Teaching is important and when done well very rewarding! Teaching includes a series of planned decisions and takes place in a complex social and academic environment (Shackelford and Henak, 1990). Shulman (1989) suggests that effective teachers use strategies that build upon the students’ prior knowledge and that good teaching is more than subject matter expertise plus generic methods of teaching. Teaching involves the transforming of applicable concepts in ways and terms that can be understood by the particular students we teach. It is a complex activity. To examine the richness of the teaching/learning process and to fully appreciate it, faculty must explore how they teach to a given group of students (Edgerton, 1989).
Currently, teaching or educator’s portfolios are receiving much attention as a method for faculty to examine how they teach, communicate its effectiveness, and support teaching enhancement. Seldin (1991) describes a teaching portfolio as documents and materials that collectively suggest the scope and quality of a professor’s teaching. He further suggests that a teaching portfolio is to teaching what lists of publications, grants, and honors are to scholarly productivity.
A teaching portfolio is a method for documenting one’s teaching practices and accomplishments (Shackelford, 1993). The development of a portfolio encourages faculty to examine and reflect upon their teaching by describing: (a) what they teach; (b) why they teach as they do; (c) how they teach; (d) what materials are used to support instruction; (e) the value of the strategies and materials used to student learning; (f) what students do to apply, transfer, or integrate what is learned; and (g) information regarding the quality of the teaching/learning experience. This examination of our accomplishments allows us to focus on our teaching achievements, qualities, performance, and/or practices.
I have worked with and discussed the teaching portfolio concept with hundreds of faculty across the country. From these discussions a clear picture is starting to emerge indicating that the teaching portfolio (the document) is actually secondary to the “process” of its development. In other works, the process of developing a teaching portfolio can be more beneficial than the actual portfolio. This is not to say that the teaching portfolio is not an extremely valuable document for supporting personnel, salary, and career decisions ? it is! But, its fundamental value lies in the arena of “teaching enhancement”.
The “process” of developing a portfolio involves self-reflection and introspection, a focus on the teaching/learning process, and a dialogue about teaching. This process can support teaching improvement, direct teaching enhancement efforts, and revitalize an interest in teaching. At this time no empirical data exists to support this premise. But, it is supported by subjective data and discussions with faculty who have gone through the process of portfolio development and individuals from across the country who are heavily involved with implementing the teaching portfolio concept.
A portfolio is best prepared in consultation with others (Seldin, 1991). When a portfolio is prepared with the help of others it fosters interaction and mentoring. I have prepared my own portfolio, worked with colleagues in my university, given numerous presentations, and served as a consultant at other institutions. However, the most rewarding experience (both professionally and as a teaching enhancement activity) is to have served as a portfolio mentor. I mention mentoring as a teaching enhancement activity because during the past three years I have learned more about new teaching strategies and student learning styles through the mentoring process than any other single course of information.
A portfolio mentor guides the faculty member (mentee) through the process of developing a portfolio. S/he facilitates the process, provides constructive feedback, and communicates skillfully through questioning and effective listening. This process promotes discussion about teaching and provides direction. The interaction encourages introspection, teaching enhancement, and cooperative efforts. When the dialogue is focused on the teaching/learning process (not content) it can be a powerful, enlightening, productive experience leading to improved teaching. Annis (1993) states that it is important for a mentor to support a mentee’s analysis, prioritizing of strategies and accomplishments, and valuing of their teaching actions. This support and advice is similar to the interaction and mentoring that occurs between doctoral student and an advisor during the preparation of a dissertation (Shulman, 1988).
Developing a teaching portfolio with a mentor can greatly enhance the portfolio with a mentor can greatly enhance the portfolio and its related outcomes. Many outstanding portfolios are developed each year without the assistance of a portfolio mentor or colleague. However the benefits of doing a portfolio cooperatively are becoming extremely clear. Put quite simply, “How often do you hear of negative outcomes from a discussion between colleagues about teaching??
