Designing for Democracy: Student Agency and Advocacy in the Classroom

Course Overview

Course Overview

This course is for educators who are interested in creating engaged and empowered democratic citizens. The course will examine how social-emotional learning intersects with academic learning. Students will explore and discuss strategies to increase student agency and advocacy and create thriving learning communities marked by shared understanding, ownership, and respect.


Over eight weeks, educators will take a deep dive into what constitutes student agency and advocacy. Students will explore questions that surround this centerpiece of young students’ experience:

  • How does having a voice affect a student’s learning and life experience?
  • How do we design a school and classroom culture that cultivates and responds to student agency and advocacy?
  • How can students develop stewardship of their own learning experiences and communities?
  • How can teachers facilitate growth in these areas?

Participants are invited to grapple with these and other questions through lively discussions, readings, school observations, and hands-on projects. Participants will help shape our exploration of student agency and advocacy. They will come away with understandings and strategies for deepening student engagement that are applicable to our own educational communities. This is a unique opportunity to connect, collaborate, and network with local professionals in an interactive, collegial environment.


  • Examine the role of student agency and advocacy in their own school and classroom culture.
  • Explore student agency and advocacy as an avenue for deepening student engagement and learning.
  • Engage with practical strategies for cultivating student agency and advocacy in a variety of school contexts, including:
    • Self-advocacy in social and academic problem solving
    • Partner, small-group, and whole-class discussion and decision making
    • Curriculum design, classroom norms, and democratic school governance
  • Consider the developmental nature of student agency and advocacy across age groups, and the balance between teacher decision-making and student decision-making.
  • Practice cultivating student agency and advocacy in their own school settings, and reflecting on their experiences, challenges, and outcomes.


Melinda Deal: UCDS Multi-disciplinary Teacher.  

Melinda has been an enthusiastic teacher of every grade level from p-K through 8 for 35 years. After teaching for a decade in New York State public schools, she joined the faculty at University Child Development School, where she has been a classroom teacher, a curricular support teacher for Arts, Science, and Technology Specialists and a presenter at local and national conferences. Melinda holds a B.A. in Education and Psychology from the University of Washington and a M.A. in Educational Programming from the University of Connecticut.


Lelia Yerxa: UCDS Classroom Teacher.  

Lelia has been teaching for over 10 years. She has been on the faculty at University Child Development School for four years, teaching in 1st grade through 4th grade classrooms. Before this, she taught at the elementary level in New York City public schools and taught English as a Foreign Language to children and adults in Moscow, Russia. She has also worked in staff development at Songadeewin of Keewaydin, a summer camp in Vermont, for 14 years. Lelia holds a B.A. in International Politics and Economics and Russian from Middlebury College, and an M.A. in Elementary Inclusive Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.


Katharine Sjoberg: UCDS Division Head and Classroom Teacher.

In her 15 years at UCDS, Katharine has taught Preschool through 5th grade. She oversees the UCDS Service Learning program and guides 5th grade students through individualized year-long service learning projects. Katharine has presented and instructed at conferences and workshops nationwide, including the annual UCDS Institute’s Math Workshop. Katharine holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. in Teaching from Seattle Pacific University.


Susan Foley: UCDS Classroom Teacher and All School Meeting Advisor.

Susan has been teaching for 28 years.  Before coming to UCDS, Susan taught Preschool-Kindergarten and was the Interim Director at HHCC Daycare in Boston, MA. In her more than 20 years at UCDS, Susan worked with students from early-childhood through 4th grade. She has advised the UCDS All School Meeting since it began nearly 25 years ago. She has presented about student agency and advocacy through class meetings and all-school meetings at the NWAIS fall conference. Susan holds a B.A. in Psychology and Education from The University of Massachusetts and an M.A. in Special Education from The University of Washington.  


Dates and Fees

Saturday, April 27th from 9:00am-1:30pm at UCDS

Thursdays, May 2, 16, 23, 30, June 6, 13 from 4:30pm to 7:00pm at UCDS

School visits to be scheduled for the weeks of May 20 or May 27.  School(s): TBD


Course cost:

$490, all course materials included.

(Early Bird Discount: Save $100 by registering before April 15)


Optional costs (billed after the start of class):

$40 for 20 clock hours


$110 for 2 graduate credits available through Seattle Pacific University.


UCDS is located at 5062 9th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98105

Product ID:



$ 490.00