Why Graduate Profiles Feel Wrong

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nakrnsm

Let’s face it. Every school’s graduate profile sounds the same these days.

“Lifelong learner”

“Global citizen”

“Able and willing to make a difference”

Etc.

You know the drill. All worthy aspirations for our students, and for what we want to help them become. All schools engage in conversations about these end goals, the programs and pedagogy that will get them there, what measures if any will provide feedback on whether the goals have been met, and how the school is doing over time at producing its product. That’s standard, responsible practice, right?

I’ve been involved in creating graduate profiles several times, and while it feels like a worthy exercise, it always feels like something is missing.

We ask: Do we not have the right descriptors? Have we worded them optimally? Do we have the right graphic to convey them? Are they in the right order? We fuss over the minutiae searching for perfection, because it is such an important thing to describe who we want our students to become. These are lives we are dealing with, after all.

So why does it never feel right? Because it’s the wrong paradigm.

It’s a deficiency mindset.

There are two ways of looking at education. The standard lens is that our children are missing something, that they need to acquire it, and that we need to give it to them—that they need to be shaped and molded to our vision of what they should become. Most education operates within this paradigm.

The other is that the job of education is to support the unique strengths and gifts of each child, and to support them in growing from there. This isn’t to say that there is nothing adults can offer to children. We can help them become the best versions of themselves, and we can do that thoughtfully and skillfully, by structuring our efforts and our environment around that sacred duty.

So if you have been struggling with your graduate profile, the problem may not be in the details. It may be with the paradigm itself. If that’s the case, I encourage you to build it from the other direction, and talk about who your students are, not who they will become. Focus your attention to the present, and trust that it’s just what it needs to be to move to a bright future.

Our students are…Exactly who they need to be at this moment

Build your program around that.

By the way, this is the latest installment of my Changing Education Paradigms series. The tally currently stands at:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
  4. We need to approach education by building on strengths, instead of correcting deficiencies.

Special thanks to Jenifer Fox and Yong Zhao for their excellent work on strength-based and emergent education. I don’t know if either have specifically addressed graduate profiles, and should note the views above may not represent their views on the subject. Thanks also to colleagues Glenn Chickering and Dan Kinzer for insightful conversation on why graduate profiles feel hollow.

Further reading:

Your Child’s Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox

World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students by Yong Zhao

The Entrepreneurial Learner

flickr.com/photos/hamed/I’m currently directing a program at Green School in Bali on Entrepreneurial & Enterprise Education. My experience building and describing this program has given me some new language to talk about the paradigm shifts I have been advocating in education, heretofore enumerated as:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.

I’ve started to talk about these paradigm shifts merged together as Entrepreneurial Learning, because 1) the concept crucially includes the learner as part of the equation, and 2) it describes an attitude and approach that both learner and educator can use to keep focused on the three paradigm shifts outlined above. So why the Entrepreneurial Learner, given that many may misinterpret it as advocating a focus on money and business exclusively? My application of the term to learning is very intentional here, and is meant to conjure what is conveyed by a common synonym for the term: enterprising “having or showing initiative and resourcefulness”

Those are the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and they are ones that I think most of our schooling paradigms do not currently promote—in fact actively counteract. I think we should be training learners to bring forth initiative and resourcefulness in everything they endeavor towards, including their own learning.

The definition of “entrepreneur” that I am working off of is:

“characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit”

But I’m using the French word origin, “entreprendre,” meaning “to undertake” as a mandate for latitude to apply the characteristics of entrepreneurship—indeed the habits, skills, and attitudes that help one be successful at goals of one’s own choosing—to learning. I think it’s critical that we do so. Education is so often seen as something that is done to students. I don’t think students should “receive” an education. I think they should undertake one—and take risks doing so—for their own profit and the profit of the world they live in.  As I look around, I’m also seeing this language used by Yong Zhao, among others. Here are a couple of articles for further reading:

Can Schools Cultivate a Student’s Ability to Think Differently

Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a Fresh Approach

You Get What You Design For: The Core Curriculum

Licensed under Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/csessums/

Licensed under Creative Commons
https://www.flickr.com/photos/csessums/

Where did the curriculum used in the US for the last century plus, and now also in most of the rest of the world, come from? What were it’s goals? Why are the study areas so siloed and non-representative of the way the world works and of how we learn? This discussion in Marion Brady’s What’s Worth Learning adds fuel to the fire for why it needs to be re-examined down to its roots, not just retooled:

Schooling in America produces successes, but the general education curriculum doesn’t deserve much credit. What’s taught—the actual content of the lectures, books, instructional units, films, videos, subjects, courses, programs, and all the rest—isn’t a product of a comprehensive, rational theory or plan. It’s not a systematic sampling of humankind’s accumulated knowledge. It’s not the result of a thorough, current analysis of the needs of individuals or the larger society. It’s not a grand design worked out by our best minds. Incredible as it may seem, American education, this vast institution which consumes so much of our wealth, time, and energy, offers the young not a coherent, logically organized structure of knowledge but a random heap fashioned by ancient concerns and assumptions, political expedience, accident, intellectual fads, hysteria, special interests, and myriad superficial views of the purpose of educating.

[…] the so-called “core curriculum”—the familiar mix of math, science, language arts, and social studies disciplines now in near-universal use in America’s schools—was recommended by the Committee of Ten, appointed by the National Education Association. The Committee didn’t discuss the organization of knowledge, didn’t talk about learning theory, didn’t reflect on the needs of the Republic, didn’t speculate about the trends of the era, didn’t warn of the dangers of adopting a static curriculum in periods of rapid social change. Those and other matters relevant to what schools should teach never came up. Primarily concerned with simplifying the selection process for college admissions officers by standardizing the transcripts of the tiny percentage of students then graduating from high school, the ten met for three days in Saratoga, New York in the fall of 1892, made their recommendations, and the following year the curriculum that still shapes education in America and much of the rest of the world was adopted. Multi-layered bureaucracies quickly froze the committee’s work in rigid place.

Diigo for Language Instruction

Read on for a way language learners and teachers can use Diigo in a way that can seriously jumpstart authentic language learning exchanges.

I recently taught a course to masters students in the GSTILE (Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education) TFL (Teaching Foreign Languages) program at Monterey Institute of International Studies. We did much, MUCH more than explore specific tools, but more on that later (and more on how incredibly powerful it is to co-design and teach with another teacher). One of the tools that I discovered as a language learner, and that I shared with my students, to great excitement, was using Diigo’s annotation features (specifically highlighting and sticky-note comments) in language learning and instruction. Continue reading

Reflection on Persuasion – Teacher Edition

This post relates to an exercise we did in the Communication and Media Literacy course I offer to new students at my high school. We are beginning to look explicitly at persuasion, and began by discussing persuasion in general, using these prompts:

Why do we try to persuade people?
Who do we want it for?
What do we want to persuade people of? (to do something [policy], to believe something [fact, value]). Examples of each type? Examples of people trying to persuade you?
Examples of you trying to persuade other people?

I then asked that each of them reflect on persuasion in their ePortfolios, using this prompt:

On your ePortfolio, add a page: “Reflection On Persuasion”
Post link to Forum by next class.
200-400 words
Share something interesting about persuasion in your life.
OR
Link to something interesting related to persuasion, and relate what important ideas it brings to mind for you.

I offered my own reflection on persuasion as an example, which I link to here, the same place I sent the students. I explicitly put this on my own blog and directed them here in order to pierce the veil between the real world and school; to demonstrate that there is real value in the thoughts we have.