Back to School
Learner Identity and Agency Guidebook
This Guidebook unpacks how to develop student identity and agency to provide more equitable and inclusive learning environments for all students. It aggregates the leading research, thinking, and strategies from experts in sociology, psychology, special education, educational equity, social justice, and student-centered education to support educators in this work.
At Brooklyn LAB, we’re building the capacity of schools to deliver more equitable outcomes for students through the explicit development of identity and agency. As students prepare to do school differently within a “new normal”—either in-person, hybrid, or virtual—there is a unique opportunity to shift the locus of control in schools and empower students to discover and affirm their authentic selves and develop more agency to become leaders and agents of change. This is a moment of upheaval and uncertainty; however, it’s also a chance to help students learn how to navigate obstacles and personal challenges—skills that will set them up for success in school and beyond.
By building student identity and agency, LAB and its partners—including the Center for Black Educator Development, Character Lab, eXi, The National Center for Learning Disabilities, Q.E.D. Foundation, The Seton Montessori Institute, and Dr. Anindya Kundu—believe schools will be able to create more equitable and inclusive learning environments for all students.
The Learner Identity and Agency Guidebook positions identity as an authentic understanding of one’s self:
Who am I?
What does it mean to be me?
Is who I am aligned to my true purpose, passions, beliefs, and values?
Cultivating a students’ authentic identity means helping them align talents and potential with their social and academic roles so they may find their place in the world. It also recognizes that when you have multiple, interdependent dimensions of oppression, it creates a new unique identity that you must think about, pay attention to, and design for.
We need to create spaces for new identities to flourish. This requires educators to understand the context of students’ lives, including the real challenges and obstacles they face due to circumstances, historical oppression, systemic racism, and/or socioeconomic background. It means understanding and knowing students as individuals, connecting from an assets-based mindset that identifies and grows strengths and passions, developing cultural competence, and balancing social-emotional and academic learning. It is an essential building block towards developing agency.
This Guidebook defines agency as a person’s capacity to leverage resources to navigate obstacles and create positive change in their learning and life. Agency allows students the freedom and opportunity to drive their own learning; investigate their interests; reaffirm their identities; and grow self-motivation, curiosity, and the ability to overcome challenges to excel in college, career, and life.
Together with expert partners from across the country, we organized a series of conversations to understand the best ways to build the school environments that develop student identity and agency. We’ve documented our learning in the Identity and Agency Guidebook.
What’s in the Learner Agency and Identity Guidebook?
This Guidebook represents a set of professional learning resources that will help educators and schools create learning environments that build identity and agency.
The Guidebook provides expert advice, research, and resources on the issues that matter most to agency and identity, including the power dynamics of self-determination, equity and oppression, the "less-ism" bias, character and curiosity development, teacher diversity, and how youth and adults co-create learning. It offers concrete principles and strategies (that, at times, might be counter-intuitive) to develop the identities and agency of students and families.
“The pandemic has taught us that adaptability, resourcefulness, and ingenuity are non-negotiable traits. We can cultivate these in our children by looking to first foster their agency so they can determine their own future.”
Dr. Anindya Kundu
“As we embark on a new year, we must uphold the diverse identities that each of our students and families inhabit, using their experiences as the foundation for true culturally relevant teaching that sparks agency and supports their intellectual, social, and emotional well-being.”