Developing student agency for independent learning across Wellington College China schools

Dragana Popovic

Head of Senior School Support

What is student agency?

The term ‘student agency’ refers to a student’s ability to influence and take ownership of their own learning and thus their life and the choices they make. Student agency provides students with the capacity to reflect and act responsibly to effect change in the world for the better. It promotes independent learning so that students act as agents in their learning, equipping them with that most invaluable of skills – a willingness to be lifelong learners. Therefore, student agency is about students being proactive in their education, triggering greater personal investment in learning, and having a sense of responsibility as a part of society.

Why is student agency important?

When students are invested in their learning, they play an active role in it and tend to show greater motivation to learn. Student agency empowers them to take the initiative and develop their identity and sense of belonging. Additionally, they form a growth mindset and a sense of purpose, guiding them in navigating the fast-changing 21st century world. In this digital age, where the pace of change is so rapid, Wellington College China’s educators are fully committed to equipping students with knowledge and skills to thrive in the world beyond the years of formal education.

How is student agency developed at Wellington College China?

Student agency is not an inherent personality trait; it is something all young people can learn. As a result, schools must recognise that children need support from their teachers to develop this sense of agency. It is only in this way that young people begin to understand how to use this life skill to better themselves and the world.

Throughout their schooling in Wellington and Huili schools, students gain invaluable skills that help them to take ownership of their learning, find a sense of purpose in their lives and support them in setting up goals and taking action to achieve them. The ‘Learning to learn’ programme is just one example of how educators at Wellington College China promote student agency. This is a dedicated part of a child’s progress through our schools, promoting an understanding of how to learn effectively. How to think for themselves is a crucial part of this process. Developing metacognition skills plays an essential role in developing critical thinking skills to support students in achieving academic success by taking ownership of their learning. Metacognition is, in simple terms, thinking about one’s thinking. It has been shown that, as students reflect on how they learn, they become better learners. Reflecting on how they think allows children to take ownership, leading them one step closer to genuine independence and critical thinking.

By developing independence, students can better find a sense of purpose in this world and where they fit into it. The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is one way we support them in this journey. The award equips students with skills like resilience, problem-solving, and team-working and empowers them to learn and grow through education beyond the classroom. Not all learning happens in the classroom. Young people need experiences outside the classroom to become committed, responsible and fulfilled citizens of the world. Taking the initiative and giving back to the community by being involved in service-learning activities raises awareness in students. Wellingtonians are fully committed to connecting with their community, being involved, and making a difference. When we give back in this way, we improve the lives of those around us and support the most vulnerable. In this way, our actions not only benefit the recipients but teach our students a sense of social responsibility and kindness through their contributions.

WCC’s educators are developing student agency from an early age. Students help shape the learning culture and direction in their classrooms through engaging in cycles of inquiry, building up a broad repertoire of thinking routines, oracy strategies and research skills. For example, the youngest students are introduced to five ‘Learning Animals’, each related to learning profile attributes (e.g. Wise Owl – Thinker, Knowledgeable), which help children to deepen their understanding of these very difficult concepts.

We also seek children’s voice in school decision making at all levels by having student council in both, primary and secondary settings. Students are included in devising the student code of conduct, to determine how physical learning environments are created and cared for. Even for the youngest learners in the Early years we give importance to their voice through inquiry based learning and build their agency by encouraging independence.

Building student agency is a lifelong endeavour for all. It is a process that evolves throughout a lifetime. When we empower students to drive their learning, they build their sense of self-efficacy, equipping them further with the skills to flourish in life.

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