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The Power of Student Agency

Aunil Muntazir

The Teach For Pakistan Fellowship marked my first full-time classroom experience with children, and it led to significant shifts in my core beliefs. I learned that granting children agency in the classroom and treating them as equals is the first step toward making any change possible. Doing so in my classroom allowed my students to co-create a small community where they cared for one another, ensuring equity and justice prevailed at all times.

At first, our days were filled with small complaints like someone taking a pencil or not giving back a water bottle. I used to jump in and sort things out, but it felt like a never-ending process. Then, I decided to let the kids come up with their own solutions. To my surprise, a group of students, many of whom had exhibited challenging behaviour in the classroom, approached me with a plan to resolve these frequent complaints. We collectively refined this plan and named it the “Conflict Resolution Jury.”

Getting the high-achieving kids involved was a bit tricky, but I challenged them. To my amazement, they embraced it, having serious talks and making deals during breaks. I found myself moderating discussions that were way more grown-up than I expected from fourth and fifth-graders.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we had a full-fledged jury with rules. They nominated me as the election commissioner, a role I gladly accepted, and they managed the entire process themselves. The jury’s mandate was to serve for a month and then call for reelection. Suddenly, my job became more like watching a mini-democracy in action. From then on, the complaints stopped coming directly to me. The jury became the go-to group for sorting out problems, and our classroom felt more peaceful, opening up much more time and space for learning.

I realized that letting students take charge of our class rules was the secret to creating a place where we all did well, and our classroom became a space where everyone grew together. I learned that sometimes, the best lessons happen when you let students lead the way.

A few years on, I am pursuing my Erasmus Mundus Master’s in Resilience in Educational Contexts, and the lessons that my students taught me continue to ground me and shape my worldview.

2019 Alum Aunil Muntazir taught Math, Science and Social Studies to 4th and 5th graders in a public school in Bhara Kahu. Currently, Aunil is an Erasmus Mundus scholar studying Resilience in Educational Contexts.

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