Environmental Leadership (EL) is core to the mission of Common Ground High School - we believe that all students can learn and lead at high levels. In addition to the thematic threads that weave through all four years at CG, students build an EL portfolio over their time here that charts their struggles, successes, growth, and impact on the community. In addition to written reflections, the sophomore year portfolio mini defense and the senior year defense are milestones along the way that involve authentic audiences for student work. The senior defense is the culmination of four years of work and focus on the student’s definition of leadership, two reflections and artifacts that demonstrate their growth as a learner and leader, their senior social justice project, and how they have impacted the Common Ground community and beyond.
Below are some reflections on the process from seniors from the class of 2017 who share the highs, lows, and opportunities for growth both in themselves and in the EL portfolio process at Common Ground.
What was the experience of writing and defending your leadership portfolio like for you?
"I enjoyed it. I learned a lot about myself and my experiences through this process. While it was a lot of work, it wasn't too difficult."
"Slightly confusing, just because I got my portfolio feedback late which was frustrating while trying to make proper revisions to my site and reflections. My actual defense was dreadful because I was so nervous and I don’t like talking about myself."
"The writing part wasn't that difficult the once when it came to presenting, it was super nerve wracking but as soon as it was over, it felt like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders."
There is consistent variety in feedback on the portfolio and defense experience. A small portion of students dislike the process from start to finish, another small group is excited from day one- and the majority of students express the very natural mix of emotions associated with an experience that is a rigorous rite of passage at our school. Despite the challenges of the journey, most students are happy with the outcome once they experience the satisfaction of completing this task with the support of peers, staff, and family.
How did it feel to describe your growth over the last number of years?
"Boring really. I'm the type of person that just wants to get a job done as its given to me, I don't care about reflection because its stopping me from completing work."
"It felt good because I wanted people to know how I grew not only as a student but as a leader for my community."
"Weird. But it was also empowering and allowed me to be very confident in the person who I've become. It was also really nice because I got to show how much I've grown to other people and I was able to be really proud of all my growth."
Seniors articulate both the frustrations and the rewards of the portfolio process. Despite the challenges they face in completing this work, the majority of students indicated that this is a practice and tradition that should be continued.
When asked specifically why the portfolio process should exist, students pointed to the benefits of reflecting on one’s high school career, the defense as an indicator of readiness to graduate, as well as suggestions for how to improve the process.
Why should we keep having CG students go through this process?
"Because it tests if they're truly ready to leave this school, it's tradition, it's not only a process it's some sort of challenge for seniors."
"It’s important to recognize changes within yourself and how your community affected you, but I don't think it should be as vital to graduating."
"It helps students to develop certain skills that they will need as they go through life such as: time management, self- discipline, confidence, and good presentation skills. It also helps students to reflect on how they have grown and the power and leadership skills that they have developed."
Finally, at the end of it all, many students are proud of both the effort they have put in and the outcome they have generated.
What are you most proud of related to this experience?
"Really showing I've impacted my community by telling my story but also the way I've worked with the school in more depth."
"Being able to feel free."
"Making a difference in my community."
"Opening up and actually expressing my growth."
For anyone looking to engage in or create an experience such as this one, remember to simply follow the advice of students who’ve made it through to the other side. Remember:
"Keep moving forward. You got this, it will be fine!"
"Make a plan to meet deadlines and checkpoints."
"Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice!"