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The Complete Package

Tips for crafting a memorable portfolio

 

By Kristen Loschert

Few things cause more stress and anxiety than creating and polishing your teaching portfolio. What should it look like? What should you include? How will you ever finish it?

Fortunately, crafting a stellar portfolio doesn’t require lots of teeth gnashing, head banging, or late-night cramming. With a little time and planning you can create a portfolio that showcases the awesome teacher you truly are—and you’ll even have fun doing it.

“Often students get into an education program and they see the portfolio as their end test, because that is what they need to do to finish their program,” says Sharon Schleigh, advisor for the Student NEA chapter at East Carolina University in North Carolina. But “the portfolio is really a reflection of who they are, what they think, and what they can do . . . and they need to make it unique if they really want to use it.”

In other words, an effective portfolio is much more than a flashy presentation about your semester of student teaching.

The portfolio documents your accomplishments throughout your education program, stresses Schleigh, and can include artifacts from your freshman through graduate years. What you include depends on how you plan to use the finished product.

“Don’t think that in one sitting you can build a portfolio,” says Marie Frizzell, a former Student member from the University of Maine. “It needs to be built over time and revised over time. It’s an ongoing process that really doesn’t end unless you want it to.”

Start by identifying the portfolio’s purpose, such as a job application or admittance to a graduate program, recommends Schleigh. Then look at the criteria candidates must satisfy to get that job or into that program. This gives your portfolio a structure and focus. You also can use the professional teaching standards for your certification area to guide how you build your portfolio, Schleigh suggests.

Next, collect evidence from your coursework and field experiences that shows how you meet each one of those qualifications and explain how those items demonstrate your skills. You can include your teaching philosophy, a résumé, lesson plans, class assignments, notes from your students, faculty recommendations, photos, videos, or recorded messages. Think about experiences outside of your education program too, such as community work, study abroad, tutoring, and leadership positions any place you have gathered relevant skills.

 

Photo by Mattew Schuetz

To save file space, Lyon College graduate Codi Ribitzki (pictured) posted her artifacts online and included hyperlinks in her portfolio, which she created using PowerPoint. You also can store your portfolio and artifacts together on a disk or CD. Whatever format you choose, save multiple copies in different places, says Ribitzki, now a middle school English teacher in Arkansas.  

“Creating the portfolio really emphasized to me that districts hire people,” says Ribitzki. “Your opinions and experiences matter because they affect the kind of teacher you’ll be.”

The items you include in your portfolio don’t have to be your “best” work, either. In fact, Schleigh suggests including successful lessons and a few flops accompanied by your thoughts about where you can improve.

“Reflection is so important,” says Schleigh. “[Preservice teachers] want to make themselves look good and they forget that teaching is a learning experience. There is value in not doing well and recognizing how you can improve.”

While your exposition can, and should, address any mistakes you have made as a beginning teacher, the portfolio itself should be flawless. “Double check your spelling and formatting to ensure your files display properly,” says Frizzell. Also, “label your artifacts clearly, group them logically, and check that links connect to the correct items,” adds Ribitzki. Include a table of contents as well, to guide people through your portfolio.

“Organizing your information keeps the prospective viewer focused on the information itself rather than on navigating your portfolio,” says Ribitzki.

Finally, highlight your most outstanding qualities and summarize what distinguishes you from other teacher candidates. Then, once you start teaching, update your portfolio regularly. You can use it to showcase student work, communicate with parents, or simply document your growth as a teacher.      

“I don’t see the portfolio as being the end-all thing,” says Schleigh. “That’s the advantage of having it electronically, you can move things around to have different focuses and needs. . . . It’s a growing piece. You are always adding to it.”

 

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