The Graduate Portrait
  • Why have a Graduate Portrait?

    At the center of an educational vision is the Graduate Portrait—a description of the community’s aspirations for its young people. Our Graduate Portrait is courageous, informed by community values and foresight about likely trends our students may encounter. It describes the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and mindsets that Santa Clara Unified School District’s students need to thrive in life and career.

    While the Graduate Portrait is aspirational*, our commitment is to support every student in working toward realizing its elements to the best of their ability. The aspirations are bold, to catalyze the system changes needed to improve student outcomes. Our Graduate Portrait will also guide adult actions and decisions, aligning leadership, management, teaching and learning, and resource allocations for student success. Our objective is to prepare each student for life beyond high school by supporting them in reaching their full potential. We believe that all of the Graduate Portrait elements are important for ensuring that students thrive in the increasingly diverse environment in which they will live.

    The following Graduate Portrait elements have been developed through iterative cycles of input, feedback, and revision, as illustrated in the roadmap.

    Graduate Portrait

    Read towards the bottom of the page for stories from the future: Inspiring, creative, snapshots that help us imagine and maintain focus on a desired future through stories of fictional characters.


Resilient Mind, Healthy Body

  • Heart and cross
    Students are mentally and physically resilient individuals who know how to manage stress, work toward a balanced lifestyle, make productive personal decisions, and cultivate networks of supportive and affirming allies.

    Students are healthy, resilient, confident individuals, with effective personal strategies for overcoming challenges. These include knowing how to use their agency and self-advocacy to proactively communicate their needs to others. They also have self-care tools and tactics that foster mental and physical wellness. They manage stress and anxiety through practices that promote a balanced lifestyle of good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and setting healthy personal boundaries.

    Students can identify and appreciate their personal assets, strengths, and skills. They understand the relationship between responsible decision-making and positive outcomes, and they are aware of the negative effects of inappropriate choices. They have developed emotional resilience by recognizing, managing, and expressing emotions constructively and applying mindfulness strategies.

    Students have developed authentic, unique, positive personal identities that are reflected in their reputations and digital footprints. They express a deep sense of self-worth and belief in their ability to accomplish goals. They know how to connect with and cultivate physical and virtual communities in which they feel respected, valued, and affirmed.

Students at the Bryan Osborne Nature Center

Critical-thinking Scholar

  • Brain with network

    Students graduate with strong critical and creative thinking skills, developed by applying foundational academic knowledge across various disciplines to develop new understandings.

    Students graduate with foundational academic knowledge* and skills that they can apply in an interdisciplinary way to think critically and creatively. They draw upon knowledge from a range of disciplines, including the sciences, the humanities, and the arts, to think across boundaries and synthesize information in new ways.

    They can analyze, evaluate, and interpret information; ask relevant questions; and develop compelling arguments supported by evidence. They can also creatively and effectively develop and apply digital technologies and artificial intelligence tools and devices to enhance their ability to conceptualize, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and interpret information. They can determine the validity of information and identify biased, misleading, and false information.

Collaborative Problem Solver

  • Question Mark

    Students know how to collaborate effectively with diverse teams to understand problems and develop creative, realistic solutions that address the needs of people and situations.

    Students are highly skilled problem seekers and solvers. Through engagement in interdisciplinary, collaborative projects, they know how to identify and describe problems, assess underlying causes, generate creative solutions that meet diverse needs, and implement solutions with an understanding
    of real-world consequences.

    They value teamwork and seek diverse perspectives to understand problems and enhance solutions. They work effectively in teams, with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and also with entities such as intelligent machines.

    They are cognitively flexible, and knowledgeable about different approaches to problem-solving. They are creative and know how to use a variety of tools and techniques to develop fresh, new ideas. They are comfortable managing complexity and ambiguity. They are skilled systems and strategic thinkers, able to anticipate cause-and-effect relationships in systems and identify actions needed to implement solutions. Students augment their problem-solving capabilities through the development and use of technology.

SLI students

Future-ready Learner

  • Stars

    Students are well prepared for their futures, with key life skills, a strong sense of direction, the ability to plan, and self-directed learning skills that enable them to adapt to a rapidly evolving world.

    Students are well equipped for life after graduation. They have productive aspirations for their futures, informed by real-world learning, and work and service experiences. They have broad, practical knowledge of various college and career pathways and are prepared to follow initial steps after they complete high school.

