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The Portrait of a Tarrier

CWA identifies a specific set of characteristics to develop in every student

by Joanna Manning

When CWA alumnus Scott Case ’94 saw that all 12 members of the engineering team at his start-up EnergySavvy were men, he realized he was not doing enough to promote diversity in the tech industry (four of the 12 were even named Dan, he quipped). As someone who enjoys solving “big, gnarly problems,” he decided to tackle this diversity issue head-on and develop the talent himself. In 2013 he cofounded Ada Developers Academy specifically to provide more opportunities for female, nonbinary, and gender-diverse candidates to be software engineers. Today, fully half of EnergySavvy’s engineers are women. Scott did not have to compromise on his commitment to diversity in his own company; instead, he felt compelled to solve an additional problem along the way.

Charles Wright graduates do not shy away from those “big, gnarly problems,” and Scott is not alone among CWA alumni in being a change agent in his field. The liberal arts and spirit of inquiry that have always been hallmarks of a Charles Wright education has prepared generations of students to take on the most pressing issues they will face in their lives, communities, and careers.

Since the first class convened in 1957, Tarriers have been encouraged to solve problems, to think deeply, to collaborate respectfully, to be stewards of their communities, and to find joy in pursuit of their passions.

When Greg Bamford arrived on campus in the summer of 2018 to assume the role of Associate Head of School, he wanted to build on that foundation of excellence by developing an educational philosophy that would intentionally foster the traits that have made Charles Wright graduates stand out among their peers. He assembled a committee of faculty and staff to begin work on a framework known as the Portrait of a Graduate.

“A Portrait of a Graduate is a shared vision of the qualities a school aspires to develop in its students,” Mr. Bamford explained. “So our Portrait of a Tarrier asks us all to think about what skills, mindsets, and habits a Charles Wright graduate should have.”

Read more about how our 2019 graduates exemplify the characteristics identified in the Portrait of a Tarrier

The committee included faculty and staff from all three divisions. Upper School math teacher Leon Phillips, fourth grade teacher Carrie Cherek, third grade teacher Matt Weiner, Lower School Administrative Assistant and Registrar Mandy Marcellis, Art Director Amy Senftleben, Upper School science teacher Jon Lamoreux, Middle School history teacher Jenise Petrich, and Mr. Bamford were involved in drafting the document, and every employee contributed ideas and feedback.

Ms. Cherek noted that the skills highlighted in the Portrait of a Tarrier are designed to intersect with other elements of the school’s vision. “The portrait connects with our mission and values to show what our students will accomplish during their time here and what they will take with them to be successful and make a positive impact on the world in the future,” she said.

Crafting an enduring philosophy that could withstand the rapid changes of the modern world, addressing skills for jobs that likely have not yet been invented, was no small undertaking. The process began in the fall of 2018, when parents and guardians were asked two essential questions that would guide the committee’s work: “What is your hope for your child’s future?” and, “What would you like your child to be able to do when they graduate?”

The committee reviewed responses and analyzed the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report,” which predicted that skills such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration would be among the most sought-after by employers in coming decades. Drawing from those sources and portions of Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators, the committee drafted a list of essential attributes for Charles Wright graduates and took it to the larger faculty for review.

When the Portrait of a Tarrier evolved into its final form, the community had identified six key attributes of a Charles Wright student: thinker, communicator, collaborator, innovator, explorer, and steward. Faculty and leadership can now look to this to help guide their work. “The portrait will allow us to design curriculum that develops these qualities, reflect on our experiences, and assess our progress toward common goals,” Ms. Cherek said.

Mr. Phillips agreed. “The Portrait of a Tarrier gives me a much clearer guiding framework for reasoning through both new and even current lesson plans,” he said. “For example, a project that I use with my math modeling course requires that students create a presentation regarding one of a variety of math topics for a fictional corporation. How the student conveys that information is up for negotiation with the “boss.” Depending on how the student approaches the project will directly improve their thinker, collaborator, and explorer traits to different levels.”

While the attributes listed in the portrait have been designed to be enduring, the competencies involved in developing those attributes can be flexible, giving teachers the freedom to adapt to changing technologies and career prospects over time. Broadly, however, the philosophy will be a vital tool in curricular planning.

“The portrait is aspirational, but it also gives us a tool for auditing our curriculum,” said Director of Educational Technology Holly Gerla, who was part of the academic leadership team that reviewed the final proposal. “As we review, refine, or develop new lessons, units, or even entire courses, it provides a roadmap guiding us toward the universal skills and mindsets we are hoping to build in our students no matter the content. This helps ensure that Charles Wright students receive a high-quality educational experience no matter what passions they pursue.”

The Portrait of a Tarrier was designed to work in concert with the mission statement and the institutional values of compassion, perseverance, respect, integrity, and excellence. Fifth grade teacher Carie Ward illustrates how projects can be shaped by these strategic planning tools:

“After visiting the many monuments of Washington D.C., fifth grade students completed a design-thinking project in which they designed monuments for each other’s heroes. In the beginning, they thought they were going to design for themselves. The first step was for each student to brainstorm people (living or deceased, famous or in their family) who are heroes to them. Then, they worked in pairs to interview each other and develop empathy for their “client” and how they experienced their hero. Next, they designed several possible monuments (including at least two that were bold, brave—even outlandish—deas). They presented their proposals to their partners, who gave feedback, and then they created a mock-up of a final design honoring their classmate’s hero. We had a project proposal fair, and students voted on the most creative, expressive, informative, and engaging monument proposals.”


+  Asks great questions

+  Evaluates evidence critically

+  Considers multiple perspectives

+  Draws conclusions rooted in evidence and sound logic

+  Reconsiders their thinking in light of new information

+  Able to move between and connect disciplines


+  Communicates in many different forms

+  Practices effective listening

+  Expresses ideas clearly

+  Taps into their unique voice and perspective

+  Communicates effectively for varied purposes and audiences


+  Works effectively with others to achieve goals

+  Knows how to lead, how to share leadership, and how to follow

+  Builds on the ideas of others

+  Engages in healthy conflict

+  Understands their impact on others

+  Builds strong connections with others


+  Identifies needs and opportunities

+  Applies existing tools to new problems

+  Builds on existing ideas

+  Develops original work

+  Solves problems creatively

+  Turns a vision into reality


+  Gets curious about new challenges and opportunities

+  Translates curiosity into self-directed action

+  Takes appropriate risks

+  Seeks to understand others’ experiences

+  Able to shift cultural perspectives as appropriate

+  Learns from failure


+  Takes responsibility for their impact on the world around them

+  Works to make their communities a better place

+  Takes action for the welfare of others

+  Cares for their own health, energy, and well-being

+  Driven by a vision for change

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