Agency by Design Oakland: 2018-2019 Fellowship Update: The Intersection of Making, Repair, and Teacher Inquiry

Agency by Design Oakland Senior Leader Ilya Pratt provides an update on the Agency by Design Oakland Fellowship program, with an emphasis on the social justice and healing power of making, and a message of hope during times of loss and hardship.

Now in its second year, and having grown out of the Agency by Design origin project, Agency by Design Oakland provides a year-long fellowship program, as well as professional development workshops and consultation, on the Agency by Design framework and resources. Recognizing that culture and shared values are at the forefront of any maker experience, Agency by Design Oakland is a values-forward organization with social justice leading the way. In creating a space where teachers can gather, collaborate, and embark on teacher inquiry, Agency by Design Oakland strives to create a community where Oakland teachers both find empowerment and the tools to empower their students.

The Agency by Design framework, strategies and thinking routines continue to serve our social justice lens: thinking routines provide space for all learners to find their voice, teaching strategies celebrate student leadership, and the larger concepts of empowerment and sensitivity to design offer pathways and tools to understand how our larger cultural systems are constructed—and ways to affect positive change. As 2017-2018 Agency by Design Oakland fellow Roxy Martínez stated so well at last year’s fellowship culminating event, "Using maker-centered learning, we can demonstrate how to question the systems we live in and show students that they wield the power to change inequities in these systems.”

This year’s cohort of 28 teacher fellows represents fifteen Oakland schools. Teachers are supporting teachers, each adopting the disposition of “teacher researcher” to add focus to practice. Each fellow chooses areas of inquiry, exploring maker-centered learning and the efficacy of the Agency by Design resources.

One interesting theme that has come up in this year’s fellowship is about how making can become community healing. In her blog post Ancestral Tech Making, Agency by Design Oakland fellow Crystal Barr described making with her students as a way to learn about their environment, self care, and how to support their own communities. Connecting with ancestors through making is central to this work. “We have always been here. And by we, I mean makers of color, LGBTQ+ makers, indigenous makers, and on. I am most interested in the making that our ancestors did—making and technology that connected people to the land and the rhythms of nature. Indigenous people were—and continue to be—mathematicians, scientists, engineers, astronomers, artists, musicians, and creators of technologies that connect the old ways with the new.” - Crystal Barr, Art Teacher, Urban Promise Academy, 2018-2019 Agency by Design Oakland Fellow.

The theme of making as healing is also present through our involvement in the Culture of Repair mini-grants program. These mini-grants support teachers exploring the intersection of making and repair—whether it be a physical or metaphorical act. Senior Fellow Susan Wolf captures this in her blog post Making and Mending. “[...] healing-centered engagement is especially important for our educator community in Oakland, who are expected to operate within extremely complex social spaces. Navigating the complexities of a broken educational system, we must be many things beyond our credentials, and we are often times left feeling exhausted. When our learning spaces shift their focus toward repair and mending, a door is opened…” - Susan Wolf, Alameda County Office of Education Integrated Learning Department, 2018-2019 Agency by Design Oakland Senior Fellow.

Graphic by Susan Wolf, Agency by Design Senior Fellow.

In addition to these blog posts, check out our library of Pictures of Practice to understand the breadth and depth of fellows’ inquiries.

Despite the sometimes stressful situations our educators are negotiating, there is plenty of joy in our fellowship meetings! Gathering regularly to make and to share our students’ responses to our inquiries is wonderfully inspiring. Working together, we’re hopeful that we are progressing in rebuilding/repairing our educational systems to make them more equitable and functional.

As much as our work moves education forward and brings us joy, we are also susceptible to setbacks and sadness. In December of 2018, the Agency by Design Oakland leadership team was again reminded of why we each prioritize this work. We learned that three teachers in our 2018–2019 fellowship cohort received notice that Oakland Unified School District, as a way to deal with district budget problems, will close their school, the Roots International Academy, at the end of the school year.

For several years now Agency by Design Oakland community member Roots International Academy has worked extremely hard and forged an effective program for their community, a student body representing 40 nationalities and primarily low-income families in East Oakland. The resources they have had to work with have been very limited. Considering this situation using the Agency by Design framework, Roots has made its way through tremendous complexity, building an effective system made up of limited parts, passionate people, and collaborative interactions. And now suddenly the community is told it will disappear. Talk about disempowerment—and the ongoing need to help both teachers and students to develop the tools to affect change in their world. The Agency by Design Oakland leadership team and the entire fellowship are fired up!

Jane Lee, Instructional Coach of Roots International Academy offers, “We are grateful for the professional development we have received from the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship. Currently, I've been using the thinking routine Imagine if…, Imagine if the people making these harmful decisions knew that the Roots team was comprised of such transformative, empowering, and consistently improving educators.”

Go Roots!

This blog was published on February 14, 2019.
Authored by
Ilya Pratt

Guest author Ilya Pratt is an AbD Oakland Leadership Team member and Design+Make+Engage program director at Park Day School.