How the Portrait of a Graduate Can Help Communities Explore the Future of Learning

Topics: Community Partnerships, Future of Learning, Vision and Culture

Our latest forecast on the future of learning, Navigating the Future of Learning, explores five drivers of change that will impact learning over the next decade and imagines what those drivers of change could mean for education. How these forces combine and interact will present a new context for education and a new landscape of choices for transforming teaching and learning.

As part of their efforts to better serve all learners, many communities are engaging in creating a Portrait of a Graduate, considering what skills and knowledge their graduates will need to succeed in an uncertain future. Valerie Greenhill is president of EdLeader21, a network of Battelle for Kids, whose mission it is to realize the power and promise of 21st century learning for every student. By 2021, Battelle for Kids’ goal is that 21 percent of school systems across the United States are engaging with their communities to develop and implement a Portrait of a Graduate – joined Jason Swanson, director of strategic foresight at KnowledgeWorks, to consider the intersections between the Portrait of a Graduate and the latest forecast.

EdLeader21 uses the language “locally developed, globally positioned” when defining the Portrait of the Graduate. Why do you feel that is an important distinction in considering the challenges and opportunities communities face today when considering the future of learning?

Jason: What I like about the language EdLeader 21 uses is that it allows for a localized response to changes that are felt globally. Every community will have access to different resources and face different futures, which in turn means they will (and should) have different visions in terms of what they want from the future generally, and the future of learning specifically.

Valerie: The Portrait of a Graduate is driven by the priorities of the local community, with a vision for how to best prepare their students for the complexities of a modern, global society.

When this process is done well, a group of community members (we call them a “design team”) studies the landscape shifts in 21st century social, economic and learning contexts. They prioritize which shifts are shaping their local community, and therefore what their students need to be prepared for their futures—in career, college and life.

This means that every teacher, every family member, every administrator, and every student—no matter what age—plays a role in delivering on the Portrait of Graduate. It is very much locally developed.

The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out explores how career readiness may be redefined to better prepare students for an uncertain future, based on a series of in-depth interviews with employees at cutting-edge organizations, as well as site visits to workspaces and strategic foresight research into current trends.

In what ways does a tool like the Portrait of a Graduate serve a learning community in planning for their desired future for their students and their community?

Jason: I think that it is a powerful tool for helping to develop a desired future or a vision for their community. It allows a learning community to develop a sense of “why” and a destination.

Valerie: The power of local decision-making is critical. We can’t presume to know how each community will prioritize the economic and societal landscape shifts, or how they will align the Portrait competencies to those shifts. That’s why we encourage school systems to invite a combination of local students, family members, business leaders and other community members into the Portrait design team conversation.

How does a tool like the Portrait of a Graduate function in a community where migration patterns, small-scale production and efforts to grow place-based and cultural assets are reshaping local geographies?

Jason: With its emphasis on being locally developed, the Profile of a Graduate allows for communities to really think about what these kinds of changes mean for their students. As geographies are reshaped, it allows learning communities to think about how those trends and changes might manifest themselves locally, develop a vision for learning through the Profile of a Graduate and create strategies that respond to change in service of that vision.

Valerie: The point of the Portrait process is to stay very closely aligned with each community’s contexts, needs and values. The Portrait process encourages discussion and prioritization of student supports that will be needed for each child to be successful in college, career and life—regardless of the challenges surrounding their education. With an asset-based approach to building the Portrait, there is opportunity to leverage strengths inherent in each community on behalf of its students.

The Portrait of a Graduate is a truly cross-sector developed vision for a community’s future and goes beyond academic success. Considering the shifting metrics of success and achievement that shape people’s aspirations, choices and behaviors becoming increasingly detrimental to individual and social health, how might stakeholders from education, communities and businesses collaborate to create new definitions of success that ensure good health across diverse populations?

Jason: The Portrait of a Graduate is a powerful tool for thinking about the implications of change! Ideally, if you could have a diverse array of stakeholders sit down together and build an awareness of change, then develop Portraits of a Graduate that respond to the changes the group surfaced, the definitions of success would probably look different than they do today. Will they ensure good health? I am not sure you can guarantee anything, especially in terms of the future, but you can put into place learning experiences that help to cultivate good health, and given what we have seen about the uncertain futures of work prioritizing the development of resilient, healthy young people with high levels of self- and social-awareness will be a key component for thriving in whatever future of work comes to fruition.

Valerie: The portrait helps to mitigate our cultural “arms race” around high stakes testing tied to college admissions. When a broad and diverse group of stakeholders comes together to define the Portrait, students come to understand that skills like the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity), along with competencies like citizenship and empathy, are highly valued.

In The Future of Learning: Navigating the Future of Learning, you will discover how current trends could impact learning ten years from now and consider ways to shape a future where all students can thrive.