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Developing a teaching portfolio

How to document your pedagogical profile

by Cynthia Weston and Julie Timmermans

Teaching portfolios (or teaching dossiers) have become important in the application process, and essential in the promotion and tenure processes, at many universities. In this article, we discuss the purpose of the teaching portfolio and provide suggestions for what to include and how to organize it to best highlight your teaching experience.

Definition and purpose

Consider the following standards for excellence in scholarship (Glassick, Huber, & Maeroff, 1997):

  • Thorough knowledge of the field
  • Clear goals and purposes
  • Use of appropriate methods and procedures
  • Use of resources in an effective and creative way
  • Significant results
  • Good communication and quality of expression

These familiar standards are most often applied to research, but are equally true of teaching. If teaching is to be part of our scholarship, then, like research, it must be made visible through artifacts and judged according to scholarly standards (e.g., Edgerton, Hutchings, & Quinlan, 1991; Shulman, 1993).

Teaching portfolios provide a mechanism for presenting such artifacts. They are a concise compilation of selected information that documents the effectiveness, scope, complexity and individuality of an instructor's teaching. They link experiences chronologically and are formatted and organized so that this progression is obvious to the reader.

Universities are incorporating teaching portfolios into their polices and practices for a number of reasons. First, it emphasizes commitment to teaching as a valued and rewarded scholarly activity. Second, the process of creating a portfolio prompts reflection on our understanding of what constitutes teaching and documents this broad range of activities with artifacts beyond course evaluations. A third goal is to foster on-going dialogues about teaching, helping to overcome the isolation often associated with teaching (Shulman, 1993).

Choosing and structuring content

A crucial point to remember when beginning and maintaining a portfolio is how difficult it can be to reconstruct the past without artifacts. Therefore, the most important thing to do immediately is to begin collecting materials: keep a record of your involvements, update your CV regularly, and keep annual reports.

Much of what is suggested below for inclusion in the teaching portfolio is drawn from 13 years of experience helping others use the McGill Teaching Portfolio Guidelines. While these guidelines outline a fairly common approach based in the literature, it is important to recognize that universities vary in their specific requirements. (Please see the "Links to Teaching Portfolio Resources" included in the sidebar)

We conceive of the teaching portfolio in two parts: a teaching statement and appendices.

The teaching statement

The teaching statement tells the story of your teaching achievement. If the Teaching Portfolio is being used for promotion and tenure, this is the place to make a convincing case for judging your teaching as "acceptable" or "superior" (or whatever the terminology is at your institution).

It should be short. The purpose is to lead the reader to understand your teaching development and contributions. We use four sections.

1. Teaching approach

A description of your teaching approach, (often called "teaching philosophy"), explains the intentional nature of teaching and supervision. Writing this helps clarify your own thinking and helps readers interpret the portfolio. Here, you might explain the priorities and beliefs that guide your approach, the learning goals you have for your students, the rationale for using particular teaching methods, reasons for evaluating learning the way you do, and plans for future teaching.

We have found that it is often easiest for instructors to begin this section by first describing how they teach or would teach, and then explaining why they teach or would teach this way. Another way to begin is to think about teaching as a metaphor. Do you think about your teacher role as a performer, sage on the stage, guide on the side, orchestra conductor, parent, coach, gardener? Try to find an image that resonates with you and excavate it. It might provide valuable insight into your approach. Use it to describe the role you see for yourself as the teacher, the roles of the learners, and the role of the subject matter (e.g., Weimer, 2002). Throughout your portfolio, consider highlighting the ways in which you implement your metaphor. (Chism 1997-1998 provides useful suggestions for developing a teaching philosophy.)

2. Teaching responsibilities

A second section could summarize your different teaching activities, with a description of your primary role and contribution. Here, you can refer the reader to your curriculum vitae or to the appendices for more details.

If you are a graduate student applying for an academic position, such responsibilities might include teaching assistantships, tutoring, workshops on teaching development or improvement, peer or student mentoring, evidence of seeking expert advice on teaching, any non-academic teaching experiences and accreditation.

If you are a professor presenting a dossier for promotion or tenure, then the summary should include courses taught, level, enrolment, and format; graduate students supervised (theses, internships); undergraduates supervised (theses, projects). Optional information to include could be new courses and curriculum developed, teaching assistants/graders mentored, graduate student teacher training, and teaching committee involvement.

3. Evidence of effective teaching and supervision

It is also important to summarize evidence that will help the reader evaluate the effectiveness and the progression of your teaching. You could present that numerical data, such as course evaluations, in a table with average individual ratings, as well as average ratings for your department or faculty on specific questions. (Please see the "Sample Course Evaluation Summary Table" in the sidebar).

Progress should be highlighted by displaying data so that changes over time and across courses become evident. In some cases, such as when you have been a teaching assistant, obtaining course evaluations may not always be straightforward; consult your university's course evaluation policies. Of equal importance are your interpretations of the numerical ratings and evidence of thoughtful measures taken to address feedback.

Providing evidence of effective graduate and undergraduate supervision is also important when applying for promotion or tenure. To better understand your roles and responsibilities as a supervisor, consult your university's guidelines. Some examples of effective supervision are descriptions of students' scholarly output, time to completion, external reviewer reports on theses, students accepted to advanced study in the field, and students' professional success. Other evidence may include awards or other formal recognition of teaching accomplishments; comments from peer observers; letters from alumni, colleagues, administrators; and invitations to teach due to reputation.

4. Educational leadership and teaching development

This section presents a summary of activities undertaken to develop and enhance your own teaching and provide leadership within and beyond your own discipline and university. The intention is to demonstrate an on-going commitment to the improvement of teaching and learning.

If you are a graduate student, you might include pedagogical preparation, such as TA training or course work in teaching; involvement in departmental, faculty, or university teaching committees; attendance at teaching-related workshops; and presentations at teaching-related conferences (e.g. Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education ).

Whether applying for an academic position, or for promotion or tenure, you may also consider including:

  • Teaching-related publications
  • Descriptions of teaching development and improvement efforts
  • Evaluations of the effectiveness of development activities
  • Collaborations with colleagues on improving teaching
  • Self-evaluations of the effectiveness of instructional approaches
  • Funds obtained for innovative teaching activities
  • Research on teaching and learning
  • Collaborations with teaching and learning centres

Concluding thoughts

The teaching portfolio is a dynamic document of approach, responsibilities, effectiveness, and leadership as a teacher. It expands our understanding of what constitutes teaching and the range of ways in which it can be documented. It prompts us to begin gathering evidence of our many teaching activities. When shared with colleagues, it may create opportunities for "good talk about good teaching" (Palmer, 1993). Most importantly, it encourages us to begin viewing teaching as a scholarly activity.

Related resources

  • Teaching portfolios: web resource list(.xls)
  • Sample: course evaluations summary (.doc)

Cythia Weston is Director of Teaching and Learning Services and a Professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University.

Julie Timmermans is a PhD student in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and intern with Teaching and Learning Services at McGill University.

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