As a communication tool for investigating and communicating teaching styles and accomplishments, one of the portfolio’s major advantages is that there are no specific requirements for preparing one. This gives faculty the opportunity to mold a document that best communicates their teaching practices and accomplishments. However, based upon their experiences, faculty who have successfully developed strong portfolios provide the following suggestions for others in the early stages of portfolio development (Shackelford, 1993):
1. You must clarify your purpose for doing a portfolio (i.e., self-improvement, promotion, tenure, etc.). A portfolio written for the purpose of self-improvement is read only by you. Whereas, a portfolio for promotion or tenure will be read by others and may require more clarity.
2. The narrative body of the teaching portfolio should be approximately six to eight pages (double spaced) in length, plus appendices (2-3 inch ring binder).
3. You must be selective and include those items that are most appropriate for communicating for teaching practices and accomplishments. Typically these items fall into three categories: (a) products of good teaching, (b) materials from oneself, and (c) information from others. As you prepare your portfolio try to maintain a balance in your materials by including appropriate examples and documentation from all three recommended categories:
Products of good teaching (i.e., student work, evidence of student learning, or ability of students to apply and/or evaluate what they have learned),
Materials from oneself (i.e., syllabi, statement of teaching philosophy or beliefs, teaching materials, methods of student assessment, or steps to improve teaching), and Information from others (i.e., student evaluations, letters, honors, or teaching related committee work).
4. Present your material in a professional manner and arrange it so that the reader can progress through it easily.
5. Consider illustrating large quantities of information graphically (i.e., a summary of student evaluations or teaching improvement other the years).
6. You may want to include selected examples of items (i.e., student comments or sample exam questions) found in the appendices in the narrative of the portfolio.
7. As you develop your teaching portfolio for self improvement or to be shared with others, be sure to examine and/or share with the reader:
a. your teaching philosophy or statement of teaching beliefs,
b. what you teach and why,
c. how you teach and with what,
d. characteristics or behaviors that make you an effective teacher,
e. the value of our teaching actions or strategies to student learning,
f. activities or experiences you use to encourage students to apply, transfer, integrate, or evaluate what they have learned,
g. what students and/or peers say about your teaching,
h. how you stay current in your field and enhance your teaching effectiveness and how these activities have been integrated into your teaching, and
i. your future teaching goals and enhancement efforts.
8. Collect/maintain records or materials that could be used in the appendices to document teaching (i.e., student evaluations, products of good teaching, letters, or peer evaluations).
9. Remember, the appendices may include non-print items such as photos of student work or videos of your teaching or student activities/productions.
By examining one’s own philosophy, beliefs, and teaching practices and accomplishments one can gain great insights into their teaching. One the basis of the reflective practices and discussions about teaching (i.e., the heart of the “teaching portfolio processes?), faculty often sense a revitalized interest in teaching and establish future goals for self-improvement and teaching enhancement activities.
Teaching portfolios can capture the complexities of teaching, promote reflective practices, and foster a culture of teaching and a new discourse about it (Edgerton, 1991). When one senior, tenured, full professor was asked, “Why did they do a teaching portfolio?? He replied, “My Students! My students! I like to think that I am a good teach, but I knew that there had to be some things that I could be better. The process of developing the teaching portfolio helped me realize what they were and to identify future goals and a plan to work on them. I now find teaching even more rewarding.?
Annis, L. (1993). The key role of the mentor, In P. Seldin Successful use of teaching portfolios (pp. 19-26), Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P. & Quinlan, K. (1991). The teaching portfolio: Capturing the scholarship in teaching. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.
Edgerton, R. (1989). Report from the president. AAHE Bulletin, 41 (10): 8-13.
Seldin, P. (1991). The Teaching Portfolio. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
Shackelford, R. (1993, February) Mentoring: Key to Successful Portfolio Development. Paper presented at the 1993 National symposium on Improving Teaching Quality (Texas A&M University), San Antonio, Texas.
Shackelford, R. (1992, April). Teaching Portfolios: How to Use Them. Paper presented at the Teaching Fellows Conference (Lilly Foundation), Callaway Gardens, GA.
Shackelford, R. and Henak, R. (1991) Enhancing Teaching Effectiveness, Ball State University, Muncie, IN.
Shulman, L. (1989). Toward a pedagogy of substance. AAHE Bulletin 41 (10): 8-13.
Shulman L. (1988). A Union of insufficiencies: Strategies for teacher assessment in a period of education reform. Educational Leadership 46(3):36-41.