Why Graduate Profiles Feel Wrong


Let’s face it. Every school’s graduate profile sounds the same these days.

“Lifelong learner”

“Global citizen”

“Able and willing to make a difference”


You know the drill. All worthy aspirations for our students, and for what we want to help them become. All schools engage in conversations about these end goals, the programs and pedagogy that will get them there, what measures if any will provide feedback on whether the goals have been met, and how the school is doing over time at producing its product. That’s standard, responsible practice, right?

I’ve been involved in creating graduate profiles several times, and while it feels like a worthy exercise, it always feels like something is missing.

We ask: Do we not have the right descriptors? Have we worded them optimally? Do we have the right graphic to convey them? Are they in the right order? We fuss over the minutiae searching for perfection, because it is such an important thing to describe who we want our students to become. These are lives we are dealing with, after all.

So why does it never feel right? Because it’s the wrong paradigm.

It’s a deficiency mindset.

There are two ways of looking at education. The standard lens is that our children are missing something, that they need to acquire it, and that we need to give it to them—that they need to be shaped and molded to our vision of what they should become. Most education operates within this paradigm.

The other is that the job of education is to support the unique strengths and gifts of each child, and to support them in growing from there. This isn’t to say that there is nothing adults can offer to children. We can help them become the best versions of themselves, and we can do that thoughtfully and skillfully, by structuring our efforts and our environment around that sacred duty.

So if you have been struggling with your graduate profile, the problem may not be in the details. It may be with the paradigm itself. If that’s the case, I encourage you to build it from the other direction, and talk about who your students are, not who they will become. Focus your attention to the present, and trust that it’s just what it needs to be to move to a bright future.

Our students are…Exactly who they need to be at this moment

Build your program around that.

By the way, this is the latest installment of my Changing Education Paradigms series. The tally currently stands at:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
  4. We need to approach education by building on strengths, instead of correcting deficiencies.

Special thanks to Jenifer Fox and Yong Zhao for their excellent work on strength-based and emergent education. I don’t know if either have specifically addressed graduate profiles, and should note the views above may not represent their views on the subject. Thanks also to colleagues Glenn Chickering and Dan Kinzer for insightful conversation on why graduate profiles feel hollow.

Further reading:

Your Child’s Strengths: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Jenifer Fox

World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students by Yong Zhao

Published by Aaron Eden

What's your Give? I think that is a critical question in everything we do. What value are we creating? The core of my work is educating for a sustainable future. Value-oriented learning. Community-integrated learning. Social entrepreneurship. Emergent, inquiry-driven, entrepreneurial learning. I've spent the last 20 years designing and facilitating face-to-face and online learning experiences and co-creative processes that help individuals and organizations develop the skills and attributes to transform themselves and the world. I have extensive experience in instructional and learning experience design, innovation, and technology spaces.

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