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Portrait of a Learner: A PreK-12 Progression

May 8, 2024

Worthington Schools (Ohio) launched its Portrait of a Learner, which includes Middle and Elementary School Portraits

Worthington Schools, which educates more than 10,000 students in Central Ohio, launched its Portrait of a Learner this spring. 

For Worthington, like many districts that Battelle for Kids supports across the country, this was the culmination of a months-long journey to engage their community and establish a collective vision for all students. 

But what is unique about Worthington’s approach is the creation of a Portrait of a Learner progression with specific Portraits for both elementary and middle school students.

Officials from Worthington Schools discussed their Portrait design process and the strategy behind creating Portraits by grade level during a “fireside chat” at their State of Schools event in March

A Portrait to Empower Learners Who Will Change the World

“Throughout the country, you’ll see school districts that have what they sometimes call a Portrait of a Graduate. We wanted ours to be a Portrait of a Learner, a growth process,” said Superintendent Dr. Trent Bowers at the fireside chat.

“One of the things unique to Worthington Schools is we decided we wanted a PreK-12 transition, so we created not only a Middle School Learner Profile but also an Elementary Learner Profile.”

Worthington’s main Portrait of a Learner includes five competencies:

  • Confident Communicator
  • Critical Thinker
  • Adaptable Leader
  • Responsible Collaborator
  • Resilient Learner

Through a design process facilitated by Battelle for Kids, the Worthington community collectively selected these five competencies as what they desire for all students to embody. Graphically, these five traits surround the district’s mission “To empower a community of learners who will change the world.”

“I look at the Portrait as a compass or a guide for how we approach things with our students,” said Emilie Greenwald, Director of Secondary Education. “We know that we want them to be strong in their academics in math, English, social studies, science, global languages and to pursue their passions in our elective areas. 

“That doesn’t change. The Portrait comes alongside that and helps inform how we approach those things.”

Honoring Past Efforts

As Worthington went through the Portrait design process, they did not want to lose sight of the critical efforts that had been put forth previously. 

Several years ago, as the district was transitioning sixth graders into its middle schools, it engaged a collaborative team of principals, teachers, parents, and students to create a Middle School Learner Profile.

Still featured prominently in Worthington middle schools, this Learner Profile was on hand and was top of mind during the Portrait design team meetings.

“When we began this process, we endeavored to create the Portrait, but we previously had a Middle School Learner Profile, which our middle schools had been using for some time,” said Dr. Bowers. “We determined through this process that we didn’t want to get rid of the Middle School Learner Profile. We wanted to make sure we kept that.” 

Worthington decided on four competencies to include in its new Middle School Portrait:

  • Solution Seekers
  • Global Thinkers
  • Resilient Learners
  • Kind, Empathetic Friends

“We wanted to honor the work that had been done before,” said Greenwald. “If you look at the Learner Profile and our Portrait of a Learner, you’ll see that they dovetail together beautifully and share common elements.”

A Portrait for All Ages

Worthington Schools educates students in grades PreK to 12. Knowing that the district wanted to establish a growth progression, it became clear that they needed a Portrait designed specifically for their youngest learners.

“When we think about preschool and elementary-age students, we wanted to be purposeful in the language that we use,” said Rob Messenheimer, Director of Elementary Education. “We wanted it to be simple enough that a 5-year-old in Kindergarten could connect to it, but also an 11-year-old in fifth grade that it would have enough depth to keep them engaged.”

Worthington’s Elementary School Portrait includes three competencies, with simplified descriptors for each:

  • Thinker
  • Leader
  • Friend

In addition to using simplified language, Worthington wanted its Elementary Portrait to be usable and also connected to its other Portraits.

“Emilie (Greenwald) talked about how the middle school has really brought their Learner Profile to life. We want the same thing at the elementary level,” said Messenheimer. “That’s our work moving forward—bringing it to life from a poster that hangs on the wall to helping kids understand what actions align with each one of these competencies.”

As students progress through the Worthington school system, it’s important that the Portraits connect from elementary to middle to high. 

“We wanted it to be connected, so as kids age out of elementary school, we wanted it to connect to middle school and then ultimately to the high school Portrait as well. You see a lot of the same language and themes run through all three of these profiles,” added Messenheimer.

Documenting the Process

Worthington showcased its Portrait design journey, producing recap videos after each community session. Each video featured the voices of different participants including students, parents, teachers, staff, and community members.

Worthington also produced this video to launch its Portrait during the State of the Schools event in March.

Putting the Portrait into Practice

Now that Worthington has launched its Portrait, the work begins to implement it into practice in classrooms throughout the district.

“As a school board member, what excites me about this Portrait of a Learner is that I know we already have the teachers, staff, and administrators who have the heart, passion, and expertise to help our students continue to develop and grow these competencies,” said Board of Education President Nikki Hudson.

“We should be really proud as a community that we are intentionally ensuring that our students are positioned to do good in this world wherever they may land.”