Developing Agency in Students

Laura LisienBlog, Engage Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • As educators and parents, we need to develop agency in our kids.
  • Help them set goals to work towards.
  • Give them opportunities for independence.
  • Build their self-confidence.

The start of a new school year is a very exciting time for students, teachers, and parents. For many, it’s a bustling time for last-minute summer fun activities. In addition, preparations are being made to get everyone ready to be back on schedule and back in the classroom. As a parent, with the privilege of being on the board of Education Blueprint, a non-profit dedicated to helping make the lives of teachers easier and more efficient, I’ve had the opportunity to gain an insider’s look into what it takes for teachers and parents to get back to school ready. 

As part of the back-to-school preparations in my house, I’ve been doing a series of goal-setting. This includes my kids, husband, and myself. I think it’s important to set goals for each school year. This way, my children have something not only to work towards but more importantly, to achieve. That sense of achievement and the self-confidence that ensues is quite literally one of the most important experiences that a child has as they grow into self-sufficient thriving adults. That got me thinking about the importance of parents and teachers in their ability to develop agency within their children at home and kids in their classrooms. 

Agency in Kids

Agency is the ability of people to express their own individual power, through thoughts or actions. It is the power that allows people to think for themselves and be the ones in charge of shaping their experiences. – Roshan Thiran

As a parent, I believe the end result of education is to raise my two sons to be autonomous, responsible learners who are able and ready to leave our household and make a positive impact in their community and the world at large. I want them to leave with an inherent enthusiasm for learning that will carry them through every stage of their life.

Students must feel that their voice and self-direction are increased, even if they don’t get their way all the time. Click To Tweet

Renowned psychologist Erik Erikson wrote, “Children that fail to develop autonomy are likely to remain dependent on adults for a protracted period of time, to the detriment of their development, or be overly influenced by peers.” The seeds of self-doubt are planted at an early age.

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Ways to Develop Agency

As parents and teachers, we both have a role in developing agency in our children. There are many ways to do this, including:

  1. Give your child meaningful, safe choices from which to choose.
  2. Help your child learn from mistakes. 
  3. Allow your children the opportunity to tackle real-life tasks. The experience of being responsible for something is of great importance. 
  4. Involve your children in goal-setting activities. Help them define their learning objectives and support them in setting goals to achieve those objectives.
  5. Meet your children where they are. Use the familiar to encourage learning about the unfamiliar. 

Finally, as a reminder for all teachers in developing agency in students, students must feel that their voice and self-direction are increased, even if they don’t get their way all the time. The best way to do that is to include them in lesson planning. To put it simply, student agency gives students voice and often, choice, in how they learn.


About Laura Lisien

Laura Lisien is currently the business manager of Education Blueprint. She has a deep understanding and love of nonprofit management. In 2003, she graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Museum Management. She later went on, in 2006, to receive her Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Management from the Heinz School of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon.

From there, she furthered her business acumen in the Public Sector for more than six years at Deloitte Consulting as a Senior Consultant in the Strategy and Operations practice. She worked with clients such as the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Maine Department of Medicaid and Medicare on technology and finance projects.

Her love of nonprofit management, especially pertaining to education organizations, has led her to take on her current role of Nonprofit Manager at Education Blueprint. Her goal is to set-up, run and manage the organization’s nonprofit structure in order to maximize the benefit of the website for all teachers. She is also a dedicated wife and mother of two boys and is an active member in her community.