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Speech in the Schools

Agents of Change

Published November 18, 2016 8:46 AM by Teresa Roberts

Do you believe that your actions affect your life outcome? Do you believe that you can influence other people by what you say and do? Do you believe that you can be part of a group of people who bring about positive change in the world?


The ability to have power over our own actions and the actions of others is agency. You are an agent — the one doing the action — instead of a recipient, or a person who has things done to them. When we have a sense of agency, we believe that what we do matters — there is an outcome. Agency is empowerment. When individuals do not have a sense of agency, they may become passive (not initiate) and prompt-dependent (wait for another to prompt them), or even demonstrate learned helplessness (feel powerless and ineffective).


Renowned psychologist Arthur Bandura’s work in social cognitive theory described three types of agency that people use in their daily lives:


·         Personal agency: the ability to do things to meet your goals.

·         Proxy agency: the ability to influence other people to meet your goals.

·         Collective agency: the ability of a group of people to work together to meet a goal.


Our work with students affects how they view themselves. We can show students how they are agents in the therapeutic process and within a group.


Personal agency: you can make things better


·         Recognize hard work: “You’ve been working really hard on telling your tongue where to go for your /r/ sound! All your work is making a difference!”

·         Celebrate progress: “Remember last year when you used to say ‘wed’ for ‘red’? You don’t do that anymore. You changed your speech.”

·         Specify goals: “You told me that ‘squirrel’ is a hard word for you to say. You can set a goal for this word.”


Proxy agency: you can influence other people


·         Request: “Ask your partner if you can … ”

·         Bargain: “Maybe you could tell your partner that he could choose the activity first next time?”

·         Convince: “Give you partner two reasons why you think that you should pick the activity.”

·         Thank: “Did you see how your partner smiled when you thanked him for letting you go first? You made him feel appreciated.”

·         Praise: “Did you see how your partner sat up straight when you said she did a good job saying her /r/ sound? You made her feel proud.”


Collective agency: we can create good things together


·         Co-created materials: each student takes a turn decorating a book, or game that will be used by the whole group.

·         Co-created stories: each student takes a turn adding an element to a narrative to create a cohesive story.

·         Sharing created materials and resources: sharing materials that one group has created with another group or with staff, e.g., “We made a great book of vocabulary words! Let’s share it with the teacher so that other students can use it, too.”


We develop an understanding of our place within our community by how we interact with each other. We can highlight students’ roles in their own success, and provide opportunities for contributions and collaborations that help others.


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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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