Portrait of a graduate — A trend in the right direction

Much discussion is taking place about what the ideal “portrait of a graduate” looks like – schools, districts and entire states are engaged in the process of exploration. I think that’s a good thing. It disrupts schools and systems that have graduation requirements based on completing a set number of courses or earning a certain number of credits, regardless of what students know or can do. . This is the story of siege time: going through the motions on a set schedule instead of learning. To break out of this system, a community portrait of a graduate is an essential part of a successful school transformation.

The Barr Foundation hosted a webinar, available online, on the portrait of a graduate “because it’s an essential tool in high school design efforts.”

“We know that too many students graduate from high school unprepared for life after high school. Our high school design partners craft a local portrait of a graduate that provides a collective vision and articulates community aspirations for all students,” the foundation’s website reads.


Although this is new to me, I like the work of Portrait of a Graduate by Battelle for Kids. They point out that a well-developed portrait can “serve as a pole star for system transformation”.

“Providing strategic direction for redesigning the overall student educational experience, this collective vision invigorates and re-engages students, educators, and community stakeholders,” Battelle’s website reads. And above all, they know that[e]The portrait of each school system will be unique, reflecting the shared vision of the community”, with the aspiration that “all students have an educational experience preparing them to flourish in the future”.

For this process to work, a) it is vital that the community is engaged, and b) once completed, each part of the community owns the portrait, and it serves to guide any reflection on student learning and what each minute of each day should be approx.

In a blog post from 2021, One Schoolhouse’s Peter Gow shares a unique perspective on how to succeed, based on his work with independent schools. He notes that it should be used to guide the school in all that it does: “And of course exercise and subsequent and continuous review can also help a school to discover itself, to see how the mission and values ​​– manifested in teaching and other programs – could shape its identity in ways that truly differentiate the school and the experiences of its students in a way that instrumentally and materially “pays” for the institution, for those it serves and even for its faculty and staff.”

At least two states I know of are doing this job well. The Washington State Board of Education has been working on it since 2019, focusing on mastery-based learning. When they started this process, they explained why they needed it in their 2019 Interim report: the “task force embarks on an exciting journey to reinvent our state’s education system”. They believed that “Mastery-Based Learning (MBL) is a way to transform our education system – with this approach, teaching methods are designed to equitably engage every student in ways that best support the learning journey. of the pupil. Additionally, by emphasizing student voice and learning choice, MBL prepares all students for the workforce of the future by empowering them to take ownership of their own learning process.

They were inspired to change by their observation that “Washington’s education system reflects our larger world where, for too long, structural inequalities have gone unaddressed, leading generations of underserved students to not getting the high quality education they deserve. Although there are students who do well in our current system, many of them do not. They “believe that Washington has an imperative to shift the focus of our education system from an industry model that sorts students to one that intentionally helps every student develop the range of dynamic skills we want to see in every graduate of our public K-12 system.” Their most recent 2021 report documents their process and the progress they’ve made, and it’s a delight to read.

Washington takes its time and engages in many community dialogues. This is key to ensuring buy-in from all sectors and getting it right. (I recently attended a student contribution session and the students were able to point out some things the educators seemed to have missed!) As a lifelong advocate for mastery or proficiency credits, I am very impressed with all of their work . Other states would do well to go their own way.

Utah is another state dealing with the same issues. The Utah Competency-Based Personalized Learning Framework is the bridge between the portrait of a Utah graduate and the work of Utah educators, students, and families to achieve learning outcomes. outlined in the Utah Core Standards and P-20 Competencies. This approach has many advantages. The framework states that “The Competency-Based Personalized Learning (PCBL) approach empowers students to take responsibility for their learning by giving them voice, choice and personalized support to succeed in knowledge, skills and essential provisions described in Portrait of Utah. of a graduate. PCBL shifts the focus of the classroom from teaching to a culture of learning, based on well-defined learning goals for each learner.

These challenging and courageous transformations are exciting ways to address issues of equity in education. And these are just two examples of many other states, systems and schools engaged in this process. At the Delphian School in Oregon, we attribute our success since opening in 1976 to the development of general requirements for graduation, with lesser (but integrated) requirements for each level of our program. The magic was that we could state them only in terms of skills and abilities, not completed degree programs. I know firsthand the power of this approach!

Starting with community-developed portraits of a graduate is the right way to start transforming our schools from industry models that only meet the needs of some of our students into schools that prepare all of our students for their future in 21st. century !

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