CA Curious

The Portrait of a Graduate, Unleashed

October 19, 2017

They’re big, they’re blue, and they’re cropping up all over the school!

This may sound like the trailer for a low-budget horror movie, but the reality is something far less dramatic.  Those large blue “strangers” appearing in our classrooms and our hallways are simply poster versions of one of Cary Academy’s cornerstone documents:  the Portrait of a Graduate.

It’s likely that many of you have never heard of the Portrait of a Graduate, even though it’s been around for quite some time.  The Portrait was originally developed by faculty as part of the school’s 2010 strategic plan, which challenged us to examine our learning goals for students in the context of the mission priorities of the school.   Our focusing question:   What fundamental abilities and traits do we want all Cary Academy students to have by the time they graduate in order to succeed in a rapidly changing world?

In an effort to answer this question, we asked each academic department to explore what it meant for a student to be committed to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence in its particular discipline.  Emerging from those conversations were some clear commonalities in the skills and attitudes valued across all content areas–commonalities that became the basis for the Portrait of a Graduate.

Over the years, the Portrait of a Graduate has served quietly in the background as a reflection tool for teachers in a variety of professional development contexts, from our annual training program for new faculty to our current curriculum renewal process.  It has also long had a home in the “About Us” section of the school website to help clarify the mission and culture of our school.  One thing we haven’t really done, however, is actively share the Portrait of a Graduate with students—until now!

Take a stroll around campus today, and you will find poster-size versions of the Portrait of the Graduate in all Upper School classrooms, as well as in Upper and Middle School hallways and other key locations around the school.  These posters were created to introduce the Portrait to our learners in a highly visual format and to provide a point of reference as we begin to talk more intentionally with students about the broad and enduring skills we want them to develop while at CA.

The eight overarching qualities laid out in the Portrait of a Graduate are not only a focus of the academic curriculum, but are also part of the teaching and learning that occurs in advisory, athletics, clubs, community service and other school activities.  By introducing our students to the Portrait and engaging them in purposeful reflection around the specific ways they demonstrate the Portrait characteristics both in and outside of the classroom, we hope to help students better understand our goals for them and the progress they are making in their individual learning journeys.  We further hope that as students develop fluency in using the Portrait as a guide for reflection and self-assessment, they will be able to present a more complete and compelling picture of their learning and growth to others.

It is important to recognize that the Portrait of the Graduate was from the beginning designed to be a living document that would be revisited periodically as our students’ needs evolved.  Likewise, the new poster versions of the Portrait are first-iteration visual representations that will undoubtedly be reviewed and refined — ideally in collaboration with our students.  We certainly look forward to hearing their thoughts and questions over the coming months as they encounter and contemplate the Portrait for the first time, and we welcome thoughts and questions from parents and other members of the community, as well.

While our conversations with students around the Portrait of the Graduate will take place primarily in the Upper School in 2017-18, we also plan to find ways to bring Middle School students into the discussion at a level appropriate for that age group.   Ultimately, we want those mysterious blue placards on our walls to lose their “alien aura” and become familiar friends to all of our students in the journey toward a Cary Academy diploma.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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