The Essential Skills at Work


Essential Skills Discussions in Advisory

Reprinted from the November/December 2018 Newsletter

This year I am a freshman advisor again. The seniors I was with for four years graduated last year, and I find myself back where it all begins. One of the key tasks for an advisor is introducing and supporting students’ work with the portfolio. The portfolio is a capstone assessment that is based on students’ unique personalities and strengths and that allows them to reflect on their growth over time. It is a significant part of what makes our school special. I love working with ninth graders on it because they get to consider the portfolio with fresh eyes
and without preconceived notions.

At the beginning of quarter 2, students from different grades/advisories met in mixed groups to start brainstorming experiences that might work well as artifacts in the portfolios, but the bulk of our portfolio time at advisory meetings this fall has been spent discussing the nuances of meaning embedded in the essential skills as they are written. I’m always struck by the flexible thinking my students show in talking about the essential skills, even students who are new to the whole process. My advisees have been quick to note the inherent relationship between the skills (it’s almost impossible to engage in problem solving without doing some critical thinking/analysis), but they have also shown an awareness of the subtle distinctions between these same categories. They have identified how problem solving is productive and goal-oriented, whereas analysis is seemingly infinite. You can debate ideas forever, but once you start to go for solutions, you move into problem-solving mode. (And if you do find yourself going in circles in your discussion of ideas, it might be time to execute some self-management and start looking for those solutions!)

My advisees have also done a great job exploring the range of potential applications within skill categories. Teachers may give students “problems” to solve in math or social studies classes, but the problems that impact our growth the most are the ones that carry meaning and weight for us as people. These can be as far-reaching as navigating challenging social dynamics, figuring out how to ask for help, managing the needs and preferences of a large group, or planning for the future (and my freshmen supplied examples from the whole spectrum in our discussion).

We still have a final skill (social and global responsibility) to discuss this quarter before we start constructing and practicing the presentation of the actual portfolio. I’m excited to continue the process with my advisory this year and see how their portfolios take shape, but the real payoff comes at the end of junior year when we gather–advisor, teachers, parents/guardians, and student–to look back at how far said student has come in their thinking about and application of the skills. We get to celebrate their growth over their time in high school so far and inevitably develop confidence as we look ahead to what is yet to come.

Jenny Fey
English & Social Studies Teacher
Academic Dean

Survival Guide: Junior Portfolio

Reprinted from the May 2019 Newsletter

So you’re doing your junior portfolio, huh? Well don’t worry, it’s not too bad. When I first started, I was stressing, but the reality is by junior year, most of us have done this multiple times. We know the six essential skills (Self-Awareness and Management, Critical Thinking and Analysis, Problem Solving, Information Literacy, Communicating Meaning, and Social and Global Responsibility) like the back of our hands. For those still in stress-mode, remember these tips, and you are sure to pass and enjoy your portfolio meeting.

Before you go in, make sure to talk to your advisor! They are literally life savers when it comes to this. They will help you come up with useful metaphors if you can’t think of anything, point out what will and will not work, and make sure you are set up to do your best. Plus, if you get stuck in the real thing, the teachers will help you out. By asking very leading questions, they’ll make sure you get to where you need to be.

When coming up with your mapping, make sure you stay away from quantitative comparisons. This is truly about a metaphor. And yes, some skills will be more important than others, but your goal is to discuss how your skills worked together. Take mine for example: one of the skills (social and global responsibility) was massively more important for my artifact. However, instead of mapping that skill as obviously bigger, or more important, I took a picture of “human bowling” and made social and global responsibility the pins. That way, no matter what anything else represents in my mapping the ultimate goal would be to knock the pins down.

Oh, and the growth letter? That can be the scariest part because thinking about how you have grown can get personal. While it isn’t required that you read it aloud, it sure helps to talk about your growth. Parents, guardians, and teachers love hearing your perspective on how you’ve grown.

Concerning portfolios, I have heard a lot of people ask, “What’s the point?” It doesn’t seem like it’s too important, right? No one’s ever going to ask you about those things in real life, right? Wrong. Portfolio may seem tedious, but it’s going to save your life someday. Being able to articulate how you have changed and to reflect on how you grow in these skills will help you in concrete situations, like interviews, and more abstract ways, like your own goal setting. And when your portfolio meeting rolls around, remember that you’ve got this.

Kam Schmidt
Class of 2020

Mapping Growth

Reprinted from the March 2019 Newsletter

A mark of clear thinking is the ability to express an idea in different ways. Mapping, the term we’ve adopted to represent the visual portion of the new portfolio process, is an opportunity for students to articulate visually the unique interplay they see between different skills in their own lives. How, for example, does one’s growth in communication and ethical thinking work in harmony to achieve one’s goals? These are the kinds of questions, demonstrated through a visual metaphor, that students are attempting to answer with their portfolio mapping.

Recently in small groups, teachers showed examples of mapping from their own lives. For my contribution, I highlighted how skills work together in landscape photography, a hobby of mine. I shared an image that was quite difficult for me to capture and discussed how various skills worked together to achieve that image. Landscape photography can require a broad skill set, ranging from predicting the weather, understanding how cameras interpret light, and the self-discipline to sometimes be cold, wet, and tired for a long time. The metaphor I chose to demonstrate this interplay of skills was a camera lens. Various glass elements within the lens shape and bend light differently, but work together to produce sharp, colorful images with lots of contrast.

Other teachers chose different areas of their lives to highlight with different metaphors to explore the relationship between skills. Jenny highlighted a professional ultimate Frisbee podcast she participated in. She chose a penny-farthing bike to demonstrate how certain skills were more important than others (the front wheel), but that even minor skills supported her performance (the rear wheel). Savi explored the traditional Indian dresses she makes for her family and friends. She chose the motion of a sewing machine to demonstrate the relationship between skills.

As students develop their own mapping, they should consider a few guiding questions:

l. What am I proud of? Starting with something a student is proud of will provide the best insight into how skills were used to achieve something worthwhile.

2. What metaphor best demonstrates my understanding of how skills worked in harmony to achieve what I’m proud of? Is my metaphor clear to others? Portfolios, after all, are public demonstrations. Ensuring that others clearly understand a student’s thinking is paramount.

Travis Cooper
Senior Administrator

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