Like other professionals, teachers need evidence of their growth and achievement over time. The professional portfolio is a vehicle for collecting and presenting that evidence. For many of us, it's just practicing what we preach. We encourage our students to select examples of their work over time to demonstrate how much they've learned, and we must do the same.

Portfolios allow us to become reflective about what it is we do. And they allow us to document the practices we'd like to preserve and even pass on to others.

"Portfolios have much to offer the teaching profession," writes Dr. Kenneth Wolf, of the University of Colorado. "When teachers carefully examine their own practices, those practices are likely to improve. The examples of accomplished practice that portfolios provide also can be studied and adapted for use in other classrooms." And it's more than just a good idea. In many places, teachers and administrators must now renew their professional licenses.

What to Include

A professional teaching portfolio is more than a hodge-podge of lesson plans and lists of professional activities. It is a careful record of specific accomplishments attained over an extended period of time. Wolf suggests that portfolios include the following:

Background Information

  • resume
  • background information on teacher and teaching context
  • educational philosophy and teaching goals

Teaching Artifacts and Reflections Documenting an Extended Teaching Activity

  • overview of unit goals and instructional plan
  • list of resources used in unit
  • two consecutive lesson plans
  • videotape of teaching
  • student work examples
  • evaluation of student work
  • reflective commentary by the teacher
  • additional units/lessons/student work as appropriate

Professional Information

  • list of professional activities
  • letters of recommendation
  • formal evaluations

Although portfolios vary in form and content, depending upon their purpose, Wolf points out that "most contain some combination of teaching artifacts and written reflections. These are the heart of the portfolio."

Further, the artifacts, whether lesson plans, student work samples, or a parent newsletter, must be accompanied with written explanations. For example, what is the purpose of the parent newsletter? What did you and the students learn from the school survey you had them conduct? Be specific and be reflective. It's the intent and thoughtful evaluation that the artifacts should reveal.

Wolf also suggests that each artifact be accompanied by a brief, identifying caption. Include, for example:

  • title of the artifact
  • date produced
  • description of the context
  • purpose, evaluation, or other types of comments

Additional Tips

A professional teaching portfolio can be created and presented in many ways. No matter which approach you take, however, the following tips from Kenneth Wolf should help:

  • Explain your educational philosophy and teaching goals.
  • Choose specific features of your instructional program to document.
  • Collect a wide range of artifacts, and date and annotate them so you have the information you need when making your final selections.
  • Keep a journal to draw upon for written reflections on your teaching.
  • Collaborate with a mentor and other colleagues (preferably, those experienced in both teaching and portfolio construction). Meet regularly with colleagues to discuss your portfolio.
  • Assemble the portfolio in an easily accessible form. The loose-leaf notebook works well, although electronic portfolios may be the wave of the future.
  • Assess the portfolio. You and your colleagues can assess the portfolio informally, or you can have it formally scored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The Benefits

Creating a professional portfolio involves considerable effort — good teaching, so you have something to showcase in the first place; careful planning; thorough record keeping; thoughtful selections of items to include; and certainly a fair measure of creativity. What are the payoffs?

One is the chance to reflect on our practice. And in that sense, portfolio development is an important growth experience. Also, the process allows us to collaborate with mentors and other colleagues.

Portfolio Advice From a Veteran

Take it from teacher and professional-development expert Doris Dillon: The creation of a professional portfolio requires careful effort. Dillon, who has served on the English/Language Arts Committee of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and has given workshops on developing a teaching portfolio, compares a portfolio to a garden. "It takes planning and hard work, requires the weeding out of unnecessary elements, and promotes positive feelings. You should be proud to show it off!"