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An Educator’s Guide to Portrait of a Graduate

Guides | 22 minutes

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What is a Portrait of a Graduate (POG)?

Brief History

The “Portrait of a Graduate” (POG) emerged in response to the dynamic demands of the 21st century. Traditional educational systems, which prioritized academic achievements like test scores and grades, began to seem inadequate as the world underwent rapid technological, economic, and societal changes. There was a growing consensus among educators, policymakers, and community leaders that students needed a broader skillset — encompassing not just academic expertise but also attributes like critical thinking, adaptability, and collaboration — to navigate this new landscape successfully.

The POG was introduced to capture this holistic perspective of student capabilities, blending hard academic skills with essential soft skills, such as teamwork and emotional intelligence. This initiative swiftly gained traction, as it promised a transformative approach to education, focusing on nurturing well-rounded individuals equipped for both professional success and informed global citizenship in today’s interconnected world.

Portrait of a Graduate
Moreno Valley Unified School District’s Portrait of a Graduate

States Adoption

The POG initiative has been gaining momentum across the United States, with various states recognizing its value and incorporating it into their educational strategies. As of Fall 2023, at least 17 states have adopted POG as their guiding star for state educational systems, detailing essential characteristics that every graduate should possess.

For instance, North Carolina emphasizes skills such as adaptability, collaboration, and critical thinking. South Carolina, one of the first states to adopt a statewide profile, developed competencies aligning with this profile and defined the progression of mastery across K-12 years. Utah, after years of advancing competency-based education, established the “Utah Talent MAP” in 2018, which led to the creation of aligned competencies and adaptable classroom rubrics. In 2019, Washington introduced legislation promoting mastery-based learning and developed a graduate profile with a notable emphasis on equity. Virginia, meanwhile, approved its Profile of a Graduate in 2017, which centered around the five C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and citizenship skills. This laid the foundation for subsequent state profiles, such as those for Virginia educators, leaders, and classrooms, which now guide professional learning networks statewide.

While comprehensive long-term data is still being gathered, the initial response to the POG in these states has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a growing consensus that this holistic approach better prepares students for the multifaceted demands of the 21st century, both in their professional and personal lives.

Importance of POG

The “Portrait of a Graduate” initiative challenges the traditional benchmarks of success in education, pushing for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of student achievements. This broader view seeks to align the educational system with the multifaceted demands of the modern world. By doing so, it ensures that students are not just academically proficient, but also possess the life skills and attributes essential for personal and professional success.

  • Beyond GPA: GPAs have long been a staple in assessing student performance. They provide a clear, numerical representation of academic achievement. However, they only capture a fraction of a student’s capabilities. Consider a student who excels in group projects, demonstrating leadership, adaptability, and excellent communication. These soft skills are invaluable in the real world, from collaborating on team projects in a corporate setting to navigating interpersonal relationships. Sole reliance on GPAs may overlook these qualities. The POG approach recognizes that a student’s worth isn’t just their ability to ace an exam but also how they collaborate, adapt, and overcome challenges. For instance, while a student might have a B in English, their ability to lead group discussions or think critically about literature showcases skills that aren’t necessarily reflected in that grade.
  • Graduation Rates: Celebrating a high graduation rate is natural for any educational institution. It’s an indicator of success in guiding students through the academic journey. However, graduation, in itself, doesn’t guarantee that a student is prepared for the complexities of the world beyond school. For example, a student might graduate with top honors but struggle with time management or critical decision-making in a fast-paced job environment. POG stresses the importance of equipping students with these real-world skills. So, while graduation is a significant milestone, the journey of preparing a student involves instilling confidence, adaptability, and a problem-solving mindset, ensuring they can tackle challenges in college, their careers, and life in general.
  • Remedial Courses in College: Traditionally, students who didn’t meet certain academic benchmarks were often directed towards remedial courses in college. While these courses have their merits, they sometimes inadvertently pigeonhole students, sidelining their other strengths and potential. A student might need help in mathematics but could be a brilliant writer or an innovative thinker. The POG initiative encourages educators to adopt a more holistic view. Instead of focusing on areas of weakness alone, it emphasizes the importance of recognizing and nurturing a student’s strengths. For instance, while remedial courses might help bridge academic gaps, parallel workshops on creative thinking, leadership, or entrepreneurship can help students discover and hone their unique strengths, preparing them for diverse opportunities in the future.
Scott Carr, College and Career Readiness Consultant, discusses the critical importance of preparing students for career, college, and life. Watch the full webinar.

How to Create a POG

The POG is more than just an outline; it’s a commitment to providing a holistic education that prepares students for both the known and unknown challenges of the future. By aligning community values, understanding modern societal demands, and setting forward-thinking educational goals, we can craft a POG that’s both meaningful and actionable.

