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Using "portraiture" to inform education design and disruption

Session 5
Grace Greenwald — Workshop School

Workshop U is a new college program where students develop a vision for what they want their life to look like now and the skill set to make that vision a reality. Through this process, students earn competency based college credits, complete at least one paid internship per year and receive personalized coaching to ensure they thrive along the way. This first year pilot is serving as a lab that will provide the learnings to ultimately grow Workshop U into a degree bearing program. HOW DO WE gather, measure and learn from meaningful data to inform our design and iteration?

'Portraiture' is a unique form of qualitative research that has potential to reimagine how we measure impact, collect impact data, and use data for design work in school settings. Portraiture shares some features of other research methods –– ethnography, case study, narrative –– but it is distinctive in its blending of aesthetics and empiricism in an effort to capture the complexity, dynamics, and subtlety of human experience and organizational life.

Portraiture first came to prominence through the works of Dr. Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, who created the method to better document the culture of schools and school communities. Her works of portraiture have been used as breakthrough research in the education field. For example, her work The Good High School (which, in "disavowing the negative, absolutist tone of much school criticism, she suggests that high schools should shape their images by the more realistic standard of a "good enough" school, not by setting minimum requirements but by recognizing and addressing "imperfections, uncertainties, and vulnerabilities."") was used as a narrative blueprint for hosts of school redesigns.

Portraiture says: for educators to be able to feel a school come alive in writing… to really understand the human mechanisms and moods of it, is what tips research over the edge to actually translate to new practice. Portraiture has the opportunity to hold both rigor and accessibility in hand. To make the intangibles of good schools legible and replicable to others in a way that traditional qualitative or quantitative approaches, which can flatten and blur the texture of school culture and pedagogy, cannot.

We will discuss 'portraiture' and its methods, discuss the utility and limitations for use in school settings, and using Workshop U as a case study, look at examples of portraiture being captured to understand the efficacy of a new school's pilot year.

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Our conversation will anchor on a few essential questions that will engage small groups and then be shared in a large group format. How do progressive educators

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