Change the record? (Just off the record)

Written by: Svetlana Tashevska (NBU),
Svetlana Dimitrova, PhD (NBU)

This article, like the interactive talk on which it is based, focuses on some practicalities and benefits of keeping a teacher’s portfolio. We invite you, the reader, to adopt an active stance and through reflection, discussion, and hands-on experience of ‘designing’ a development log and an action plan, you may feel more confident to take charge of steering your career and to be an active agent in educational change in our country.

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Introduction

The on-going developments in the area of foreign language teaching over the last decade and especially in the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language (e.g. the use of modern information and communication technologies /ICT/ in the process of teaching and learning foreign languages, the introduction of content-language integrated learning /CLIL/ in the syllabus, improving communicative and social skills, as well as fostering learner autonomy through project work, etc.), have made us all aware of the need to consciously invest time and effort in the acquisition of new professional knowledge and skills and the refinement of our professional competence. Additionally, Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has given new emphasis to the importance of life-long learning and continuous professional development (references 2 and 3)[1]. In the context of reform, the Bulgarian ministry of education has also advanced the need for differential remuneration of teachers’ professional performance and proposed a framework of relevant assessment criteria for general discussion (cf. http://www.minedu.government.bg/opencms/export/sites/mon/ documents/07-03-26_kriterii_ocenka.pdf).

In the present article we will revisit some aspects of professional development from the point of view of keeping record of growth and planning for future action. Portfolio samples and authors’ experience will be used as an illustration and a starting point for discussion, but you will be invited to share your own ideas and experience by answering some thought-provoking questions and doing a couple of activities leading to reflection and awareness of own potential.

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Aims for documenting our professional achievements and experience

Before you go on reading, please think about the following questions:

Q 1: Have you ever had to compile/ maintain a record of your professional achievements?

Q 2: What was the need for doing it?

Q 3: What happened to the file of documents after it served its immediate purpose?

  • Certification of professional competence
    More often than not we compile documents of our professional experience and growth in order to certify our professional competence when graduating or accrediting our professional status; when applying for a job, a higher post or a pay-rise; when competing for project funds, grants, etc.
  • Accountancy
    Sometimes we need to provide well-organized over-time evidence on the basis of which to receive acknowledgement of our professional competence and performance by internal or external quality assessment bodies such as directors of studies, head teachers, methodologists, teacher-trainers, ministry of education experts, OPTIMA[2] inspectors, boards for assigning project funds or placing candidates on exchange programmes and others. We are also required to do it when our educational institution is in the process of accreditation.
    But is it all just for the record? To boast how good we are at what we do and how we do it in front of other members of the broad professional community. Is it just a shop window that we want to dress for others to admire and comment on the quality of the items displayed?
  • Professional development
    Probably the most important function of keeping a record of our professional experience is to empower us to continue our professional development. It offers immense potential for critically reflecting on our diverse experience gained over time, leading on not only to confidence-boosting tangibility of growth, but also to the ability to identify areas which need attention and set priorities for self-development. Gradually we find ourselves more capable of planning for and managing change in our professional life.
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Portfolio components

Before you go on reading, please think about the following questions:

Q 4: If you have ever had a professional portfolio, what did you include in it? What would you put in it, if you started one now?

Q 5: What were/ would be your considerations for ordering the materials in your record?

Q 6: Did you ever feel the need to change anything in your portfolio (in its content or structure)?

Here follows an example of what may be included in a professional portfolio. The list is an open-ended one: we can include whatever documents we feel best reveal our professional competence (given the specific purpose and relevant audience) or help us improve our performance by critically reviewing them:

  • college/ university diplomas of professional qualification;
  • lesson plans and self-evaluations;
  • self-designed teaching materials (incl. tests);
  • samples of students’ work (incl. ones with our feedback on);
  • photos from lessons (e.g. group work or our use of the board), videotaped classroom activities, etc.;
  • certificates of [further] training / seminars;
  • certificates from professional forums (e.g. conferences)
  • book reviews, articles and other printed or web publications that we have;
  • evidence of participation in (inter-)national projects;
  • references (by trainers, directors/ head-teachers, parents, etc.);
  • peer feedback on professional performance;
  • etc.

The way we arrange the documents in our portfolio will depend on the purpose we compile it for (e.g. to receive acknowledgement, gain a position, secure a pay-rise, initiate self-development, etc.). If we will share it with others (present it to potential employers, display it to inspectors for assessment, or simply use it as a springboard to exchange ideas with colleagues, etc.), among other factors, it is probably worth considering its volume – specialists recommend reducing its size to the reader-friendly amount of about a dozen documents which holistically present our professional competence (cp. Seldin 1997). It is also good to remember that records can be broken and we can outdo our last performance. In other words, the content of a portfolio is not permanent and replacing older samples with more recent ones to reflect our professional growth is an important part of keeping an updated version of our record.

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Looking back [3]

Before you go on reading, please think about the following question:

Q 7: Did / Would you use any headings, labels, tags, etc. to assist orientation in your portfolio?
When compiling the evidence of our professional experience and growth, most of us usually stop after listing what we did and when it happened, and placing the relevant document in the professional dossier. But is it just the record that matters? To the external assessor of our archive it would be much more interesting and important to find out our rationale for doing it, the benefit that we have gained from it as well as how we have applied it in our work. So it is high time we “changed the record” and started keeping a truly professional portfolio. Some useful headings are exemplified in the following diagram:

Development Log

What I did
When I did it
Why I did it
What I learnt
How I used it

This way of organizing our record of professional experience could be especially useful when we look back at it at a later stage and reflect on the path covered. We may find that chronological order is no longer the most appropriate one for presenting the complete picture of our professional competence. The new logic of arranging the evidence may be on the basis of priorities at different stages of our development. For instance, if we need to emphasize an aspect such as a recent increased awareness of the principles of designing classroom tests, we can use a corresponding label/ heading and include the relevant proof.

