What is Learner Agency?

Learner Agency is fast becoming the latest educational buzzword. It is appearing in educational policy documents around the world, and attending a conference without hearing mention of it is increasingly difficult.

But what is “Learner Agency”? Why should school leaders care? How do we support teachers to increase Learner Agency in students, and what tools can we use to guide and measure the impact of our work?

The idea of agency relates to a learner’s ability to navigate their way through life and positively impact their circumstances.

It’s about ensuring learners are the master, not the victim, of their circumstances; to be powerful, not powerless, in the face of adversity.

As such, agency helps teachers address one of our biggest educational goals: to prepare students for an uncertain and challenging future.

One of the most common interpretations relates to giving students “voice and choice” in their learning. The idea is that teachers give students some choice over what and how they learn. However, as I detail in my new white paper, Learner Agency – A Guide for School Leaders, this approach only simulates Learner Agency; it does not build it.

It is important for school leaders to understand that agency is not something we can simply give to students. Learner Agency is a capability that needs to be developed by, and within, the learner. Ultimately, learners must carry and continually build their agency throughout their life.

One of the biggest problems facing school leaders is that despite the guides produced in some jurisdictions, there is a general lack of understanding of what Learner Agency is and how teachers should effectively implement it in their classroom.

To help school leaders successfully navigate Learner Agency and ensure teachers have a clear guide to develop it, I draw on research and widely used interpretations of Learner Agency to offer this definition:

Behind the environment to act, the will to act and the power to act is a set of pedagogical tools. These tools help teachers build Learner Agency, enabling learners to be the master of their circumstances and successfully navigate their way through an increasingly complex and challenging world.

I offer school leaders a model for a deep and practical understanding of Learner Agency. This approach weaves together three elements: the school’s role in providing an environment rich with choice and challenge, the development of a Growth Mindset, and “Learnership” – the skill of learning. Together, these three elements offer teachers a meaningful pathway to understand and develop their students’ Learner Agency.

I invite you to download your copy of Learner Agency – A Guide for School Leaders and share and discuss it with your colleagues. I trust the ideas and strategies will offer you a rich and practical approach to developing Learner Agency in your school. If you’d like to know more about how I can support your work with Learner Agency, please reply to this email or book a time in my calendar to discuss your professional learning needs.

Best Wishes,


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