the school understand how learning relationships (especially character apprenticeships) can be crafted deliberately and intentionally to improve outcomes for more learners? 
  • Does the school use a series of fundamental inquiry questions to shape the development of these learning relationships and how they operate within the community of inquiry and practice?
  • How successful is the school in helping staff to align all educational practices with the school’s strategic intentions for the development of the students that have been and are being shaped in answer to these fundamental inquiry questions?
  • Do faculties and other staff teams understand the centrality of a shared set of graduate outcomes in all of their practice and the appropriate incorporation into all student learning experiences of a staged continuum of student knowledge, skills, dispositions and habits informed by character, competency and wellness that culminate in the attainment of these graduate outcomes?
  • To what extent is the school building a future-fit learning culture founded on a deliberate and incrementally staged process to build the capacity of the teaching staff to embrace and extend this culture?

Let’s go!


* You can listen to Glenn Whitman’s Game Changers Episode here:

** You can learn more about the work of teachers in a community of inquiry and practice 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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