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Profile Of A Graduate

Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D., Superintendent along with Lynn Fuini-Hetten, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning of the Salisbury Township School District in Allentown Pennsylvania discuss their Profile of a Graduate project. 

Dr. Berger: Randy, you and I have talked in the past, and I think it’s great that we can continue to dive deeper into your role as superintendent (and Lynn as assistant superintendent). It helps us understand the personalities and the perspectives that you two have in leadership positions and how you look at change and progression throughout a district. Plus, we get to explore your role in relation to students, teachers, and parents of the community.

I wanted to talk to today about “Profile of a Graduate.” I know that’s been a program that you two have taken on, and you’ve encountered some interesting things through the journey. Help the audience understand the impetuous for this “Profile of a Graduate” and how that started.

Randy Ziegenfuss and Lynn Fuini-Hetten: One of the things that we’ve enjoyed focusing on here in Salisbury Township school district is engaging a broad range of stakeholders this past year in developing a vision, a collaborative vision.

There were two components to this process, and the outcomes of those were this idea of a “Profile of a Graduate.” We were trying to establish a set of knowledge skills and dispositions that we would like our graduates to walk through the door at the end of 13 years here. What should they know, be able to do, and what kinds of beliefs should they have?

So we collaborated with a variety of stakeholders, as well as, creating the best learning environment that’s going to get us to that vision? And so it’s been a very interesting process by which we’ve engaged a whole bunch of different stakeholders and addressing some challenges in hearing all of those voices. So I think I’ll ask Lynn to talk us through a little bit of that process.

LF: Sure. We started talking with teachers, and we connected with Warren Berger, the author of More Beautiful Question, early on in our journey and we began asking questions. We started to ask some focused questions about what do we want learning to look like? What do we want our classrooms to look like?

We used question week as an impetuous to get us started and to continue some of the momenta. We also asked students. We talked to students in an advisory council, we met with them four times, and we met with elementary students once a quarter; secondary students and middle school students, and we asked them some pretty focused questions.

One session we talked about what were some of the content ideas you learned in school? What do you learn out of school? We spoke in another session about creation. What kind of things you create in school, what sort of thing you create out of school? We spent a session talking about the user-experience; what does it mean to be in Salisbury Township school district? We also did a Lego challenge with students and processed a design challenge in the engineering process.

We got a lot of data from students about what our classrooms should look like, what kind of learning students should be engaging in, what kind of skills they think are important as they graduate? That was one data source.

DB: And what was the response in general? If you take a 10,000 ft. view, the cynics might say, “Well, look, K-12 is focused on K-12,” and then that student is handed off and higher ed handles and “deals” we say that in quotes with that student. Then all of a sudden they get dropped into a career. When I hear about “Profile of a Graduate,” I think about applicability, a transfer from K-12 to college, of the same skills and dispositions that fill a successful career space in a young adult’s pursuit.

Help me understand the reaction you got from people. I’m looking at skills, knowledge, literacy, and dispositions that represent a thoughtful, holistic look at a student. It appears to look outside mere preparatory examination or skill acquisition, that sort of thing. What was the response?

LF: I think kids were interested in providing us with their feedback and their ideas. Ironically, they talked a lot about the types of skills, working together, collaboration, some of those common 21st-century skills; they talked more about lifelong skills than they did about actual science content, or reading content.

DB: Smart kids.

LF: They certainly talked about financial literacy and being able to manage a budget, it was interesting. Students were very insightful; their feedback was valuable. We coupled the student experience piece with “shadow a student” where Randy challenged the administrator team to shadow a student, and we each spent a day (in some cases two), following a student, and understanding what the user experience is right now.

DB: That’s great. Those are invaluable. Randy, I’ll post the same question to you. What was the response of people outside of leadership, who said, “Wait, what are we looking at? What’s the Profile of a Graduate? What are the rationale and the reasoning behind that?” You break the mold a little bit, so, what were the community-based reaction and reaction from other superintendents?

RZ: Yeah, I think what’s interesting is the same sort of thing that we’ve from students, we heard from the adults as well, even the teachers. The conversations were not about, necessarily the content or what you would think would be a traditional frame. When we framed it as what do our kids need, or will our kids, need once they leave here? Stuff that’s in the traditional structure of education fell by the wayside, and a lot of the conversation fell into that realm of skills.

I think this is just a draft at this point. I’m working to create a more visual representation of this, but we intentionally put the skills before the knowledge because that was really where a lot of the weight of the conversation occurred, in the skills.

Certainly, we want to value that content; we want to value knowledge, but it was fascinating to see how that unfolded. The skills became the meat and potatoes of the conversations.

It’s also important to know about this for us. It’s just the initial step. There was a lot of heavy lifting this year because we had a lot of conversations with people. Even more heavy lifting is going to happen next year when we say, “Okay, how do we execute this?” If this is our vision for the classroom and this is the ultimate endpoint in the Profile of a Graduate, how do we execute? How do we bring this about? It’s going to be a multiyear endeavor; that’s going to have lots of different layers, lots of leadership responsibilities all across the organization from the central office to building principles, teacher leaders, department chairs, and grade levels.

Developing a richer understanding, and then action plans. How do we execute those action plans until we finally get to that vision at some point?

And we’re shooting for 2020. That’s our goal, and we want to see how far we can get, and it’s going to be our leadership challenge to move our organizations and our stakeholders to that point.

DB: Over the last year, what was different or an unexpected outcome that you couldn’t as a group, forecast in the beginning that became a happy accident or surprise when you were collecting all these data? Were there any elements that came out that surprised you?