    They are able to use technology responsibly to support their learning efforts, be productive, stay healthy, work, and be independent. They are adaptive learners, maintaining competence by recognizing when new learning is needed, and they are equipped with the “how to learn” skills needed to reskill and upskill, thereby maintaining relevance in a rapidly evolving career landscape.

    Students are curious and self-reflective, and they see learning as a lifelong journey. They have a growth mindset and believe that goals are attainable and that outcomes can change with effort and learning. They use critical feedback productively to support personal growth, and they take risks, recognizing failure as a natural part of the learning cycle.

    They are armed with key career-building skills. They can represent their knowledge, skills, and experiences in a variety of formats and media, effectively prepare for and undergo interviews, and build supportive professional networks, in person and virtually. They have strong productivity skills and can manage team projects—organizing, prioritizing, and planning effectively to meet deadlines. They also have practical knowledge and skills to navigate real-life challenges regardless of their pathway. As a result, they know how to manage their finances responsibly, take care of basic needs, and live independently.

Effective Communicator

  • Apostrophe

    Students are effective and responsible communicators who can organize and express information in different ways to diverse audiences, using a variety of methods and tools.

    Students can organize and express meaningful content for a variety of audiences. They understand when to use formal language and when to use less formal language. They can apply a variety of communication strategies, including writing, debating, storytelling, and presenting, using various forms of expression, including visual and performing arts, photography, video, digital media, computational expression, and virtual and augmented reality.

    They are skilled at listening actively to understand different points of view. They can hold meaningful conversations with people of different backgrounds and ages, and with intelligent machines. They can persuade others through public speaking, storytelling, and debating. They can communicate with others in more than one language, including computer languages. They exhibit ethical responsibility by ensuring that the information they communicate is factual, accurate, and reliable.

Inclusive Empathizer

  • 2 Hearts

    Students have an inclusive mindset and they value and empathize with others who are different from themselves.

    Students are able to relate to and empathize with people from diverse backgrounds and with different belief systems, cultures, neurotypes*, physical and learning abilities, identities, languages, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages. They have an inclusive and asset-based mindset, which fosters their ability to compromise, be kind, and live and work with others who are different from themselves.

    They have deep listening skills, are open-minded, and are aware of their own biases. As compassionate empathizers, they demonstrate care and concern for others and take action to address their problems. As empathetic individuals, they understand the emotional states of others. As cognitive empathizers, they can put themselves in someone else’s place and understand perspectives that differ from their own.

Equity Ambassador

  • Letter E on a flag

    Students understand the historical roots of racial and cultural bias and how these have led to institutionalized and biased practices, and they know how to act in ways that promote equity.

    As equity change agents, students have the agency, knowledge and skills to take action in challenging and dismantling conditions of race and culture-based injustice. They have a racial equity and cultural inclusion mindset and an asset-based perspective on diverse communities. They can evaluate history from a polycentric perspective and are knowledgeable about racial justice issues. They can identify examples of institutionalized racism and take action to interrupt conditions that perpetuate inequality.

Global Citizen

  • Person surrounded by globe

    Students have a global orientation, seeing themselves as part of a larger interdependent and connected worldwide ecosystem in which they have responsibilities as productive citizens.

    Students possess a global consciousness and sense of responsibility. They can see beyond themselves and recognize the connectedness of the broader world. They can think systemically and differentiate between the local and global, and short and long-term impacts of personal, business, and societal decisions.

    They are culturally competent and inclusive and are able to relate, communicate, and collaborate with others in their community and around the world, in-person and through technology. As responsible citizens, they act ethically and fairly in their choices and inspire others to engage in civic life and government. They act as responsible environmental stewards who understand sustainable living strategies.

Graduate Portrait Implications

  • Successful implementation of our Graduate Portrait will require collective effort, some of which will be clear immediately, and some of which may be more emergent. The following three areas of focus will
    accelerate the comprehensive development of the Graduate Portrait.

    Develop a Graduate Portrait Continuum

    The Graduate Portrait describes the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and mindsets that Santa Clara Unified School District’s collective community believes students need to thrive. While this is an aspirational picture of what we strive to support in all students, the portrait needs to be broken down into snapshots of a learner on a successful growth path.

    For example, what should an “equity ambassador” look like in elementary, middle, and high school? For kindergartners who may already have a digital presence, when and how do we integrate learning about “building a positive personal identity that is reflected in their reputation and digital footprint”? What life skills will help students become independent, and what are the best ways for students to demonstrate their learning at various stages of their development? These are some of the questions that we will address to identify guideposts for our learners and the adults who support them on their journeys.

