The Teaching Portfolio: Stretching those Design and Cognition Muscles

Recently, my department was tasked with a goal that left a few of us filled with a bit of anxiety (as it does most teachers when asked to take on this task)–our goal for the new year is to create or revise an online teaching portfolio. While most teachers are expected to have a completed portfolio they can call up at a moment’s notice, that portfolio is generally in print form and lacks the interactivity that is possible with today’s technology. So, I was excited to tackle this project and expand my already existing mini-portfolio to a full-fledged site with samples, student work, videos, images, and lesson plans. Here is the first draft of my site. It’s technically “live” though not being fully promoted as it is not complete.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 3.45.25 PM

Note: I removed the curriculum section from the published site as it is not yet complete.

I had to ask and answer a few questions in developing this project: what is a teaching portfolio? Why do teachers need a teaching portfolio? What purpose does it serve new and experience teachers? What makes a good teaching portfolio?

What is a teaching portfolio?

While a resume or curriculum vitae is a part of a strong portfolio, it is not a replacement. Unlike a cv, a teaching portfolio focuses on communicating a teacher’s pedagogical vision, his or her range of expertise and experience, his or her teaching methods, the level of the teacher’s effectiveness at facilitating learning, and methods for assessing and improving teaching.

“While dissertation abstracts and research summaries document your expertise in research, the teaching portfolio documents your expertise in teaching.” (Source)

Why does a teacher need a teaching portfolio?

Teaching is a profession that requires lifelong practice, learning, and evolution. A teaching portfolio not only allows viewers to see how your approach has grown through experience, trial and error, and the use of metrics, but it also gives you as a teacher the opportunity to objectively consider how your experience and approach have aided you in achieving your goal–facilitating learning. The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis gives a few more reasons for the use of portfolios:

A Teaching Portfolio is a useful tool that can help you (Source):

  • develop, clarify, and reflect on your teaching philosophy, methods, and approaches
  • present teaching credentials for hiring and promotion in an academic position
  • document professional development in teaching
  • identify areas for improvement
  • prepare for the interview process

So, a strong portfolio can help you land a job, a promotion, or related position within academia. It can also help you focus on the same kind of self-reflection and analysis you ask your students to engage in every day!

“Portfolios have much to offer the teaching profession,” writes Dr. Kenneth Wolf, of the University of Colorado. “When teachers carefully examine their own practices, those practices are likely to improve. The examples of accomplished practice that portfolios provide also can be studied and adapted for use in other classrooms.”  (Source)

What makes for a good teaching portfolio?

First of all, a teaching portfolio should be summative and selective, not broad and comprehensive. Instead of cramming every detail of one’s educational career into a portfolio, a teacher should instead selectively choose material that supports the main and universal component of a strong portfolio–a clear teaching philosophy. A teaching philosophy is in this case the big idea; it communicates who a teacher is as a professional and why he or she does what you does. The rest of the content fluctuates depending on a source, but in general, a strong teaching portfolio includes the following in addition to a philosophy:

  • Goals as an educator
  • Tracing of one’s development as an educator
  • Lesson plans and instructional methods
  • Methods of assessing student work and success
  • Course materials (syllabi, activities, assignments)
  • Student work examples
  • Evaluations from students, colleagues, and supervisors
  • Evidence of professional development
  • Video/photographic evidence of teaching

George David Clark of The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses three tips for a successful portfolio in his 2012 article on the subject. According to Clark, in developing a portfolio, a teacher should focus on organizing to minimize. By providing the target audience with a clear organizational structure and cutting content that doesn’t support that structure, a teacher can ensure that one clear message regarding theory and approach to instruction is being communicated. In addition, a strong teaching portfolio should clearly chart a teacher’s development and maturation as a professional.  Clark states that the “format of a teaching portfolio allows job seekers to connect the dots and even briefly describe the thought process that led them to try new things in the classroom.” Teachers can use the linear structure of a portfolio to help their audience understand where they’ve been and where they are going as educators. Finally, Clark suggests focusing on the student as a measurement of success. Something he suggested that I’d like to adapt is making reference to letters of recommendation students have written on behalf of a teacher that led to that student earning a position at a school or with a company. I’d love to get a sense from past students of how they use the skills they learned in class. These could be integrated while still maintaing the students’ privacy in an online portfolio.

You know I have to add a few design-based dos to this list…

  • Do create an easy to navigate site for your online portfolio
    • This is, I feel, the area I need the most work in–the way the information is in my head is not the way others might understand it.
  • Don’t use a template; remix existing design but make it your own
    • There’s nothing worse than an unoriginal teacher (ever have to teach someone else’s class–I don’t mean substitute necessarily here, but use someone else’s materials to reach something! So difficult!)….
    • …except for a teacher who steals. Be inspired by what you see more experienced web folks doing, but iterate that inspiration.
  • Use relevant visual support
    • While a print resume is by nature text-driven, you have the entire “mystery box” that is the web to draw from. Don’t rely on text only to communicate your message. Recall that text alone helps your audience retain far less information than text and image together (Source).
  • Make it interactive
    • Create a dynamic portfolio with text, audio, and visual to maximize your message.
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