At Wellington, faculty and staff empower students to explore their passions, embrace their authentic identities, and ultimately, find their purpose.
Social scientists Susan P. Robbins, Pranah Chatterjee, and Edward R. Canada define empowerment as the “process by which individuals and groups gain power, access to resources and control over their own lives. In doing so, they gain the ability to achieve their highest personal and collective aspirations and goals.”
Empowerment is both a process and an outcome. When a student feels empowered, he or she has a greater sense of intrinsic motivation and confidence. Alternatively, when a student feels disempowered, he or she will have less inclination to persevere.
Knowing how critical it is for students to be able to harness the motivation and confidence to meet any challenge, Wellington empowers students so that they can achieve their goals.
For Jennifer Landon, empowerment is everything. No matter the project, from art to STEM to writing, Landon creates an outcome. But as she said, “I won’t tell students how to get there.” At first, this is hard for her kindergarten students, especially at the beginning of the school year.
Students’ experiences getting to their end goal, with guidance from Landon, teaches them to overcome obstacles, problems, and frustrations. They realize that mistakes can lead to new and exciting ideas and that mistakes are always a part of learning. The challenge is channeling that frustration into moments of clarity and focus.
As they work through this process, Landon describes students’ transformations as magical. As she talked about this, her entire body shuddered with pure happiness. Instead of saying “I can’t do this,” or “this is too hard,” they begin to say “I can do hard things,” and “look what I did.”
Sometimes students surprise themselves. At morning meetings, Landon gives the students challenges. One morning the task of the day was to show the number 45. One student responded that you could have five groups of nine. Landon told the student that they were doing multiplication, which was happy news for them.
This sense of ownership and empowerment encourages students to take risks and try new things throughout their learning journey. They have confidence in their abilities to problem-solve.
Literacy Coach Emeri Ferguson helps kindergartners and lower school students further their literacy skills. In classrooms, teachers use Fundations, a multisensory, structured program that teaches literacy as a code that students can learn to put together. After classroom time, Ferguson gathers students into small groups where students do activities, play games, and buddy read.
Ferguson stressed the importance of empowerment, describing it as a tool to help one find “motivation you didn’t expect.” This means providing students with choices – from what books they want to read to what activities they want to complete. Some favorites are memory (matching), board games, and around the room where students fill in blanks with the correct pattern. Students also love reading in different and silly voices.
Students learn that reading isn’t magic. Knowing the rules and the why behind words is empowering. And once they start, they can’t stop. Asked to mark vowels, students often keep up the habit and begin marking everything. Students also greatly enjoy teaching their parents the rules they are learning.
“My job is incredibly rewarding. Reading unlocks the world and I get to help students on their literacy journey,” said Ferguson. Ferguson knows she’s been successful when students feel that no book is impossible to read.
Steve Winslow and Marianne Crowley’s Humanities 8 recently completed an extension project for their unit on the High Middle Ages and the rise of the Muslim world. Students were asked to develop an independent research question to drive historical inquiry.
Crowley and Winslow assign several research projects throughout the year. All allow for student empowerment. Students are encouraged to exercise the power of choice to explore their interests. At the same time, they’re building skills critical for their success now and the rest of their lives – conducting research, vetting sources, critical thinking, and drawing connections.
Students are also empowered in small, everyday ways. The pair advise students to explore different styles of note-taking and note-taking programs, whether that’s using XMind (a mind mapping software), or creating flow charts by hand.
Exploring their passions, students created a variety of fascinating research questions from Annie Shen’s ’26 “how did the medical achievements of the Islamic world impact the field of medicine?” to Finn Basobas O'Carroll’s ’26 “how did the warfare of the Mongol Empire help them conquer vast amounts of land?”
Students also get to see their teachers be lifelong learners. Described as a favorite assignment, both Winslow and Crowley love grading this project because they get to learn new information. When a student doesn’t know which topic to pursue, the two will often give suggestions based on their own curiosity and the students’.
Along the way to content and skill mastery, Humanities 8 students are given control over critical aspects of their educational journey.
For her senior independent project, Annie Taylor ’18 developed a curriculum combining history, cultural studies, and literature to explore her interest in the history of feminism. She pitched the course, “Feminism: Unpacking the ‘F’ Word,” and several years later Erin Cornett ’96 P ’32 ’34 picked it up.
Cornett empowers students to go their own route by exploring different historical topics, figures, and primary sources. Every class is driven by a discussion question. That discussion informs small reading groups. Cornett provides five different book options, from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” to Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”
Students’ interests drive discussions and readings. In recent years, the term gaslighting has seen more frequent use. Cornett had students read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In Gilman’s short story, the narrator writes a series of journal entries chronicling her time in a mansion, sequestered there for “temporary nervous depression.” The story explores her descent into madness and the gaslighting that contributed to it. Incorporating aspects of their cultural literacy allows students to make connections to the past through the lens of their experiences
From foundational skills like learning to read to developing entire courses, Wellington students are empowered throughout their educational journeys.
Wellington’s intentional focus on encouraging students to explore their curiosity, ask questions, and tackle difficult projects empowers students to cultivate their intrinsic motivation. These skills and sense of empowerment will help them no matter what they pursue in life – from their personal lives to hobbies to careers.