One of the oldest traditions at the Girls’ School of Austin is the end-of-year Self-Portrait Show. Each May in the MUB, our students display the self-portraits they have created and peruse the works of their GSA sisters. Parents, family members, and faculty also join this enriching experience, seeing how our students choose to capture themselves—smiling, staring us down, looking up, looking down, close up, zoomed out. Each visage tells us something about that child in a singular moment.
At the Self-Portrait Show, Eighth Graders showcase not only the current year’s piece, but all the self-portraits they completed in their time at the GSA. We witness a visual autobiography of each child— a story of skill development and personal growth over time. Last May, I noticed how our Eighth Grade artists progressed from attempting to reproduce their mirror images with microscopic precision to painting more intimate, metaphorical representations of how they want others to see them. By the time each student reached the end of their GSA journey, they elevated their stories and asserted who they have become, discontent with the notion that “what you see [in the mirror] is what you get.”
Our teachers and staff also have a story to tell about our students. All of us who lead the GSA anchor our work in the mission, vision, and values of our school, and our goal of “developing confident young women who lead intellectually vibrant and fulfilling lives” is one we take to heart. Sometimes, we have difficulty imagining what that goal will look like when each girl stands up at graduation to give her parting speech.
But last year, the faculty and staff took on the challenge of defining exactly that: the Portrait of the GSA Graduate. Back in January, we started the process of describing the knowledge, skills, and understanding that we strive to instill in our students. We explored and examined what we teach and why we teach it, the resources we draw from, the subjects, sub-topics, and details we convey, and the habits of minds we cultivate.
In subsequent faculty meetings throughout the semester, we discussed everything from approaches to pedagogy (i.e., teaching methods) to the value of interdisciplinary curriculum. All the conversations were rooted in the GSA mission, and we were looking to answer the question: “If we are teaching to our mission, what will our graduate take with her into her next school, her next adventure, and her whole life?”
By the end of the 2022-2023 school year, small groups of faculty and staff had drafted separate possibilities for our Portrait of the GSA Graduate. And when we returned to campus in August, our work continued. Several themes had emerged in all of our drafts, including: relationships, perspective-taking, learning and knowledge, expression and voice, self-awareness, risk-taking, service, leadership, problem solving, and creativity. We then summarized each theme and created visuals to go along with them.
I’m excited to share with you the final rendering of the Portrait of the GSA Graduate, which some of you got to see at last week’s Coffee and Conversations. We are excited to have this new tool for articulating our mission in action. Not only will it be posted on the GSA website, it will also be included in admissions materials, and sent to the high schools our students apply to.
In addition, we plan to share the Portrait with our students. We want them to understand why we do what we do every day at the GSA. And when we walk through the Self-Portrait Show this Spring, our students will share with us who they are and how they see themselves, and we will see all the ways they are growing, learning, and—like our Portrait of the Graduate—being shaped by the GSA mission.
Rebecca E. Yacono