Identity: The On-Ramp to Learner Empowerment

by: Kathleen McClaskey


Identity the onramp to learner empowerment

Before we dive into Identity, let’s think about what Learner Empowerment is and what it means to the learner.

Empowerment is realizing you are the one who needs to say the things you’ve waited your entire life to hear.
                                                                                                                                                                – Matt Kahn

This quote had me pondering what could be said about Learner Empowerment. After spending several days of what empowerment could mean to a learner, I arrived at what it could mean for every learner wherever they live in this world. Let’s be clear that the child whether learning by remote or in the classroom, needs to be known, seen, heard and valued as a learner.

So what is Learner Empowerment?

Learner Empowerment is realizing you are the one who needs to share who you are, how you learn and what you aspire to be – the things you’ve waited your entire life to hear, know, understand and take action.

Learner Empowerment is realizing you are the one who needs to share who you are, how you learn and what you aspire to be – the things you’ve waited your entire life to heat, know, understand and take action.


Why Identity is Key in Empowering the Learner

Let’s take a look what the science of learning tells us about Identity and its principles that impact learning.

Identity – From the Science of Learning

PrinciplesHow it impacts learning
Self-UnderstandingWe learn best when we have a deep understanding of who we are and how we learn so that we can use this knowledge to support our learning.
Sense of BelongingWe learn best when we feel connected to, as well as accepted by, the people and environment around us.
Navigating IdentityWe learn best when positive beliefs associated with our identity are maximized and when negative beliefs are minimized or buffered against.
Adapted from Designing for Learning Primer, Transcend, Inc. 2019

The science of learning informs us about three principles related to identity and how it impacts learning. Here are three questions we need to ask ourselves:

  • How can we help each learner develop a deep self-understanding of how they learn?
  • How can we help all learners feel connected to and accepted in their learning environment?
  • How can we help every learner maximize their positive beliefs about themselves and minimize their negative beliefs?

The Empower the Learner Profile

How do we begin to Empower the Learner with their identity? Identity stems from how a learner makes meaning of their unique combinations of…

Who I am: their personality, physical characteristics, group associations, beliefs, values, attitudes, life experiences,

How I Learn: Using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, and

What I Aspire to Be: Hopes and dreams, aspirations and passions, talents and interests.

“Identity development is at the core of adolescent
social and emotional learning.”

Alliance for Excellence Education, Aug 2019.

Empower the Learner to Share their Story

If we want learners to develop a positive self-image we need for them to be okay with who they are, how they learn and what they aspire to be. A teacher reflected recently with me about the importance of kids sharing their stories that only they can tell. He pointed out and I quote: “it is the stories that kids tell themselves is what they believe about themselves.” We want all kids to believe in themselves and it begins with sharing their story so they can take action around their learning.

Knowing one’s Identity opens the door to How I Learn so a discussion can begin about the Skills that can support their learning challenges,  as well as ways that will enhance their learning strengths. Both sides of this equation need to be acknowledged equally and non-judgmentally. This type of acknowledgement and acceptance helps kids to grow socially, emotionally, cognitively and academically.  It helps to develop a growth mindset, as challenges become manageable rather than stopping points or obstacles.  Hopes and dreams are nurtured, supported and encouraged. 

Let’s be clear. We want all kids to have these Outcomes

  •  a positive self image
  •  agency in their learning, 
  •  a practice of mindfulness
  •  a growth mindset, and 
  • the ability to self-advocate!

Once a learner develops agency, he or she can self-advocate
for the way they learn for a lifetime and
lead their own learning trajectory!

– Kathleen McClaskey (2020)


Science of Adolescent Learning: How Identity and Empowerment Influence Student Learning, p.13. Alliance for Excellence Education., Aug 2019.

Transcend, Inc. Designing for Learning Primer, 2019.


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