In response to my blog last March, more than 200 Needham community members and staff expressed interest in the Portrait of a Needham Graduate process, and 53 have participated in workshops and represented their stakeholder groups: students, educators, parents, business and civic leaders, and higher education. We have met for three full-day workshops and have grounded our work in research and data on future trends in education and changes/challenges in society that we must prepare our children to address. The presentations, articles, and videos previewed by the Portrait participants are available to the entire community at https://goo.gl/KsfeJk.
The speakers and panelists at the Portrait sessions have been thought provoking and our small group discussions helped shape the vision for the future of education in our community. Perspectives of local leaders from business and higher education influenced our understanding of how to prepare students for jobs and life-long learning. Although the conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students must master STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, math – because that’s where the jobs are, according to our research, the top characteristics of success are soft skills, like communicating and listening well, having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues, being a good critical thinker and problem solver. STEAM skills—in Needham we also include an “A” for the Arts—are vital to the world we live in today, but these skills alone are not enough. Broad learning skills are what some large companies seek when they hire new employees and what some higher education institutions care more about than grades or results on standardized tests. Furthermore, in a fast-changing workplace, the ability to acquire new knowledge and skills is critically needed. At the very least, learning how to learn just may be one of the puzzle pieces for navigating an uncertain future.
After discussing, debating, and articulating our vision for students at all grade levels as we propel them towards graduation, the 53 members of the Portrait committee drafted a framework for the broader community’s consideration. A graphic facilitator from a local firm, Collective Next, assisted in synthesizing the attributes, skills, and knowledge we believe Needham’s young people need, now and as far into the future as we can see. I invite you to review the draft list of competencies at https://goo.gl/4pNaUc and to provide us with your feedback on the overall Portrait process by completing a short survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/Needham-Portrait.
Using multi-pronged approaches, the Portrait committee is communicating with as many stakeholders as possible throughout the month of October and into early November. Community forums are being held; presentations are being made at various organizations’ meetings; the Needham Education Association is involved; and discussions are scheduled in each school. The intent is for members of the Portrait committee to be ambassadors for this effort by presenting information and soliciting feedback so that everyone’s voice can be heard.
The last of four sessions with the Portrait committee will take place on November 16th. Informed by feedback from the broad community, the 53-member committee will be poised to consider strategic priorities with the Portrait in mind. We will look at instructional practices and professional learning that integrates the attributes, skills, and knowledge made explicit by the Portrait. The committee will generate suggestions for actions to help us make progress in a new direction.
Developing a Portrait of a Needham Graduate has been inspirational and the impact at the school, department, and classroom level will be considered before this framework is finalized. At a regularly scheduled School Committee meeting in the spring, the members will be asked for their approval of the Portrait and the critically important work ahead of helping us prepare ALL students for the challenges and opportunities that await them.
I welcome and invite your feedback and support!