    Prototype Ways to Integrate Student Interests and Required Knowledge

    How might we truly ignite student engagement by integrating interest and choice into the learning experience? How do we make sure we maintain rigor and ensure that students gain the core knowledge needed to make connections in an interdisciplinary manner? And how might we maintain interest and rigor while making learning relevant to the real world? Moreover, how do we manage this integration of interest, rigor, and real-world relevance across our system, not just in a few classrooms or only some of the time?

    A disciplined innovation and prototyping approach could help us create low-risk learning as we prototype promising ideas and methods that can be scaled across our district.

    Inclusive Design for Learning

    SCUSD is committed to advancing the Graduate Portrait elements while supporting each student in reaching their full potential. The most significant implication of this commitment is the need to apply human-centered design that considers the needs of the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, learning/thinking, language, culture, gender, age, and other differences.

    Historically, learning has been designed to meet the needs of diverse learners, primarily through specialized programs. The needs of special education, talented and gifted students, English learners, culturally specific groups, and alternative education have often been addressed by separate programs, specialized staff, or strategies that address the specific challenges facing some students.

    Universal design for learning (UDL), an educational framework that guides the development of flexible learning environments that accommodate individual learning differences, is a familiar educational structure. Our future work will need to extend this practice to better integrate the full range of human and learning differences. This way of working and thinking is known as Inclusive Design for Learning (IDL).

    Designers of inclusive learning experiences recognize that every learner is different. Differences are the norm; therefore, the notion of accessibility expands dynamically to address the range of human diversity. The goal of inclusive design for learning is to take advantage of human diversity during the design process, to build learning experiences that not only adapt to each learner, but also empower each learner to contribute to the design of their own learning.

    IDL builds in positively reinforcing cycles of inclusion by working with the individuals the design is intended for so that it is informed by lived experience. The goal is to enable and promote learners’ self-knowledge and self-determination so they can recognize their own learning needs and access available choices. Design also extends beyond the traditional inclusion of language, neurodiversity, and physical and learning differences to include culture, gender, age, and the intersectionality of these differences. Inclusive design also takes advantage of flexible digital tools to develop a one-size-fits-one, personalized design approach to inclusion.

Stories from the Future

  • Michael's Story

    Michael is a senior at Wilcox and will be the first in his family to graduate high school. At the ninth grade career planning workshop with families, Michael’s mom shares that the kinds of jobs her family typically had were all being automated. She’s excited that CTE credits were a graduation requirement and wants Michael to get “future-proofed” experience.

    During an interdisciplinary design exercise, Michael learns about the Shoreline Project. He became interested in how that would work and in his sophomore year applied for an externship with the Water Board. This gives him experience as part of a collaborative team, helping him demonstrate his Collaborative Problem Solver learning. He also discovered an interest in hydrology, getting a taste of what a career might be like and gaining experience that will help him apply for college, training, or an apprenticeship.

    Thanh's Story 

    Thanh is a sixth grader at Peterson Middle School and an English Language Learner. Her family recently moved here from Vietnam.

    The district-wide focus on inclusion and on equity means that each student gets what they need in order to learn, and Thanh is given various supports. Audio-enabled signage in all SCUSD spaces helps her navigate easily and learn English at the same time. She found this especially helpful at the farm where she now volunteers, gaining her service-learning credits during weekends. She has a translation device for her own use; her teachers all have basic English language learner training; and she has a bilingual mentor, an eighth grader who helped introduce her to the U.S. educational system and who gains Inclusive Empathizer experience by mentoring.

    Max's Story

    Max is pretty excited about the year 2 CTE* engineering pathway class he’ll take in his senior year at Santa Clara High School. Max will collaborate with other students to design artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced glasses that will provide just-in-time social-cues feedback to older students and adults. The project is supported by engineers at a technology firm known for its revolutionary child-development robots.

    As a second grader, Max was diagnosed with autism, and subsequently, his IEP team determined there was a need for a vetted resource to support his learning needs. He was given an AI-enhanced social-emotional learning robot, as part of the assistive technology support he received from the district. His robot helped Max practice interpersonal skills, read social cues, and build relationships with other people in a safe, comfortable environment designed for young learners with autism. As a senior, Max will bring critical lived experience as an asset to the collaborative team, thereby helping the team design better solutions for meeting the needs of students and adults with autism.

    *See glossary webpage