School & District Management Opinion

Profile of a Graduate: Vision Therapy for Deeper Learning

By Contributing Blogger — May 11, 2017 5 min read
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This post is by Valerie Greenhill, president and co-founder of EdLeader21.

I’m a sports junkie, so please indulge me: What do NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, and 21st century education leaders have in common? They all know that success depends upon the strength of your vision rather than the accuracy of your eyesight. For athletes as well as educators, a simple distinction makes all the difference in the world: You can have 20:20 sight, but lousy vision.

Fitzgerald, now considered one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, was a struggling learner and athlete as a child. He didn’t need glasses, but he had depth perception issues that required intensive vision therapy. He credits this intervention for his incredible success--the guy is known for catching balls in the end zone with his eyes closed.

That’s because vision happens in the brain, not the eyes. Sports performance depends on how well the brain processes and interprets visual signals. Whether you can see 20:20 is genetic and fixed. But vision is malleable and can improve dramatically with the right training. Johnny Bench, one of the best catchers of all time, has proven this. His published research showed that vision training improved batting averages with University of Cincinnati baseball players.

So what does any of this have to do with deeper learning?

As educators, strengthening our vision will be the key to better outcomes for all students. Changes in society demand that we improve our vision of “student readiness” for the world they will inherit. Our global, knowledge-based economy emphasizes ideas and innovations. We face complex social, political, scientific, health and environmental problems that need to be solved. We all see these dynamics clearly--but have they really changed our vision?

All across the country this spring, well-meaning educators have been working to improve student performance on standardized tests on the blind gamble policy makers have insisted they make: that this might prepare students for the complex demands of college, career, life, and citizenship in the 21st century. This is like getting stronger glasses, hoping they will help you catch a ball with your eyes closed.

Our education system needs vision therapy. So EdLeader21 launched a Profile of a Graduate (PoG) campaign to help. For years, we’ve seen the impacts of the PoG process among leaders in our network. We think all educators and, most importantly, students will benefit from the wide adoption of this practice.

What is a Profile of a Graduate?

The PoG is an explicitly stated vision for what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, life, career and citizenship by the time they leave the school or district. The PoG is typically presented in its final form as a kind of logo that is displayed throughout the school or district. You can see a gallery of examples here. Interactive versions are commonly used as communication devices for stakeholders.

As you’ll see in the gallery of examples, no two PoGs are the same. The most effective PoGs are the result of an inclusive and participatory design process that honors the needs and goals of the school’s or district’s stakeholders: Each PoG affirms and is uniquely responsive to the values and priorities of its community.

Impact of the PoG

Once a school or district adopts a PoG, it becomes possible to measure the development of the capacities articulated in it. For example, one school district prioritized creative problem solving in their PoG. When a Science or ELA teacher designs a performance task, they use the district’s creative problem solving design templates to ensure the task and scoring rubric is aligned to the PoG. Educators regularly reflect on student performance data from these tasks to strengthen creative problem solving instructional practices throughout the system.

In another district, where a newly adopted PoG emphasizes collaboration and creativity, teachers almost immediately began experimenting with different arrangements of desks to support more effective collaboration during class time.

Any non-traditional approach to teaching and learning can be politically risky and here, too, we have seen the PoG’s benefits. As one principal began aligning his school to the district’s new PoG, time for state test prep was allocated to PoG-aligned pedagogies like project-based learning instead. This principal knew the A-ranked school would take a temporary hit in its annual score because of this transition. But because his superintendent and community of parents, teachers, and students believed in the PoG, no firestorm erupted.

Each of these examples points out a simple yet profound value of the PoG: Establishing a vision that aligns everyone to a common goal for student success. In our experience, without the PoG, important innovations like 1:1, project-based learning, or personalized learning eventually suffer from a lack of coherence and political will. If the capacities identified in the PoG are essential for graduates’ success in the 21st century, then all stakeholders in the system--educators, parents, students, board members, and community members--share a solemn responsibility to support and sustain the transformation that is needed.

Build Your Own PoG

We invite you to go to profileofagraduate.org and use the Builder to design your own personal Profile of a Graduate. Just select the cognitive, personal, and interpersonal competencies you think are most important for students to master in the 21st century and print your PoG. You can also download the action guides we’ve provided to help you finalize a Profile of a Graduate with your school or district.

With help from education advocates like you, we hope to have 1,000 school systems adopt a Profile of a Graduate in the next two years. Follow the hashtag #profileofagraduate to keep up with the campaign.

Just as with athletes who use vision therapy to improve their performance, the Profile of a Graduate is a critical, targeted intervention to strengthen your vision for teaching and learning. Making a PoG visible to every stakeholder in your learning community and aligning all of your school or district’s initiatives to it might even set your students on the path to the education Hall of Fame. We hope to see everyone there.

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