Lakota’s Portrait of a Graduate our District’s ‘North Star’ 

Portrait of a Lakota Graduate graphic“Describe the ideal Lakota Graduate.” It started with that simple request. If everything WE do is designed to create a future-ready, student centered learning experience, then we should start with the end in mind. We had to know the skills, characteristics and attributes we want to develop in EVERY Lakota graduate so they can successfully explore one of our 4 Es - Employment, Enrollment, Enlistment, or Entrepreneurship. This was the genesis of the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate. 

Over the past 18 months, we have met with hundreds of stakeholders to get their input on that very important question. We held sessions with students, teachers, administrators, business owners, parents, Chamber of Commerce members, elected officials, and even college admissions officers to clarify exactly what would be included in our Portrait. Board member Lynda O’Connor reiterated the importance of community engagement along the way. “I believe it is part of being accountable to our community to seek their input and provide a clear standard of expectations and skills our students will walk out the door with.” 

We borrowed resources from Portrait of a Graduate, curated with ideas from a growing number of school districts who know that a high school transcript and standardized test scores are not the full measure of student success. We narrowed down the list of desirable skills from 22 to 13 to 8 and then to 6, wordsmithing and graphic designing along the way.

We have designed what we hope to be a “north star” for our school district - a guide that can help inform our instructional and programming decisions in the future. The Portrait of a Lakota Graduate is a two-sided document that keeps our students at the center and describes the skills, attributes and characteristics that lead our students to success in one of the 4 Es. 

As Kara Yates, Assistant Principal at Union Elementary said, “For so long now, we’ve asked kids, “What do you want to be (when you grow up)?”. I believe it’s just as important to ask, “Who do you want to be?” The Portrait of a Lakota Graduate helps to bridge the two questions. It allows our students to go from knowing themselves as letter grades to knowing themselves as well-rounded individuals. At the elementary level, we plan to use the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate competencies as a part of our day-to-day conversations and self-reflections in order to empower our students to think critically, overcome adversity, show empathy & compassion, and ultimately, be good citizens.”

When we talked about implementing the Portrait of a Graduate we were cautious to not have it seen as “one more thing,” but rather a lens through which to view the daily work our teachers do with students. This year, we have designed professional learning activities for principals and teachers to understand the Portrait and find natural connections between what they currently do and the skills highlighted in the Portrait. According to Michelle Day, English teacher at West, “The Portrait of a Lakota graduate is a vital roadmap for, if not the chief purpose of, education in Lakota Local Schools.”  She and other teachers see the Portrait as a great model for connecting real world learning to the everyday activities in class.  

In order to meet the #WEarePersonalized and #WEareFutureReady pillars of our Strategic Plan, every student needs to understand how they can demonstrate skills in all of the areas on the Portrait. While classroom instruction will evolve to better reflect these critical skills, some of the greatest opportunity for change can be in the assessment of learning.  

We believe strongly in real world learning, where the mastery of critical content standards is demonstrated in ways that more closely resemble work in the real world. Project based learning is a model for teams of students to solve real problems for authentic audiences. Student-led conferences give students an opportunity to talk about their strengths, challenges, and future aspirations - while practicing many of the Portrait skills. 

Students can work toward presenting personalized capstone portfolios tied to the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate. As Meghan Roddy, a special education teacher said, “In all of my classes, I am always connecting their ability to take information in and produce the best outcome from it - whether that be academically, personally, or both. We also discussed the importance of failure in the learning process and how this can be used to in turn to build self confidence in our students.”  

All of these practices take time and have to be implemented well and with proper resources, but the feedback from so many of the people we have shared the Portrait with is that this is exactly the kind of work that we want our students to be doing. 

We are excited to share the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate and use this “north star” to inform instruction, personalize learning, and prepare students for their future success in one of the four Es. We believe this can be a real differentiator for our Lakota students as they graduate and make their way into an ever-changing, and highly competitive world.  

Keith Koehne is Lakota's Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction. His experience as both an administrator and teacher spans 24 years. You can connect with him on Twitter @Lakota_Learning or at

Posted by On 15 November, 2019 at 4:07 PM  

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