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Preparing the Teaching Portfolio

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Three crucial cornerstones are the keys to the success of the teaching portfolio: the need to discuss expectations, getting started with portfolios, and gaining acceptance of the concept. 



The posting below looks at what it takes to get buy-in for the teaching portfolio from professors and administrators. It is from Chapter 3, Preparing the Teaching Portfolio, in the book, The Teaching Portfolio:  A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and  Promotion/Tenure Decisions, by Peter Seldin, J. Elizabeth Miller, and Clement A. Seldin.Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 []. Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Preparing the Teaching Portfolio

Three crucial cornerstones are the keys to the success of the teaching portfolio: the need to discuss expectations, getting started with portfolios, and gaining acceptance of the concept.

The Need to Discuss Expectations

The teaching portfolio will have value only when personnel decision makers and faculty members learn to trust the approach. Crucial to the development of trust is the periodic exchange of views between the department chair and professor about teaching responsibilities, ancillary duties, and specific items for the portfolio. This discussion should address expectations and specifics of what and how to report teaching performance. Otherwise there is a danger that the chair may erroneously conclude that the data submitted overlook areas of prime concern and may even cover up areas of suspected weakness. Such possible misunderstanding is largely eliminated by open discussion.

Since there is no guarantee that the current department chair will be in that position when the faculty member is being considered for tenure or promotion, it is a good idea to also talk with recently tenured faculty and to respected, older, straight-shooting professors who can give solid, realistic advice. The topics of conversation with the chair and with others are the same:

* What do the department and the institution expect of faculty in terms of teaching?

* What evidence of successful performance-both quantity and quality-is considered appropriate?

* How much evidence is enough?

* What are appropriate and effective ways to report the evidence?

Expectations are of great importance even in the case of a portfolio created for improvement and personal growth instead of personnel decisions. Departments and institutions have their own formulas for the evidence of teaching performance they seek in determining teaching effectiveness. They give differing levels of importance to student ratings, syllabi, curricular developments, philosophy, methodology, student learning, and other sources of information that might be included in a portfolio. Those differing levels of importance are why it is essential for professors to know accurately the relative importance given to the items that might be included in their portfolio.

Getting Started with Portfolios

Perhaps the best way to get started is for a group of faculty to develop general standards of good teaching. They should have enough flexibility to accommodate diverse approaches to teaching. The following guidelines should be helpful:

* Obtain public, top-level administrative support for the portfolio concept and an institutional commitment to provide the necessary resources to launch the program successfully.

* Start small.

* Involve the institution's (or department's) most respected faculty members from the start.

* Rely on faculty volunteers; do not force anyone to participate.

* Keep everyone-faculty and academic administrators-informed about what is going on every step of the way.

* Field-test the portfolio process.

* Permit room for individual differences in portfolios. Styles of teaching differ. So do the disciplines.

It is important to allow a year, or even two years, for the process of acceptance and implementation. During this period, draft portfolios should be carefully prepared, freely discussed, and modified as needed. All details of the portfolio program need not be in place before implementation. Start the program incrementally, and be flexible to modification as it develops. But remember that the quest for perfection is endless. Don't stall the portfolio program in an endless search for the perfect approach. The goal is improvement, not perfection.

Gaining Acceptance of the Concept

To say that the teaching portfolio approach is useful is one thing, but to get the approach off the ground is quite another. Some professors automatically resist by evoking various academic traditions. They say that faculty are not comfortable as self-promoters and have neither the time nor the desire to keep a record of their teaching achievements. But in truth, the world of college and university teaching is undergoing considerable change. In an age of accountability and tight budgets, the portfolio is an instrument focused on effective teaching. Professors need to produce better evidence of their teaching effectiveness and must do so in a clear and persuasive way for third-party inspection.

Caution: Not only do some professors decline to embrace the portfolio concept, but some administrators do so as well. At some institutions, administrators are immediately negative at the sight of strangers bearing new ideas, and the portfolio is no exception. people being people, some operate comfortably in well-worn grooves and resist almost any change. Others resist out of an unspoken fear that somehow they are threatened.

If the teaching portfolio approach is ultimately to be embraced, an institutional climate of acceptance must first be created. How can that be done? The following guidelines should be helpful:

* The portfolio concept must be presented in a candid, complete, and clear way to every faculty member and academic administrator.

* Professors must have a significant hand in both the development and the operation of the portfolio program. They must feel, with justification, that they own the program.

* The portfolio approach must not be forced on anyone. It is much better to start with faculty volunteers.

* The primary purpose of the portfolio program should be to improve the quality of teaching, and its approach should be positive rather than punitive.

* The institution's most respected professors should be involved from the onset. That means the best teachers, because their participation attracts other faculty to the program. It also means admired teachers who are also prominent researchers; their participation will signal both the value of the portfolios and their willingness to go public with the scholarship of their teaching.

* The portfolio should be field-tested on a handful of respected professors. The fact that faculty leaders are willing to try the approach will not be lost on others.

* If portfolios are to be used for tenure and promotion purposes or to determine teaching awards, all professors must know the performance standards by which their portfolios will be judged. specifically, they must know what constitutes exemplary, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory performance.

* The portfolio program must recognize the teaching responsibilities of each faculty member and any special circumstances or conditions in effect when he or she was hired.

* Room must be allowed for individual differences in portfolios as long as those differences can be tolerated by the institution. Styles of teaching differ. So do disciplines and career points. The documents and materials in the portfolios of a professor of organic chemistry with twenty-five years of teaching experience will be different from those of a professor of organizational behavior with five years of teaching experience.

* Encourage collaboration. A portfolio mentor (coach) from the same discipline can provide special insights and understandings, as well as departmental practices, in dealing with portfolios. On the other hand, a mentor from a different discipline can often help clarify the institution's viewpoint, that is, the big picture. That can be significant since portfolios submitted for personnel decisions will be read by faculty from other disciplines.

* The portfolio should include only selective information. It is not an exhaustive compilation of all of the documents and materials that bear on individual teaching performance. Instead, it presents selected information on teaching accomplishments and activities. But in the process, it also addresses the why of teaching, not just the what.