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TNLI: Action Research: Professional Development: The Power of Teacher Portfolio for Professional Development

by Alice Hom
AUGUST, 1997

What is a Teacher Portfolio?
Venues for Developing Portfolios
Policy Recommendations
References and Resources
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C

"Schools that are ready to make a commitment to professional development for teachers that extend beyond the usual training sessions seem to find that the professional development portfolio enhances and extends their professional efforts with teachers." 1

Teacher portfolios vary in many forms and can serve many different purposes. They are a topic of growing interest in education and have become the most effective tool in improving the instruction of new as well as seasoned teachers.

The typical teacher observation has limitations and isn't a purposeful way to assess a teacher's pedagogical skills, growth, attitude, interpersonal skills, how s/he plans lessons or other qualities of good teaching. A checklist is inappropriate in measuring the quality of classroom practices and teacher accountability. Until recently, the teaching profession had never defined the knowledge, skills and accomplishments necessary for teaching excellence. Yet, physicians, lawyers, and other professionals work under clear and objective standards and must demonstrate their accomplishments on challenging assessments.

According to Shanker, "For professional development to be effective, it must offer serious intellectual content, take explicit account of the various contexts of teaching and experiences of teachers, offer support for informal dissent, be ongoing and embedded in the purposes and practices of schooling, help teachers to change within an environment that is often hostile to change, and involve teachers in defining the purposes and activities that take place in the name of professional development."2 Research has shown that portfolios for assessment and reflection can capture the complexities of teaching and learning. Documenting their powerful learning experiences and then reflecting and reevaluating the information shows professional growth and change (Perkins & Gelfer, 1993). The reflective component is essential, particularly when it impacts on students' learnings and teaching practices.

What is a Teacher Portfolio?
A teacher portfolio is basically an organized collection of information that documents the teacher's accomplishments attained over a period of time, across a variety of contexts, and provides evidence of his/her effectiveness. The contents tie together the personal history and values of the teacher, teaching environment, planning skills, classroom management techniques, evaluation skills, creativity, and organizational talents. Classroom samples of teaching performances along with the teacher's explanations and reflections provide an authentic and multifaceted view of the actual teaching that took place as well as insight into the thinking behind the teaching.

Different types of portfolios can be developed for a variety of purposes. A developmental portfolio demonstrates progress in a range of work. Materials are selected to show competence and growth as a teacher. This is a constructive instrument for teachers committed to instructional improvement and honest assessment of their own teaching effectiveness. An employment portfolio has evidence of the teacher's planning skills and approaches to student assessment. Professional development portfolios reflect on the meaning of good teaching and how one can engage in self improvement.

Goal-based portfolios focus on goal-related classroom activities. An accountability factor is present in the assessment phase, requiring teachers to document measurable changes as a result of new strategies, methodologies, and interventions. Thus, student learning is the bottom line of professional development.

Criteria-based portfolios are used by: (1) schools of education to evaluate teachers; (2) school districts to evaluate teachers for tenure and contract renewal and; (3) professional organizations to evaluate teachers for special licenses or certificates. Teachers collect a variety of data sources (i.e., videotapes, reflective essays, student work, teacher work samples) to demonstrate mastery of specific competencies.

Venues for Developing Portfolios
Teacher education programs in Stanford University, University of Northern Colorado, and Adelphi require portfolios to highlight students' learnings, share reflections with other preservice colleagues, and make connections between college classroom and actual experiences in elementary, middle and high school classrooms. They help beginning teachers gain a clearer understanding of their developing skills as teachers.

In 1987, the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) engaged in a multistate effort to create a model of licensing standards for beginning teachers which would serve as the foundation of goals toward which teachers would work throughout their careers to achieve excellence in their profession. (See Appendix A-INTASC's Ten Principles.) In their portfolios, teachers would have a collection of evidence to document their achievement of each standard.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) was also created that year to evaluate experienced teachers seeking a distinguished level of professional recognition. To achieve national certification, teachers voluntarily develop portfolios that must meet the set of high and rigorous standards based on five core propositions:

  • Teachers are committed to students and their learnings.
  • Teachers know their subject matter and how to teach those subjects to students.
  • Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
  • Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  • Teachers are members of learning communities.
Generally, portfolios require classroom-based exercises (videotapes or collection of student work) with accompanying written analysis and reflection of the teaching as well as documented evidence of teachers' work outside the classroom with families, colleagues and the community.

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future in their recent report, What Matters Most: Teaching and America's Future, supports using the National Board standards as the benchmark for accomplished teaching and aims to certify 105,000 teachers by the year 2006. To meet this goal, President Clinton in his 1997 State of the Union Address pledged to incorporate into his budget funds enabling 100,000 more to seek national certification as master teachers.

