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Aurora Institute

Lessons from an Australian School: 4 Key Strategies for Promoting Student Agency

Education Domain Blog

Recently, the Aurora Institute had the pleasure of hosting a webinar featuring students from Prospect North Primary School (PNPS) in Adelaide, Australia. The students–Nina, Alisha, and Eadie–were joined by their principal, Marg Clark, and nonprofit partner, Social Ventures Australia, an organization that leads The Connection, a collaborative leadership development network working across schools across the country. PNPS offered us many examples of how student agency can be integrated into every aspect of teaching and learning, school culture, and operations.

PNPS principal Marg Clark kicked things off by giving some background on the school’s history. A culturally diverse school serving many families from transient and underserved communities, the school began a transformation process a little over six years ago when Clark became principal. PNPS educators, students, family, and community joined together to envision what they wanted learning to look like for their students. What came out of the design process was a real desire and commitment to student agency, allowing students to pursue learning aligned with their interests and take ownership over their educational experiences. Below we outline three takeaways from PNPS on advancing student agency:

1. Student Choice and Voice Drives Teaching and Learning 

At Prospect North Primary, you won’t find teachers lecturing at the front of the room. Rather, students take an active role in driving their own learning, even co-planning units with educators. PNPS student Eadie noted: “Your job as teacher should not be to always lead your students, but instead walk side by side in their learning journeys.” 


2. Student-Led Leadership Drives Governance and Decision-Making

A student parliament offers students the opportunity to really get into the driver’s seat of the school’s operations and culture, offering five different ministries that students can choose to participate in–from a Well-Being Ministry focused on student mental health–to an Indigenous Voice Ministry that focuses on incorporating aboriginal perspectives into the school’s curriculum and decision-making processes. 


3. A “Secret Powers” Framework Empowers Student Learning

During the webinar, PNPS students introduced us to their “Student Powers” framework, which serves as a sort of north star for what students should be able to know and accomplish in their learning. The student-friendly language of the framework empowers young people to apply it to their everyday learning. The framework outlines six domains: self-manager, engaged citizen, critical and creative thinker, reflective learner, explorer, and team player. Each student also has the opportunity to participate in “personal investigations” – or interest-driven learning experiences that allow students the opportunity to tap into their “Secret Powers.” 


4. Community Engagement is Integrated into Learning Experiences 

PNPS students have regular opportunities to experience real-world learning and engage with their broader community. As STEM is a core focus at the school, students have the chance to host regular “Kids Teach STEM” conferences for other schools in their community. These experiences allow PNPS students the opportunity to practice public speaking, presentation skills, and give other schools an opportunity to experience what student-led learning can look like. Additionally, the school regularly invites community members to talk to students in their student-run production studio, PNTV, to learn about their careers and leadership roles within the community. 


There is much to be learned from schools, communities, and systems across the globe who are working to advance personalized, student-centered learning. To learn more about PNPS and their work to advance student agency, we invite you to watch the full webinar, and explore the PNPS student-produced YouTube channel