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March/April 2014

Using teaching portfolios to full potential
By Sherrie Pardieck and Zac Chatterton

Sherrie Pardiek is an associate professor of teacher education at Bradley University in Peoria, and Zac Chatterton is principal of Dunlap Middle School.

Many colleges and universities have incorporated professional teaching portfolios into their teacher education programs, but do school administrators use these portfolios to their full advantage? Teacher education programs are required to use the Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA) portfolio. A new mandate specifies that in order to be licensed, pre-service teachers must complete a professional teaching portfolio while student teaching. Since these portfolios will be completed by all new teachers, it is important to determine if and how school administrators are using them.

Portfolios are an authentic, performance-based assessment representing a prospective teacher’s knowledge and skills in the school environment. Educators document teaching experiences, connect meaning, and identify improvement practices for classroom instruction. Portfolios promote open discourse and visually display professional growth and development.

During a systematic survey in 2011, we asked Central Illinois administrators about the perceived value and use of teaching portfolios. The study showed that principals valued their contents and considered them beneficial for outlining teachers’ professional development, with 83.3 percent of the principals surveyed agreeing that portfolios provide evidence of organization and planning skills, classroom teaching, technology skills, and reflective practices.

They agreed that teachers should continue to record their professional development in portfolios throughout their career, and 89.7 percent of administrators said prospective teachers should provide access to teaching portfolios during job interviews, with 46.7 percent of administrators saying they found evaluating teaching portfolios useful when hiring new teachers and 30 percent said portfolios supported their hiring decisions.

Use of Teaching Portfolios
When principals hire new teachers, they review resumes, call references, read the cooperating teacher's letter of reference, look for self-confidence, and consider past teaching experiences. They ask questions about hypothetical and difficult teaching situations, professional development plans, how the teacher works with parents, and the teacher's behavior management system. They average three and a half interviews with a prospective teacher.

Teaching portfolios can help candidates share their teaching skills, beliefs, and instructional practices. Items in the portfolios are visuals that aid discussion during the interview. Prospective teachers can use these items to answer questions showing how they organized and developed lessons, solved problems, taught, analyzed, and reflected on their teaching and learning processes.

Portfolios should be concise and highlight the teacher's best work, so the administrator can spend 10 or 15 minutes reading the portfolio. If interested, the school administrator may spend more time later reviewing the information. Teachers should be selective about which materials to include, highlighting important teaching beliefs, strategies, and accomplishments.

A teaching portfolio usually includes:

• A statement of philosophy about teaching and learning

• lesson plans

• Videotape of teaching activity

• Copies of teacher evaluations

• Credentials ,Transcripts, Letters of recommendation, state testing information and type of licensure

• classroom management techniques and intervention practices

• learning projects

• teacher and family interactions

• assessment tools

• samples of students’ work to show outcomes

• evidence of self-assessment or reflection

• a professional development plan

Other skill areas administrators can take into consideration while examining the teacher’s portfolio are:

• writing

• organization

• planning

• methods and strategies

• application of learning

• improvement practices

• technology

Technology is an important area of expertise, so e-portfolios illuminate teachers’ instructional knowledge and skills, as well as their computer literacy. All of these areas invite discussion during the interview. Using the portfolios, school administrators should find answers to questions like:

• What is your educational philosophy?

• what are your professional development plans?

• Where do you see yourself five years from now?

• What was one of your favorite teaching units?

• How have you incorporated best practice into your instruction?

• How do you incorporate reflection with teaching and learning?

• Where is a sample of your writing skill?

• How did you use technology with students in the classroom?

Using questions, directly linked to the contents of portfolios, helps administrators make objective hiring decisions.

Our study found that administrators agreed portfolios reflect a teacher’s knowledge of current educational terminology and classroom instructional practices. And they believe they should have access to professional portfolios during interviews for teaching positions and teachers should be documenting their teaching and learning information in a portfolio. School administrators found value in the contents of professional teaching portfolios and consider them beneficial for identifying the professional development of educators. They concurred that teachers should continue to document their professional development in portfolios throughout their career. Portfolios can enhance interview processes and support hiring decisions.

School board members might want to ask administrators about their use of teaching portfolios during hiring and evaluation processes to ascertain if they are taking full advantage of the ready availability of this data.

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