In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) - Board of Education Contract Agreement negotiated in 1995 developed a model for teacher performance reviews (See Appendix B - Article 8J). Developing a teacher portfolio is one of the many approaches to choose from as a teacher evaluation option. By 1998, Teacher Performance Review (TPR) will be an option for tenured teachers and schools will not need to vote on this as a school-based option plan.

"Portfolios can give teachers a purpose and framework for preserving and sharing their work, provide occasions for mentoring and collegial interactions, and stimulate teachers to reflect on their own work and on the act of teaching." 3

"Professional development portfolios provide teachers with a framework for initiating, planning and facilitating their professional development while building connections between professional goals and those of the school." 4

"...portfolios...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." 5

The process of developing a portfolio provides teachers with many opportunities:
  • to become decision makers about curriculum;
  • to develop various instructional repertoires;
  • to create productive classroom environments;
  • to reflect upon one's teaching practice;
  • to transform interpersonal relationships and;
  • to form a culture of inquiry and self-review within the school.
It helps teachers establish their mission, goals and learner outcomes to be consistent with their personal philosophy and goals of the school community. In essence, portfolios integrate theory and practice about teaching, learning knowledge, students and the school milieu.

Research shows portfolios help teachers develop a command of subject matter, deepen their understanding of how to teach in content areas, enhance their pedagogical content knowledge, improve their teaching skills, and become more professionally responsible. Through the process, teachers are engaged as active learners and teacher-researchers; they collect articles, visit experts, attend conferences, etc. Portfolios become the vehicles for experimenting with new strategies, investigating lingering questions, and rethinking practice. Thus they facilitate teachers to take risks without fear of failing.

Conversations about teaching are stimulated as teachers share the work they've selected to share with other colleagues and administrators. By reading others' portfolios, teachers are able to relate to each other better, not just as teachers, but as people. Through articulation, collegial sharing and collaboration, teachers see and appreciate the many facets of their colleagues, especially their strengths and expertise. The quality of dialogues on teaching and learning is more substantive and constructive. As teachers talk and discuss their teaching practices, a norm of shared reflection is promoted and allows them to start the process of developing professional standards of practice.

Through the process of creating a portfolio, teachers gain an understanding of how to effectively implement student portfolios. They've experienced the frustrations and benefits and can now apply their learning to student portfolios. This model of teachers as learners insures the success of the transfer from teachers to students. Portfolios facilitate a system for demonstrating student outcomes. Students' works are collected as evidence and become essential components as valuable assessment tools. Additionally, portfolios serve the needs of administrators seeking more reliable means of evaluating teaching performance. Responsibility for documenting proficiency is shifted from administrator to teacher. The contents give supervisors insight into the teacher's educational philosophy and methods of instruction as well as ways administration can provide support. Communication between principal/supervisor and teacher is facilitated through the portfolios. Both parties are able to dialogue and work together in a beneficial and constructive manner.

Finally, portfolios demonstrate the hard work and time teachers give to their craft. Documented are their learnings and concrete evidence of progress as educators. Published portfolios are accomplished forms of writing, reflecting the teachers' commitment to their own professional growth. Self-esteem is elevated by this creative process. (See Appendix C - Teachers' Viewpoints)

"...portfolios can be time-consuming to construct and cumbersome to review..." 6

"Scoring of portfolio materials is heavily dependent on the professional judgment of those doing the scoring. The need for clear performance criteria, scoring rubrics, benchmarks, and rating guidelines is critical." 7

Time is an essential factor in numerous ways and a major obstacle in the process of developing teacher portfolios. Teachers need time to:
  • construct a conceptual understanding of the portfolio;
  • gather and organize evidence to document their teaching practices and accomplishments;
  • communicate with and get feedback from colleagues and administrators and;
  • analyze, reflect upon, and write about their experiences.
Flexible scheduling is one way administration can support teachers in providing time to work on their portfolios.

How a portfolio is to be used for evaluative purposes needs to be clearly defined. If it is used as formative evaluation, ongoing dialogue and support is necessary to improve or revise teacher performance. When a portfolio is used in the context of a summative evaluation (ie., to judge overall teaching performance, effectiveness in meeting learner-centered goals, or to make personnel decisions), it should be viewed as only one component of the entire evaluation process. Should it be scored holistically or analytically? These considerations must be made prior to beginning the process of developing a teacher portfolio.

There is no incentive rewarding teachers for accomplished skills and knowledge. Salary increases are tied to the number of graduate courses or credits taken, not to effectiveness of teaching. Fees to apply for National Certification are exorbitant. Career pathways in the teaching profession are limited. Though some states and districts have provided financial support, incentives, and elevated the status of teachers who have achieved certification (See Appendix D - National Board Certification-Incentives and Rewards), more has to be done and in an equitable way.

