“Our role is to help students understand that they can be powerful, independent thinkers, no matter what grade they’re in or what reading or math level they’re on,” says Nneka Daniels, principal of Post-Franklin Elementary School of Battle Creek, Michigan. Post-Franklin serves about 330 students, one-third are African American, one-third Latino, and one-third white.

In 2015-16, Partners in School Innovation supported Post-Franklin’s efforts to bolster student agency. When students have agency, they approach their education with purpose and initiative. They are the kind of powerful, independent thinkers that Principal Daniels is talking about.

Many educators want to help students develop agency, but are unsure how to go about it. At Post-Franklin, we focused on teachers’ development of four academic mindsets in themselves and their students: self-efficacy, sense of belonging at school, growth mindset (“with effort my skills can grow”), and relevance (“what I’m learning has relevance to my life and values”). The teachers learned to use several protocols and tools that helped teachers know their students and select instructional materials that resonate with students and assign engaging work that fosters feelings of belonging.

Results from a pre/post survey of staff and students showed that Post-Franklin’s work on agency improved the school’s culture. For example, students in grades 4-6 showed a 93% increase in growth mindset. Teachers and leaders showed impressive gains also. The self-efficacy of educators increased by 22%, and their perception of their ability to support a relevance mindset in students increased by 73% over the school year.

When asked about the keys to fostering student agency, Ms. Daniels responded, “Teachers need to believe that all kids—including kids from tough circumstances—can become self-directed learners.”

To learn more about how Partners can support the transformation work in your school or district contact Tovi Scruggs for the West Coast, William Hill for the Midwest or Jaime Kidd for all other national areas.