Cultivating Student Agency iLEAD Schools

Harnessing the Power of Reflection to Cultivate Student Agency

Author: | Category: Making Magic

Meet the Maker

Linda Krystek, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment

If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?
Downhill snow skiing – I recently moved from Southern California up north near several ski resorts.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A teacher of course! I used to set up a pretend classroom and “teach” my 3 younger sisters.

What’s your best scary story?
I encountered a black bear the other day while walking my dog near our cabin. Thankfully, he ran away from us!

What is the “why” for this month’s “Making Magic”?
Student agency and reflection are inextricably connected. As John Dewey wisely states, “We do not learn from experience…We learn from reflecting on the experience.” In order to increase agency, learners require opportunities to regularly reflect on their progress. This, in turn, builds their confidence, allows them to make plans for improvement and reinforces their awareness of their strengths and challenges.

During this transition back to in-person learning, our students need a renewed sense of agency to become self-directed learners. Reflection enables them to understand what they are going to learn and how to demonstrate their learning. Therefore, they are able to ask for assistance, as well as exhibit self-direction and efficacy by harnessing the power of reflection to cultivate student agency.

This Week’s Focus

Driving Question

How can we encourage student reflection in order to connect what they are learning in the classroom with their future goals and the world around them?

At iLEAD Schools, encouraging learner reflection is an essential part of our PBL process. In fact, we have identified the following reflection indicators as “Look Fors” on our iDEAL (iLEAD Design Element Alignment Lens).

  • Learners assess and suggest improvements in their own and other learner’s work
  • Learners reflect on, write about and discuss the academic content, concepts and success skills they are learning
  • Learners use reflection as a tool to increase their own personal agency


In Jenny Poon’s article, “What Do You Mean When You Say “Student Agency”?”, she writes, “Even the best-laid plans and most meticulous follow-through can’t guarantee results. So, students with agency not only plan and act, but also reflect and redirect. This involves perseverance and grit. It requires skills such as reflection and self-discipline. It is something that educators can encourage by structuring opportunities for students to externalize their thinking, self-reflect, and offer and receive feedback with adults and peers.”

At iLEAD Schools, learners co-create an Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) with their facilitator(s) and parents. They reflect on their strengths and areas of growth, create academic and social-emotional goals, along with an action plan to achieve those goals. Reflection is an essential part of this process. Learners track their progress over the school year and share their growth during their Learner-Led Conferences and Showcase of Learning later in the school year. Caitin Tucker shares how to create a digital notebook in Teach Students To Treat Their Learning Like They’re Making a Documentary. She writes, “As we begin the new school year, students need to be at the center of learning and actively engaged in thinking, making, doing, discussing and reflecting. An effective way to shift our students’ thinking about their role in the classroom is to teach them how to treat their learning like they are making a documentary. The beauty of this mindset is that it demands that students capture, reflect on and share their learning.”

Edutopia’s Scaffolding Student Reflections + Sample Questions identifies the benefits of reflection and details four levels of scaffolding to help students reflect. The article states, “This provides an opportunity for iteration for myself as well as the students. The scaffolding of student reflection allows students to see the learning process holistically.”

Lastly, in How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency, MindShift posits, “Although it’s important we ask our students how they would like to demonstrate their learning, student agency is about so much more. It requires educators to hold ourselves accountable to values that we must embody and intentionally work towards.”

Being Makers

Being Makers

Being Makers is a team of change-making leaders from Maker Learning Network and iLEAD Schools focused on project-based learning and social-emotional growth.
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