Policy Recommendations

Federal Level

  • Federal funds supporting the National Board Certification project should be increased to approximately 45% in order to meet the goal recommended by the National Commission and supported by President Clinton. Presently, NBPTS has received 42% of its funds from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation and the rest from non-governmental sources.
State Level
  • Enact legislation in every state to appropriate a certain percentage of state education funds to pay the fees for teachers seeking National Board Certification.
  • Automatic renewal of license or waiver of recertification requirements for National Board Certified teachers.
  • For individuals achieving National Board Certification, an annual reward of $2,000 (or more) will be given for the life of the certificate.
  • Permit National Board Certified Teachers who come from out-of-state to be granted a teaching license without requiring them to meet any other education or testing requirements.
  • Develop plans to incorporate the National Board's standards into institutions of higher education programs.
  • Recognize Certified teachers by inviting them to serve on special committees or task forces working on educational policy work.
  • Provide funds for professional development purposes - workshops, conference days, staff training, etc.
Local Level
  • Provide financial support for teachers seeking National Board Certification - partial payment or full reimbursement of fees.
  • Reward teachers who achieve Certification with an annual salary increment or stipend of $1000 (or more).
  • Provide professional development days for teachers to work on their portfolios or to attend conferences..
  • Support teachers by providing materials and equipments such as video cameras, computers, binders, etc. to gather and organize data sources for their professional portfolios.
  • Organize study and support groups for teachers working on portfolios.
  • Offer Certified teachers alternative career roles - mentors, lead teachers, curriculum developer, staff trainer, school director/ supervisor.
  • Organize committees of teachers to develop standards/guidelines which clearly define the purpose of portfolios, outline required content elements, and the scoring process for evaluation.
  • Teacher contracts should include the use of portfolios as an alternative to formal observations. The development process should be incorporated as a professional development activity. Previous policies which are in conflict with this concept need to be removed.
  • Create partnerships with higher education programs. Develop a continuum of professional development portfolio collaborations between students in the education programs and classroom teachers. This will help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

School Level
Developing a teacher portfolio must be a voluntary process whereby the teacher is in charge of his/her own instructional improvement process. It is an option offered by administration in lieu of formal observation. Time needs to be allotted during the work day for teacher writing, collaborations and sharing with colleagues, and learning from outside experts. Administration can offer professional development days or rearrange classroom schedules for teachers preparing portfolios. Align policies to directly nurture and support conditions which promote a climate of self-review within a school building. A range of incentives could be structured to recognize and promote teachers actively engaged in the process of developing portfolios to improve their teaching practices (i.e. IMPACT II grant, UFT grant, per session pay, stipends, mentor leadership role). Create a committee of peers to formulate guidelines/standards to be included in a teacher portfolio and specific explanations about the evaluation process. Teacher portfolios are valuable resources on many different levels. This form of authentic assessment and method of evaluation should be encouraged in the educational community as an effective and essential tool for professional development. As more teachers engage in the process of developing portfolios, the quality of teaching and learning in our schools will be enhanced and the current system of teaching will be transformed into a true profession instituting quality assessments and high standards.

References and Resources

Ambach, Gordon, "Standards for Teachers: Potential for Improving Practice," Phi Delta Kappan, 78(3), Nov. 1996, pp. 207-210

Barton, James and Collins, Angelo, "Portfolios in Teacher Education," Journal of Teacher Education, 44(3), May-June 1993, pp. 200-210

Brogan, Bernard R., "The Case for Teacher Portfolios," ERIC document, Feb. 1995

Burke, Kay, "Designing Professional Portfolios for Change," IRI/SkyLight Training & Pubs., Inc.: IL., 1997

Burke, Kay (ed.), "Professional Portfolios A Collection of Articles," IRI/ SkyLight Training & Pubs., Inc.: IL., 1996

Campbell, Dorothy, Cignetti, Pamela B., Melenyzer, Beverly J., Nettles, Diane H., and Wyman Jr., Richard M., "How to Develop a Professional Portfolio," Allyn & Bacon: MA., 1997

Daresh, John C. and Playko, Marsha A., "The Professional Development Portfolio: A Framework for Guiding Educational Leader Careers," ERIC document, Feb. 1995

Doolittle, Peter, "Teacher Portfolio Assessment," ERIC document, Apr. 1994

Glatthorn, Allan A., "The Teacher's Portfolio," Pro-Active Pubs.:MA, 1996

Long, Claudia and Stansbury, Kendyll, "Performance Assessments for Beginning Teachers," Phi Delta Kappan, 76(4), Dec. 1994, pp.318-322

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (website)

Pelletier, Carol M., "Teacher Portfolio: Reflection in Action," ERIC document, Apr. 1994

Perkins, Peggy G. and Gelfer, Jeffrey I., "Portfolio Assessment in Teachers," The Clearing House, March/April 1993, pp. 235-237

