How to make your district’s portrait of a graduate even better


How to make your district’s portrait of a graduate even better

Whether it’s called a portrait, profile, or vision, districts across the country are collaboratively creating an aspirational model of their graduate.

What is a Portrait of a Graduate?

While these profiles often contain some unique local influences, they are largely very similar from district to district and include the following skills and/or attributes:

  1. Knowledge/Mastery of Core Academic Content
  2. Communication 
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity 
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Citizenship

Some districts limit their key characteristics to 4 or 5, others have as many as 10.  IN large part, they are built upon our understandings of what the world of college, career and civic life demand as illustrated in works like Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators, Hewlett’s Deeper Learning Competencies, the core competencies laid out by the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and others. 

How does a portrait help?

In virtually all cases, the Portrait represents a move toward the future and a realization that what (may have) worked in the past simply does not set our children up for success (measured in myriad ways).

These portraits are wonderful. They are usually the result of a lengthy process involving many stakeholders.  Each of the competencies is further broken down into sub-indicators or progressions that reflect our ideals. For example, we may see a focus on equity and cultural responsiveness in communication and collaborations, so that we prepare our students for a global world in which they are empathetic and curious co-creators of solutions to new and complex problems.

How does a portrait fall short?

However…on their own, the portraits aren’t enough.  Collaborative, creative, critical, communicative thinkers will not emerge from a non-collaborative, conforming, and  compliant status quo.

Most districts get this and consistently and explicitly reference the portrait of the graduate when making key decisions. Still, though, I wonder if we could do more to fully define the conditions necessary to fully realize the portrait in each student.

Portrait of an Educator

If we want our students to graduate with the identified skills and attributes, we need to cultivate them in our adult community as well.  Some districts have done this by reframing “graduate” as “learner” to be inclusive of all stakeholders.  Others, like the Mesa, AZ public schools offer progressions for learning facilitators and learning leaders as well as for students.  The Henrico County (VA) Public Schools Learner Profile does this as well via it’s through playlists

It’s important for us to remember that the competencies we wish to cultivate in our students were likely not the priorities we recall from our own educational experiences. Creative and innovative thinking, for example, may be prized today but few of us were encouraged to develop these skills in our early schooling,  teacher prep or in our early years of teaching.  Yet, the more we can say, “That’s a great skill to have and I’m working on it” the better models we can be for our students.

Thus, I might suggest that in addition the competencies mentioned above, we add “vulnerability” to the educators’ portrait. (With a nod, of course, to the great Brené Brown.) Teachers, leaders and other educators need to be able to self-assess their own comfort levels and move forward without shame.  

Portrait of a School System

Similarly, our school systems were not created with an eye toward the values espoused in our POGs.  We have literal and figurative separations between departments, offices, subject areas and grade levels, for example.  

School systems that are truly collaborative might include the finance department in instructional rounds, for example, or may create cross-functional ad hoc teams that utilize design thinking to solve complex  problems.

To our portrait of a school system, we might consider the essential conditions necessary throughout the district to bring the POG to life. Lake Travis Independent School District in TX provides one example.

Portrait of a Community

In our increasingly polarized society, this one may be most difficult and yet most necessary.  Many districts seek to instill a sense of informed citizenship in our students and yet we are witnessing levels of vitriol and partisan rhetoric that have rendered civilized debate all but obsolete.

And yet, we know that our communities –individually and collectively–care deeply about the success and well-being of our children.  

If our communities can coalesce around “open dialogue and constructive debate”, it is more likely that we can come together to support our students and future community leaders.

If there are districts and communities that have already made progress in these areas–or are beginning to do so–please connect and share!

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