LF: I don’t know if I can think of any, surprises. I think maybe it was pleasantly surprising that many of our groups had the same things. The students, the adults, the leaders, the community members, had many of the same skills, knowledge, and attitudes. Empathy was one that came up often as well as, reflectiveness; the ability to be reflective. And respect.

Those qualities transcended all the stakeholder groups, so I think that was pleasantly surprising. I’m trying to think if there was a negative surprise?

RZ: I wonder, too, if the lack of surprise or common conversations had a theme? We’ve been having at some level these kinds of conversations for a while. I think this was a year of much more intense discussions, much more engagement from a variety of stakeholders, and we built a base of common vocabulary, and this was an extension of that conversation. It was a deeper, richer part.

DB: That’s interesting to me because we talked off air about the vision piece, and I think there are lots of challenges in leading districts of different sizes. Often, it can be hard to align and stick to a vision. We hear from many different people managing different variables and challenges.

I think it is interesting to see the commonality. It can be a pleasant surprise. I would ask you then, how do you see all that you learned over this past year impacting professional development? What tweaks might you make in helping educators within the district, to better support the Profile of a Graduate?

LF: Ironically, we’re starting tomorrow with our leadership team at our retreat. We know that we need to build capacity within building leaders, teacher leaders, and ourselves.

This past year we used a team of teachers that we identified as “Innovate Salisbury.” These teachers worked with us to help establish a vision, to investigate what we called an “Uncommon Dot.” A norm in education that we think has the potential to help students build knowledge skills and dispositions. Teachers worked on projects and did a great deal of learning alongside, while we talked with authors and compiled resources.

Now the challenge is scaling that up. Now we have this document, these two documents that we’ve shared ownership of based on our process of including students, teachers, and community members. Now we need to build a shared understanding. We’re going to work with leadership teams, and provide professional development to leadership teams. Part of their role will be to become teacher-leaders, building leaders, and use some resources they create a greater shared understanding.

What would that look like? A cohort next year, we intend to bring these teams together, three times as a whole K-12 team; the building leadership team, the principal and ourselves, and some additional central office support. Between those three face-to-face meetings, we will hold action plan team meetings. We’ll work directly with the building leadership teams to create action plans, to provide them with resources, to help them be prepared to roll out and support teachers and colleagues. We will take risks, make mistakes together and learn as a group. During this first year and second year; we want to share that ownership.

DB: That makes sense. Randy, from your perspective, how do you see this expanding out? Do you see this as something that can be replicated by other districts for superintendents that might be watching this interview? Others might say, “Wait a minute. We never thought about it in this way.” Interesting in concept, but we never moved it forward as you did. Do you see this being something that could become viral?

RZ: I think it is very replicable. We approached the whole visioning process this year around the particular constraint of “if we did the traditional sort of strategic planning (met for half a dozen 3-hour sessions at night,) that we weren’t going to get a whole lot of involvement.

Instead of having people come to us, we went out to all the different stakeholders. We had coffee in conversation sessions. We had specific meetings where we invited our leaders, as well as, some community folks to come and work on this.

So it wasn’t like we tried to do it all in a very compressed set of time. It was a yearlong project where we did what Lynn talked about earlier with the students. We met with the “Innovate Salisbury” team that was a large teacher voice with our leadership teams.

Conversations occurred throughout the year, and that is the part that’s replicable. I would encourage other superintendents and other administrators who have grand visions for changing education that this is the way that you overcome the challenge of doing all the heavy lifting in such a compressed period. Spread it out over the year and it gives you time to think about and process those conversations from the data you’re gathering.

You know as we met with individual school groups of students, Lynn and I would have that conversation about the few takeaways. How does that shape the next conversation that we have? How does that shape the conversation we have with our school board? How does that shape the conversation we bring to the leadership team?

It was this iterative process rather than we’re all going to get together for a 3-hour session, and everyone’s going to leave exhausted after the process. That, in itself, was a lot of time invested on our part as the leaders of this and managing that process, but I think that’s what makes it compelling and that’s what makes it replicable. You can overcome the barrier, and that’s what I like about the process that we followed.

We thought, if we wanted to come out on the other end with something valuable that was going to serve us well, as a base for future conversations, we must make sure that we hear a lot of voices? I think that that was one of the things that made me most proud.

DB: I think it’s great. I bet people are going to want to reach out and find out more information.

LF: We welcome that. We welcome them. I think what’s exciting, is as Randy said, it was kind of non-traditional, and we hung chart paper in faculty rooms. We look for unique, creative ways to get a voice.

After everything had come together, we sent it out to all of our staff with a survey, a few questions. WE said, “Take a look at this, and give us some feedback.” We got some excellent feedback and made some adjustments based on that feedback.

We then send it out to all of our graduating seniors. WE ask, “You’re leaving us, what’s next for you?” “And if you were prepared in this way, how would that benefit you?” Give us some feedback.

We used a lot of different avenues, different from what we’ve used in the past regarding a traditional strategic plan process.

DB: I think it makes a lot of sense. Randy, we’ve had multiple discussions and interviews, so you know I’m a big fan of the progressive nature of the district. Lynn, you embody that as well. I would encourage folks that want to learn more about what you’re doing and how you are leading in Pennsylvania, reaching out to me (just under the interview here.) I can put you in contact with Randy and Lynn in a way that best suits everybody.

It’s a great pleasure. I think it’s fantastic taking a look at the Profile of a Graduate, and I look forward to learning how it continues to grow over the year. Like you said, this is step one. Thanks again.

RZ: Thanks, Rod.

LF: Thank you very much.

Follow Ziegenfuss, on Twitter @ziegeran, check out his new e-book 3 Key Principles of Digital Transformation (to the right), read his blog WorkingAtTheEdge.org . Follow Fuini-Hetten @lfuinihetten and listen to their podcast at TLTalkRadio.org.

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