Report of the National commission on Teaching and America's Future, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," Sept. 1996

Shackelford, Ray, "Using Teaching Portfolios to Improve and Assess Teaching," ERIC document

Shanker, Al, "Quality Assurance: What Must Be Done to Strengthen the Teaching Profession," Phi Delta Kappan, 78(3), Nov. 1996, pp. 220-4

Tierney, Dennis S., "Teaching Portfolios: 1992 Update on Research and Practice," ERIC document, 1993

Urbach, Floyd, "Developing a Teaching Portfolio," College Teaching , 40(2), pp. 71-74

Wheeler, Patricia H., "Using Portfolios to Assess Teacher Performance," ERIC document, 1993

Wolf, Kenneth, "Developing an Effective Teaching Portfolio," Educational Leadership , 53(6), March 1996, pp. 34-37

Wolf, Kenneth, "The Schoolteacher's Portfolio: Issues in Design, Implementation, and Evaluation," Phi Delta Kappan, 73(2), Oct. 1991, pp. 129-136

Wolf, Kenneth, "Teaching Portfolios: Synthesis on Research and Annotated Bibliography," ERIC document, Nov. 1991

Zubizarreta, John, "Teaching Portfolios and the Beginning Teacher," Phi Delta Kappan, 76(4), Dec. 1994, pp. 323-326

Appendix A

INTASC's Ten Principles: Model Standards for Beginning Teacher Licensing and Development

  • The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the discipline(s) he or she teaches and can create learning experiences that make these aspects of subject matter meaningful for students.

  • The teacher understands how children learn and develop and can provide learning opportunities that support their intellectual, social, and personal development.

  • The teacher understands how students differ in their approaches to learning and creates instructional opportunities that are adapted to diverse learners.

  • The teacher understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies to encourage students' development of critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills.

  • The teacher uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.

  • The teacher uses knowledge of effective verbal, nonverbal, and media communication techniques to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom.

  • The teacher plans instruction based on knowledge of subject matter, students, the community, and curriculum goals.

  • The teacher understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the learner.

  • The teacher is a reflective practitioner who continually evaluates the effects of his or her choices and actions on others (students, parents, and other professionals in the learning community) and who actively seeks out opportunities to grow professionally.

  • The teacher fosters relationships with school colleagues, parents, and agencies in the larger community to support students' learning and well-being.

Appendix B

Article 8J
Evaluation and Observation System
UFT-Board of Education Agreement

  1. Where appropriate, the performance review must include clear and specific recommendations for professional growth.
  2. Annual performance reviews must be based on either of two models:
    • The first model, known as Annual Performance Options (Component A). offers an individual teacher, in consultation with his/her supervisor, the opportunity to set yearly goals and objectives and to choose the methods for demonstrating professional growth. The annual performance options will be supported with appropriate follow-up professional development activities, as noted below.
    • The second model, known as Formal Observations (Component B), is the traditional classroom observation by a principal or supervisor which includes pre- and post-observation conferences and written feedback/comments.

Appendix C

Teachers' Viewpoints
(P.S. 6, NYC)

"Teachers who commit to portfolios commit to evaluating what they do as learners, and thus are aware of the need for change as it arises. ...the portfolio is a commitment to see what's working and what needs to change to benefit the students. The use of a portfolio and an ongoing dialogue gives a realistic picture of a teacher's goals and accomplishments, whereas a formal observation is a one-time view of an isolated lesson. I wouldn't assess my students that way, it seems so unnatural. The only drawback is that portfolios require a greater time commitment from the teacher (and probably administrators)." (Barbara Pinto 1st Grade Teacher)

"The process of writing the portfolio put me in touch with the process of what I was doing in the classroom. I became more conscious of my goals, standards, expectations, and committing it to paper keeps me even more committed to accomplishing what I've mapped out for myself/my class." (Crystal Constantinou 3rd Grade Teacher)

"My portfolio has clarified the goals that I have for my class in writing. In trying to communicate my philosophy by putting it down on paper, I feel that I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher of writing. In addition, by encouraging other teachers to experiment, I became more relaxed with trying new things in my own classroom - realizing that everything we do cannot be a great success! The portfolio has also caused me to become a reflective teacher. The great benefit of using portfolios in this way is that it is a year long process of learning and communication with the administration." (Barbara Rosenblum 2nd Grade Teacher)

"Supervisors have a sense of who you are, how you think, what is going on in the classroom. It shows a respect for individuality and for dialogue between teacher and supervisor." (Suzanne Herman 4th Grade Teacher)

"The most valuable thing I learned from portfolios is reflection. Not until I sat down to type it did I really reread and make connections and see the actual growth of my class. It helped to boost my self-confidence when I wasn't sure if what I


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