Portfolio and Growth
By Helen Coltrinari & Dr. Lyn Sharratt
Look around you today - people appear to travel with half their lives attached to their backs; the ubiquitous knapsack! As humans, we feel compelled to move from place to place with an enduring record of what we have done and what we are about to do. We demonstrate this need in our personal lives by tracking major events with photos, scrapbooks, collections, slide shows or refrigerator magnets! Personal acquisitions attest to our interest over the years from Pet Rocks to Pokmon cards!
A more formal tracking occurs in a variety of professions: artists, architects, landscape designers or engineers amass collections of their work; lawyers have a record of cases won (or lost); managers write performance appraisals; dentists keep on-going records.
But how do we track teacher growth and development? There are no report cards for teachers though there may be some form of evaluative processes carried out by school administrators for their teachers. One of the few triggers which prompt the collecting of demonstrations of personal achievements occurs if we are seeking new employment or promotion.
The "why" of portfolios:
In a recent TVOntario professional development video, Dr. Lyn Sharratt explored the use of the professional portfolio for educators. She states that collecting data for a teaching portfolio:
- captures the complexities of actual teaching
- promotes new conversation about teaching
- develops authentic evaluation
- creates concrete evidence of teaching that can be used for development or promotion and tenure
- becomes a foundation for change for individuals, colleagues, departments, faculties and organizations
- re-examines hiring and promotion processes
- encourages review and evaluation of the reward process for teaching
- develops individual responsibility for the process and the product
- has the potential to create a culture in which "thoughtful discourse" about teaching becomes the norm
- creates a record over time by documenting the development or "unfolding of expertise" in teaching
In addition to the above points, professional teaching portfolios allow educators to authentically document their own competence, organization, skill and creativity. Portfolios become a record of on-going assessment and feedback. They create a self-portrait of achievements as the years unfold, allow for reflection and growth, create an opportunity for meaningful dialogue with colleagues or supervisors and form a framework for career advancement. In addition, they serve as a model for students. It is important for students to see that their teachers also keep portfolios
The "how" of portfolios:
According to Dr. Sharratt's research, it is important that the portfolio reflect personal beliefs. To be effective the portfolio should be a reflection and not a scrapbook! All items must be thoughtfully selected as demonstrations of capacity, denotative of pedagogical beliefs and indicative of leadership ability. It is imperative to review the contents annually and to cull for appropriateness.
"Reflect, collect, select." Says Dr. Sharratt.
The "what" of portfolios:
- Through her own research and readings, Dr. Sharratt suggests the following content:
- Philosophy: a statement of beliefs and vision
- Resume: up-to-date and brief
- Official documents: certificates, awards
- Growth plan: incorporates future goals
- Student-focused leadership: goals for students of tomorrow
- Curriculum leadership: examples of writing
- Samples of effective communication
- Demonstrations of effective use of technology
- Reflections: analyses of teaching and learning
The portfolio should be seen as a "living" documentation of yearly growth. In consideration of the reader, it is wise to apply the "less is more" approach.
Creativity is important as well; therefore, it is recommended to organize the content in a format that displays the richness and complexity of teaching.
The "benefits" of portfolios:
The rewards of keeping a professional portfolio will be many. Besides causing the reflection necessary to gather the data, educators will benefit from seeing:
- visible evidence of leadership experience
- awareness of strengths and weaknesses
- increase in self-confidence
Dr. Sharratt also explores the effect of the professional portfolio on the reader. "A thoughtful well-organized portfolio gives reviewers important information" about:
- Leadership strengths
- Professional values and ethics
- Problem-solving ability
- Organizational and communication ability
- Objectivity about self that might not otherwise be revealed in an interview or evaluation situation.
These strong recommendations seem to beg a question: if assembling a professional portfolio brings all of these rewards, why aren't more of us doing it? Time is always cited as the greatest challenge; however, while striving to improve our practice and rethink priorities, we may take comfort in Wolf's (1996, 34) statement:
"Although portfolios can be time-consuming to construct and cumbersome to review, they also can capture the complexities of professional practice in ways that no other approach can. Not only are they an effective way to assess teaching quality, but they also provide teachers with opportunities for self-reflection and collegial interactions based on documented episodes of their own teaching."
Wolf, K. "Developing an Effective Teacher Portfolio", Educational Leadership Journal, Vol. 53, #6, March 1996.
About the Authors
Helen Coltrinari is the Head of Professional Development and Accreditation at TVO.
Dr. Lyn Sharratt is a Superintendent with the York Region District Board of Education.
For more information on TVO's Professional Development initiatives visit the Web site at: www.tvo.org online
Réflexions - February/février 2000 Vol. 19 No. 1