5 Tips for Building a Profile of a Graduate
Graduate profiles are becoming increasingly popular in districts and can function in a multitude of ways. From formulating the basis for an instructional vision to getting started with performance based grading, graduate profiles clearly articulate outcomes for learners and provide critical guidance for staff and leaders.
A graduate profile may also be referred to as Portrait of a Graduate, Profile of a Graduate, Journey of a Graduate, or Journey of a Learner. The precise term is not as important as the way in which it was created, and how it functions within your district or school community. At Education Elements we believe in the importance of building and creating a profile collaboratively; that the process of creation is, in fact, just as important as the end product. We also believe that when designing a graduate profile, it is important to do so with a student-centered approach.
Read the following five tips for planning that will lead to an impactful and relevant graduate profile that your community is excited about.
1. Determine the function of your graduate profile
It is important to reflect on what “job” you want your graduate profile to do for you.
Emphasize your values - Name attributes in your graduate profile to serve as the values you would like students to embody and represent. This may allow you to integrate the graduate profile into everything you do.
Emphasize student look-fors - Build out an organization-wide profile that includes specific student look-fors which allows various program leaders to specify further how this would look in each of their particular contexts.
Every detail does not need to be figured out; your process will uncover needs that will require you to pivot along the way, but determining at a high level how you are going to use your graduate profile can help guide your responsive development and creation.
2. Involve your community from the beginning
Ensure you create a graduate profile that is representative of the needs and wants of your community. Community may include students, parents and families, teachers, counselors, classified staff, non-teaching staff, school leaders, district leaders, board members, and local business leaders and elected officials. You know your community best, and are familiar with what is most important to your community.
That said, we often hear from our many clients that there are frequently barriers to engaging with members of your communities, such as attendance, language, or timing. If this is the case for your school community, we encourage you to reflect on the ways in which you have tried to engage folks in the past, and to ask yourself what has worked well, and what hasn’t? We encourage you to withhold judgment, and get curious about who is engaged, and who isn't; and through this you may start to notice patterns and see opportunities to enhance your practice.
Remain willing to try something new and start small. Reach out to people with whom you are less familiar, be mindful about how you are reaching out and consider who is reaching out. Get creative! For example, we often use surveys to get a wide pulse on how folks are experiencing the school community, coupled with focus groups where we spend more intimate time asking small groups of people questions about their experience. Leveraging strategies that can produce both quantitative and qualitative results can be helpful when trying to parse which areas to prioritize for a graduate profile.
Involving the community from the start, educating them on the process, asking for feedback along the way will create a more meaningful and sustainable graduate profile in the long run.
3. Designate a core team
Establish a core team, or what we often call a steering team, that is made of persons who represent the school community at large and is responsible for making the collective decision of which proposed attributes, characteristics or competencies that they believe the community wants to see in a graduate profile. Make sure that the team is representative of various positions, ages, and levels of experience. We highly recommend that students, teachers, parents, and family members are represented on this team. This team should not be more than 15-20 people and should include a smaller group of 2-5 team leaders who are responsible for creating agendas with objectives and outcomes, facilitating meetings, creating a timeline, guiding folks forward when they need to move on, and elevating voices that can often be dismissed or unheard. The core team will propose a graduate profile to the larger community and district leaders after its members have had the chance to engage with community members at various opportunities, reviewed data, conducted informal and formal feedback or interviews, and synthesized findings.
4. Think beyond “graduation”
Oftentimes when we think of a graduate profile we think of graduating seniors or high school students only. A graduate profile can be defined, as it is in the book Street Data, as “an accessible, succinct description of what every graduate must know, understand, and be able to do,” and thus can be applicable to every age. We believe that this vertical alignment – from pre-K through high school – is necessary as a way to build towards, and reinforce the profile goal. When students are socialized from the very start to understand what is expected of them and how this applies in grade appropriate ways, with the goal that by the time they reach high school students should have a high degree of agency over their academic goals and aspirations.
5. Integrate into your strategic plan and goals
Your graduate profile should work in tandem with your strategic plan and district goals. One mistake districts often make is thinking that a graduate profile is the same as a strategic plan when in fact they serve very different purposes. The graduate profile should help us articulate the future goals for our students and should remain pretty consistent over time once we establish what is valued. A strategic plan should identify key priorities and outline priority aligned strategies that are subject to change in order to reach the goals.
Strong strategic plans often come about after a graduate profile is established because the profiel aligns the team around a vision for the future, and the plan aligns the team around the actions.
That said, we have worked with districts who constructed their strategic plan at the same time they were constructing a graduate profile. This assured that the graduate profile and strategic plan were not two standalone workstreams, but rather, integrated pieces of work. Through this co-construction, the school community immediately understood why the graduate profile was important and why it was relevant to them.
Creating a graduate profile may feel difficult or time consuming. However, we encourage you to get curious about how a graduate profile can empower your students to better understand and articulate the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. Hopefully these tips will help you plan a thoughtful and intentional process that will capture the needs of your community.