Finally, it is recommended that we allot time on a regular basis to look back, reflect on and document our development through keeping a development log.

What follows are two examples of entries in a development log from the authors’ own experience – one from the point of view of a teacher, and the other – from that of a teacher trainer:

Teacher: Teacher-trainer:
What I did
Attended a BETA conference workshop on creating poetry in the ELT classroom Read a book [Tsui, A. (1995) “Introducing Classroom Interaction”, London: Penguin English]
When I did it
May 2006, 15th BETA Conference in Plovdiv Dec. 2006 – Jan. 2007
Why I did it
Wanted to
find new ways of motivating my students;
learn how to incorporate creative writing (poetry) in my classes;
improve my language competence.
was approached for a teacher-training seminar on aspects of classroom management;
from teaching practice observation I feel that classroom interaction needs addressing.
What I learnt
some new EFL teaching techniques (and how to make learning fun)
some new classroom management techniques;
got some ready to use ELT materials.
confirmed intuitively felt conclusions;
learnt more about the nature of classroom interaction;
collected ideas for possible research.
How I used it
Applied it my EFL intermediate class the following week. It worked well: all students got very involved, even the weaker ones contributed (see attached samples of students’ poems) incorporated some of the ideas / findings in my seminar;
updated/ enriched FLT lectures for student teachers;
increased potential for possible diploma theses supervision.

Before you go on reading, please do the following task:

Q 8: Think of your own example of a teacher development event/ activity and, using the headings above, start your own development log.

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Looking forward

When keeping a record of our development, it is logical to look back and analyze what we have done and how it has helped us grow. Equally important, though, is to look forward and base further action on the analysis and increased awareness after the experience. Planning for future action then will show the direction and ways for further development. It will help us build up not only useful work-related skills and abilities, but others, related to personal development, as well. Teachers who are both personally and professionally aware are more likely to be confident in their potential, abilities and power for managing change. It is most satisfying to be an active agent in one’s own professional growth and in developments in education as a whole.

Just like with the development log, to list events and dates in a plan is insufficient. A good starting point for a development plan is identifying short term and longer term objectives. If it is to be a real development plan, we also need to consider what our exact needs are, specific appropriate ways of proceeding, resources needed, and ways of measuring attainment of objectives.

Development Log

What I need/want to learn
(By) When
How I will do it
What support/resources I will need
How I will measure success

Here, we have included an example of an entry in a development plan from our own experience.

  • What I need/ want to learn
Want to learn how to make effective basic PowerPoint presentations
Need this practical skill for a conference
  • (By) When [dates]
    • in the short term – presentation in 6 weeks’ time (20-23 Feb.)
    • in the longer term – more professional style of presentations, lectures, etc. on other occasions in the future
  • How I will do it
Attend a PowerPoint training seminar, organized for lecturers at NBU
  • What support/ resources I will need
    • PowerPoint software;
    • Possibly consultations with seminar facilitator after training;
    • assistance for more complicated PowerPoint tasks from colleagues (involved in the project to be presented)
  • How I will measure success
Being able to design:

  • the forthcoming conference presentation;
  • subsequent ones.

It is important to be realistic in our goals and prioritize – consider what is reasonably possible and achievable within the target time frame. Otherwise, the result may be a demotivating rather than satisfying experience.

It should also be noted that both formal and informal learning experiences deserve being included in the plan. Not only work-related activities (such as teacher training seminars) help our growth. A course in mountain guiding attended, for instance, has as much potential for development as a professional course. However, a course in itself is not professional development – it is what we can do as a result that makes us better professionals.

Before you go on reading, please do the following task:

Q 9: Think of an activity and, using the headings above, start planning it.

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Conclusion

We shall feel rewarded if through the interactive approach of our article we have managed to encourage reflection on professional experience and future development, to raise awareness of the potential of the portfolio log and plan to boost confidence and empower for change.

Among the added value of keeping such a record of professional achievements is the ability to determine meaningful objectives for professional growth and to identify relevant aspects for (self-)assessment of development. Changing in the light of what has been learnt and achieved is not only easier but also important for effective reform – i.e. one which is not imposed from without but the need for which is felt from within. To our mind, the best way to change the record is through incorporating initiatives from the grass-root level: thus by successfully steering their own career individuals also influence change in the wider educational context.

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References:

  1. Seldin, P. (1997) The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions. (2nd edition) Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing
  2. Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society (The White Paper) (1995) Brussels: Commission of the European Communities
  3. The Bologna Declaration of 19th June 1999. Joint declaration of the European Ministers of Education

[1] There are special systems in place for management of continuous professional development (CPD) in many European countries.
[2] Българската асоциация за качествени езикови услуги
[3] The reflection activities in the following two sections are based on some unpublished distance DELTA (Diploma of English Language Teaching to Adults) materials used for training Cambridge ESOL DELTA teachers in Sofia. However, the examples and the reasoning behind them are our own.

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