  1. Assemble a Team: At the heart of a successful POG is a diverse team that brings together different experiences, backgrounds, and expertise.
      • Foundation on Common Beliefs: Before diving into specifics, it’s essential to lay a strong foundation. Identifying and agreeing upon shared beliefs about the core purpose of education ensures that every subsequent decision is in service of a common goal. This alignment among decision-makers, from school boards to district offices, ensures a unified vision.
  2. Foster Open Conversations: Creating a POG isn’t a top-down process. It requires open dialogue, active listening, and genuine collaboration. Encouraging dialogue builds trust, ensures feedback, and makes certain that the POG resonates with all stakeholders. This inclusivity boosts morale and ensures that the students’ needs are at the forefront.
      • Community-Based Approach: Creating a POG should be a community-based approach, running parallel with the revisioning, reimagining, and redefining of student success. This approach ensures that the entire educational community is on the same page. If not done properly, these efforts could result in words on paper that lack a clear understanding of the true meaning and work required for students to benefit from new experiences and opportunities.
  3. Highlight Key Skills and Attributes: In today’s world, success isn’t just about knowledge; it’s about skills and adaptability.
      • The 4Cs Framework: The 4Cs – Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity – represent foundational skills that every student needs. They are more than just buzzwords; they are essential capabilities that students will rely on throughout their lives. By centering the POG around these skills, we ensure that students are equipped for both academic and personal success.
  4. Select Relevant Indicators: A POG without metrics is like a ship without a compass. By selecting relevant indicators, educators can track progress, measure success, and make necessary adjustments.
  5. Stay Current with Societal Trends: The world is changing at an unprecedented pace. From technological advancements to societal shifts, today’s students face challenges that were unimaginable a decade ago. An effective POG is flexible and evolves with the times, ensuring that students are always prepared for the world into which they’ll graduate.
  6. Design a Visual Guide: Ultimately, a POG needs to be communicated clearly and effectively to all stakeholders. A well-designed visual guide serves this purpose, turning abstract ideas into relatable visuals. Whether it’s a poster in every classroom or a brochure handed out at parent-teacher meetings, this visual representation ensures that everyone knows what the POG stands for and what it aims to achieve.

Implementing POG

As you embark on your journey to implement POG, there are considerations such as where and how you’ll track student progress towards readiness metrics, professional development for educators, community engagement and more.

  • Tracking Progress: Clearly defined metrics allow for consistent assessment, helping educators identify areas of improvement and adapt their teaching methods accordingly. In today’s digital age, educators have a plethora of tools at their disposal. Platforms like Otus aren’t just about making life easier; they’re about making education more effective. By streamlining assessment processes and offering actionable insights, such tools empower educators to drive change and continuously adapt to the needs of their students.

Portrait of a Graduate Otus Platform

All stakeholders can track and monitor readiness metrics in Otus to ensure every student is adequately prepared for college, career, and life.
  •  Professional Development: Empowering teachers with the necessary knowledge ensures consistent POG implementation. An informed educator is better equipped to guide students effectively.
    • Understanding Over Memorization: The essence of POG lies in its deeper understanding, not rote memorization. Teachers need to understand the “why” behind the POG, not just the “what”. When educators truly grasp the vision and objectives of the POG, their enthusiasm is infectious, creating an environment where students are motivated to learn and grow.
  • Engage the Community: Education is a collective effort, with the community playing a pivotal role. The success of POG hinges on the active involvement and support of the entire community.
    • Support Systems: By offering resources, organizing workshops, and encouraging community dialogue, schools can ensure that every student feels supported. When families are involved and informed, students benefit from a cohesive support system that extends beyond the classroom walls.
    • Early Introduction: Introducing the POG vision at the outset ensures that everyone – from students and parents to educators and administrators – is aligned. This alignment lays a robust foundation, ensuring that every step taken is in the direction of the shared vision of student success.

“There needs to be a focus on a readiness gap and closing that readiness gap. You start with the why, the data, and different information that drives why we need to do things differently in our school systems. It moves to the what, which ends up being that career, life, and community readiness engagement in our classrooms, school, and our community. And it pushes us towards, well, how do we do this? And obviously, this is a lot of work to do in relationship to creating the culture that you really need to have. So you have teachers in your school, and you have others that are in your school that are believing in what you’re doing, buying into it, and doing things that end up with a result of high-level engagement for students, educators, and the community themselves.” – Scott Carr, College and Career Readiness Consultant

Evaluating the Impact of POG

The true measure of any educational initiative’s success is the tangible difference it makes in the lives of students and the broader educational community. As educators, our aim is not just to introduce new programs but to ensure they bring about meaningful, positive change. With the “Portrait of a Graduate” (POG) framework, evaluating its impact becomes crucial, not only to validate its efficacy but also to refine and improve its implementation. Two primary avenues to assess the POG’s influence are through direct feedback and the analysis of pertinent data.

Feedback is Gold: In the realm of education, firsthand experiences speak volumes. Teachers, students, parents, and administrative staff are on the frontlines, witnessing the day-to-day implications of the POG. Their insights, whether they are success stories, challenges, or suggestions, provide an authentic gauge of the POG’s effectiveness. For instance, a teacher might share how the POG framework has made students more proactive in their learning, or parents might notice their children becoming more resilient and adaptable in handling real-world challenges. Such feedback ensures that the POG remains attuned to the needs of the community, continually evolving to remain relevant and beneficial.

Data-Driven Decisions: Beyond anecdotal evidence, the power of data cannot be overstated. By setting clear metrics for success, such as improvements in student collaboration or evidence of critical thinking in assignments, educators can quantifiably measure the impact of the POG. For example, a school district might track the number of students engaging in extracurricular activities that promote creativity or monitor the growth in projects that require cross-disciplinary collaboration. Such precision in implementation ensures that the POG’s objectives are met, ultimately leading to well-rounded, prepared graduates who are not just academically equipped but also ready to take on the multifaceted challenges of the world with confidence and competence.

Otus for POG

Otus, an intuitive student data platform, aligns seamlessly with the Portrait of a Graduate (POG) initiative, focusing on key 21st-century skills like critical thinking and collaboration. It offers tools for educators to track and nurture not just academic abilities but also vital life skills, preparing students for future challenges. This approach resonates with POG’s aim to develop well-rounded individuals and simplifies the process for educators, offering insights and flexible teaching strategies. Click here to learn more about how Otus can support your Portrait of a Graduate initiatives.