A school district’s vision and mission statements serve an important purpose. By design and intent, they typically are quite brief, providing high level guidance, but not much more. Increasingly in California and across the country, to supplement the vision and mission, school districts have engaged their community stakeholders to create a Graduate Profile (or Portrait of a Graduate) to more fully describe the skills, competencies and mindsets necessary for young people to be ready for success in college, career, and civic life. Once completed, the Graduate Profile serves as a North Star to guide shifts in organizational culture, curriculum and instruction, assessment and accountability, and leadership and decision-making. It more holistically and equitably defines student success.

San Leandro USD Graduate Profile


A Graduate Profile (or Portrait of a Graduate) typically is a succinct one-page colorfully-designed document that captures the skills, competencies, and mindsets that the community values most for their students.

Most are informed by research-based reports as well as community input, and typically address four interrelated groups of competencies:

  • College-ready scholar and lifelong learner
  • 21st century skills, or the “4Cs” of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity
  • Social-emotional competencies, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making
  • Culturally-competent and active citizen

The Graduate Profile is elegant in its simplicity — easily understood by anyone glancing at it for even a few seconds. Immediately, any stakeholder — whether a parent, business leader, college dean, faith leader, teacher or student — will see the value and importance of students making progress toward mastering the identified competencies.

While the Graduate Profile is typically a one-pager, “bringing it to life” may involve the development of many associated documents and tools — i.e., descriptors, benchmarks, rubrics, adult profiles, system profiles, decision trees, report cards, presentations, communication collateral, and more.


Many individual consultants, private consulting groups and non-profit support providers have developed expertise in helping districts to co-design and co-facilitate an inclusive process to create a Graduate Profile. Most processes rely on robust stakeholder input (i.e., forums, focus groups, surveys), from a broad-ranging group of stakeholders (students, family members, teachers, school and district staff and administration, civic and community leaders, business and industry representatives, faith leaders, postsecondary partners), particularly those whose voices historically have been marginalized.

The process begs us to ask:

  • How do we best equip ALL learners for tomorrow’s workforce?
  • How do we best prepare them to be empathetic, adaptive, and lifelong learners and productive contributors to their communities and the nation?
  • How do we cultivate learner agency and pathways while also investing in our learners’ overall well-being?

In some cases, a district moves beyond a student profile. Recognizing that adults in the system must be able to model the skills and mindsets to students, create classroom environments to nurture advancement of Profile outcomes, and facilitate learning experiences that allow students to practice the competencies on a routine basis, some districts create an “adult profile” to wrap around the student profile. Furthermore, acknowledging that school and district leaders must create the conditions and culture for teachers to promote the Graduate Profile outcomes in students, some districts establish a “systems profile.” This guide addresses all levels: the “capacity to advance” section highlights the areas for teacher development, and the “culture and conditions” section attends to the system shifts that leaders create to enable both teachers and students.


In many communities, a school district moves with good intentions to create a Graduate Profile, defining the skills, competencies, attributes, and mindsets their young people must demonstrate in order to be prepared for future success. However, too often, the Graduate Profile merely hangs on the walls of offices and/or classrooms as an aspirational poster or lives on the district website as a colorful page adjoining the district’s vision. In and of itself, a poster has never changed student outcomes or professional practice. In order to make good on the intentions of the broad-ranging stakeholders who contributed to the creation of a Graduate Profile, it’s critical to move “from poster to practice” or “from rhetoric to reality.”

This blueprint will not get into details of how to create a Graduate Profile, as those resources are readily available. However, it’s critical to understand that the process for creating a Graduate Profile is, in and of itself, a representation of the district’s values and intentions. It is the starting point for modeling the communication strategies and shifting organizational culture, both described below.

Through the Graduate Profile development process, how will the district and community:

  • Value multiple stakeholder groups by sharing leadership and decision-making?

  • Commit to equity by centering voices of those who historically have been most marginalized?

  • Lean into students’ voices and grant them agency to define a vision for their own education?

  • Dismantle white dominant culture by avoiding customary characteristics?

  • Promote a culture of experimentation, rapid prototyping, and continuous improvement?

  • Be transparent in its intentions and communications?

  • Remain human-centered in its processes?

From poster to practice

The primary purpose of this guide is to support districts in their efforts to operationalize a Graduate Profile, or move “from poster to practice.” Only when districts have done so will students, families, communities, and larger society benefit from the results of a whole child education.

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