Coaching Letter #55

Good evening, I hope you’re well.  There’s a terrific storm right over my house as I write this, and the rain is bucketing down.

This Coaching Letter is about the Portrait of the Graduate work that I’ve been involved in under CAPSS’ leadership.  The Nellie Mae Education Foundation supports many education projects in the Northeast, including this one.  The grant allows CAPSS to work with participating districts to support them in developing a Portrait of the Graduate (PoG)—some districts have been doing this work for a while, and some are newly engaged because of the NEASC 2020 Standards.  Yes, I know the acronyms are a bit over-the-top (OTT, as my sister used to say), and I’m sorry.

CAPSS hosted a summer workshop for about ten districts, then we added another group of districts this fall to create a pretty large community of practice (PoG CoP!!!) of 14 districts, I think.  We learned a lot from the summer workshop, including that people really appreciate talking to their colleagues in other districts—sometimes in informal groups, and sometimes in more formal expositions, and I’m grateful to Kathy Greider from Farmington, Caroline Messenger from Naugatuck, and Joe Macary from Vernon for presenting the great work that they’ve been engaged in.

The Portrait of the Graduate work rests on an inter-related set of ideas.  The Portrait of the Graduate statement that a district develops as a result of a multiple-stakeholder involvement process represents the district’s vision and vision—to create graduates that match the description in the portrait.  So it is, at one level, a statement of desired student outcomes.  But this statement is not an end in itself—it can only be realized if the experiences that students have during their school career actually lead to their acquiring the knowledge, skills and dispositions described in the Portrait of the Graduate.  So there’s design work related to that.  Then there is figuring out the capacity and understanding that need to be built among instructional staff to bring those experiences to life, so there’s design work there too.  Then there are the school and district leadership moves that have to happen, and the understanding and capacity that need to be developed among leaders.  All this design work amounts to a large backwards mapping project.  Then there is all the work that has to be done to implement these designs; and the progress monitoring that needs to be designed and enacted to see if everything is happening the way it’s supposed to happen; and the feedback loops that need to be created so that information about implementation can be acted upon.  So there are at least four dimensions to this work, and I haven’t even mentioned communication, culture, and underlying beliefs…  This is why the term “system transformation” is often used in connection to the work—it implicates all components of, and all the people in, the system.  It is complex work.

The first meeting of the Community of Practice was on Friday, and a big chunk of the time was spent asking participants to self-assess the work of their districts—first individually, then in district teams, then sharing across districts.  This set of activities spurred some great conversations, so I’m attaching the self-assessment tool in case it’s useful to you.  It is not a comprehensive look at the work—it was designed at what we considered a manageable grain size—but it is a good starting place.  It gives you a sense of the scope of the work, and whatever you are or are not doing with Portrait of the Graduate, perhaps it would be useful to know whether you and your colleagues agree on the dimensions in the tool.

This is really challenging work and I’m really glad to be a part of it.  Let me know if I can be of any help to you.  And you’ll be interested to know that it has now stopped raining…  Best, Isobel

PoG District Self-Assessment PDF

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Cell: 860-576-9410

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