Written by Helen Maltese, Atlas

I commit the majority of my time to managing our database of standards, which translates to I read a lot of standards daily. I research international program requirements, locally adopted state standards, and recently published benchmarks from national organizations. Regardless of where you teach, I understand that the number of standards that you’re responsible for explicitly covering in a given academic year can be daunting. In addition to the long list of standards, you might also face the irksome student question: when am I going to use this? How can your school prioritize skills and concepts that your students truly need before they leave your classroom? And better still, how can you communicate the everyday relevancy of your school’s academic expectations (the standards, curriculum, etc.) to your students and their parents? Enter the Portrait of a Graduate. 

Schoolwide Guide

Depending on your school, you might use the term Portrait of a Graduate (PoG), Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs), or Schoolwide Learning Outcomes (SLOs). Regardless of terminology, the aim of these is to articulate what it means for students at your school to be college and career-ready. The PoG typically takes the form of competency statements that look very similar to those you find in academic standards. However, the statements that form the PoG not only highlights key knowledge and skills but also includes crucial dispositions the attitudes, beliefs, and values that your school aims to instill in your students. You can view examples of school and district-created PoGs here. Once crafted, the PoG can also be used by your school to drive decisions in regards to:

  • Accreditation
  • Curriculum guidance and alignment
  • Reflection and improvement
  • Contextualizing and prioritizing academic standards

In other words, the PoG is the compass that keeps everyone on course to fulfill your school’s vision and mission.

For Teachers, a Focus on Relevancy

The PoG is not only helpful for administrators, but also helpful for us teachers. As mentioned above, we can sometimes find ourselves immersed in the details and complexities of our content-specific standards, holding ourselves accountable for covering as many standards as possible. Rather than focusing on all standards, what if we focused on those that emphasized more than just academic skills? Afterall, academic skills aren’t the only skills necessary for students to succeed in life. Soft skills are increasingly important in today’s world, yet these skills are more difficult to teach and assess in the classroom. Think about using your PoG to connect the learning experiences of your students to the world they live in by promoting soft skills in your curriculum.

Where To Start

Emphasize Soft Skills

As you prepare to create statements for your Portrait of a Graduate, start with the competencies students need in order to be prepared for life beyond the classroom. Academic standards focus on cognitive skills, so now is the time to draft a list of noncognitive skills (a.k.a. soft skills) that will become the focus of these schoolwide expectations. A great jumping off point is to research skills related to employability and social-emotional competence. In a review of different examples of ESLRs and PoGs shared by schools, the following soft skills appear to be the most represented:

  • Communication
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical thinking
  • Citizenship and Social Responsibility 
  • Empathy
  • Ownership of learning
  • Research
  • Self-directedness 
  • Self-awareness

Some great points of reference for this list might also be found in state or national sets of cross-curricular competencies and career and technical standards. Schools in the U.S. might refer to employability skills outlined by many CTE standards, in addition to technology standards, and 21st century skills frameworks. Schools in Australia might refer to the ACARA general capabilities, and specifically, the capabilities that are especially difficult to teach like ethics, personal and social capabilities, and intercultural understandings. 

Community Input

Consider reaching out to parents and community members to ask them what skills and attitudes they believe are most valuable to students as they enter college or the workforce. Extending your efforts into the greater school community can provide valuable insight as well as encourage community members to be invested in the process so that everyone can support the implementation of the PoG in the future. Create a google survey to gather their thoughts so that you can then cross-reference what you’ve created as a school, solicit buy-in from key parties, and add to your initial list of skills. 


As you begin to draft these schoolwide statements, consider saving them in a place that is easily accessible for everyone to view. As I mentioned earlier, these can be helpful to refer to during curriculum planning because they can be another point of alignment. With Atlas, you can add these directly to the unit planner in the form of a widget, or you include them in your standards drop-down menu so that they stay the center of your curriculum mapping process. If you’re curious how another Atlas school incorporated their Portrait of a Graduate, check out this blog by Sandra Boyles, Head of Head of Lower and Middle Schools The Crescent School

If you’re interested in additional resources to help you in the process of creating your PoG, check out the two resources below:

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