“Portrait of the Graduate” Becomes Wilton School District’s Defining Vision for Preparing Students to Face the World Successfully

The Wilton Board of Education regular meeting held on Sept. 9, 2021, included an update on the District’s ambitious and long-developing Portrait of the Graduate tool. Unanimously adopted by the Board in June, the Portrait grows out of a process first initiated in 2018 to reassess the District’s vision statement. It sets forth six roles for students to “learn and grow toward” while in Wilton Schools.

The six roles are: a Contemporary Multi-Literate Scholar; a Balanced, Healthy Human Being; a Self-Navigating Expert Learner; a Courageous Ethical Leader; a Creative Entrepreneurial Designer; and an Active Socially-Sensitive Citizen. Together, these skills seek to go beyond standard reading, writing, and arithmetic curricula and equip graduates to contribute meaningfully to a globally interdependent society and be successful upon graduation.

Credit: Wilton Board of Education

Education consultant Dr. Marie Alcock, whom Superintendent Kevin Smith called “an animating spirit and motivating partner” in the district’s effort, presented the latest developments. Over the summer, school administrators engaged in a series of conversations to finetune the branding, identity, and elevator speech associated with the Portrait. The result is a package of graphics and narratives to explain and contextualize the six roles.

This leadership group, which included the principals of Miller-Driscoll, Cider Mill, Middlebrook, and Wilton High schools, also examined how success in instilling these roles might look for students across grade levels. For example, the learning target for “A Balanced, Healthy Human Being” for a second grader might mean being able to name one’s feelings, whereas a fifth-grade student could be expected to identify specific factors that impact his or her emotions. An eighth grader might be learning how emotions shape our actions, but by high school, that student would be learning how to manage his or her emotions before taking action. Each of these phases represents progress towards the goal of growing into a balanced, healthy human being.

Credit: Wilton Board of Education

During her presentation, Alcock explained the origin of the Portrait of the Graduate effort, which has its roots in a concept known by the acronym VUCA. Developed and popularized by the US Army War College, VUCA stands for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity,” conditions that characterize modern-day decision-making.

“Our children, our next generations have to be capable of thinking about VUCA topics and understanding them, communicating about them effectively, and being able to make decisions about them effectively — as a country,” said Alcock.

She also drew a connection to the latest brain science on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning, which points to social studies and humanities as a grounding framework. By this organizing principle, all academic fields “lead into STEM,” and all courses — from dance and language studies to trades and physical education — should help move students towards making that connection. Alcock noted that students who are well-versed in this kind of transdisciplinary decision-making are better equipped to make informed choices when faced with influences from government, media, and business, three forces that she collectively called “The Triangle of Power.”

Smith opened the floor for comments and questions. Board of Education Chair Debbie Low praised the significant progress made to focus and operationalize the language first adopted in June. Asked whether other districts are undergoing a similar process, Alcock noted that while not everyone calls the outcome “Portrait of the Graduate,” all the districts she works with are looking beyond just “what” schools need to teach to this same “why” concept that Wilton is trying to distill.

“I think it’s great,” said Board of Education member Ruth DeLuca. “I have a little one who asks me all the time, ‘I have school… why do I have to go?’ I need something better [to say] than just ‘to preserve your options.’”

Credit: Wilton Board of Education

Alcock praised the school administration team for their commitment and enthusiasm throughout the process, noting that she has gone through this process with more than 200 school districts, and the experience at Wilton was “one of the most fantastic ones I personally have ever experienced.”

The presentation concluded with a reminder that the 2021-2022 school year represents the awareness stage of the process, in which the schools and school community will work toward developing a shared understanding of what the attributes of the Portrait mean. A suite of branded materials and communication tools will be released, including a video developed by students in the Wilton Educational TV program that debuted during the meeting. Implementation will begin in 2022-2023, with full integration expected to conclude in 2023-2024.

 

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