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Teacher Professional Portfolios and the Integration of Technology
by Nancy Coquard, ETSB
November 27, 1999.Teachers as storytellers. Teachers with voices. Teachers with stories to tell, with stories to listen to, with stories to write. Teachers writing and telling stories to better understand their own lives and teachers hearing the stories of others in order to gain insight into their community. Teachers and educators living in situations where the necessity for continuous learning and professional growth with the telling and retelling of our stories is a fundamental aspect of professionalism. In her article "New prospects for teacher education: Narrative ways of knowing teaching and teacher learning", Beattie (1995) writes that the "use of narrative in educational research is that humans are storytelling organisms who, individually and socially, lead storied lives. Thus the study of narrative is the study of the ways humans experience the world." (p.61) One such story is that of Connie Barr, a kindergarten teacher. This is the beginning of the narrative of her struggle to integrate technology into her kindergarten classroom:
"Well, what amazes me is that I knew nothing - absolutely nothing. And I think that the whole fact of it is that I was terribly afraid of computers. Really, really afraid of them. And, once I got just a little taste, that's when it happened. It was just like: 'I can do this, you know, and maybe next year I'll be able to do this.' And I started making it sort of my objectives, for the year. I'll add one more little skill so I'll get a little bit better each time. And I move very slowly. My letters, I started with writing letters home to parents. How could I add a little picture with the parent letter." (Personal interview, October 22, 1990)How did Connie go about meeting the challenge of integrating technology into the everyday activities of the children in her class? She began to create a teacher professional portfolio. What is a professional portfolio? In her article Norma Lyons (1999) uses a definition from an article by Shulman (1998) as cited in her text:
"A teaching portfolio is the structured, documentary history of a set of coached or mentored acts of teaching substantiated by samples of student work and fully realized only through reflective writing, deliberation, and serious conversation." (p.64)Barton & Collins (1993) quote Bird (1990) in their article "Portfolios in teacher education, " (as cited in their text): "A portfolio is a container of documents that provide evidence of someone's knowledge, skills, and/or dispositions. (p.203) Barton & Collins go on to ask several questions to clarify this definition such as "What is meant by the term evidence ?" and "What kind of inferences can we make from the portfolios about learners?".(p.203) In the article they discuss the portfolio design as requiring an established purpose or goal, evidence that reflects growth, and assessment criteria for reflection and evaluation. Much the same as the components outlined by Lyons. Winsor (1995) states that professional portfolios are a "purposeful collection" and that students "must engage in the processes of self-evaluation and reflection in order to select meaningful and representative artifacts". (p.70) What makes the difference between a portfolio and a journal and a portfolio and a scrapbook is the definition of purpose or stated goals with the intent to evaluate. According to Barton & Collins the first and most consequential act of preparing a professional portfolio is the decision of its purpose and the definition of goals. Each piece selected, created and collected must demonstrate progress towards the target. The working towards goals allows teachers to manage their own growth towards change and innovation. Winsor & Ellefson (1995) state that: "Teacher education is a teacher's fundamental responsibility and reflection is critical to growth....For me as a teacher educator the professional portfolio could serve three purposes: a record of teaching-related growth and achievement; a framework for self and collaborative evaluation; and a foundation for self-directed professional development." (p.70) Winsor, Butt & Reeves (1999) include the goals in their winning conditions for making a difference in teacher education:
"Yes, portfolios developed through the processes of considered reflection, collaborative goal-setting, and clearly rationalized and illustrative documentation ... can be guiding lights that enable clearer vision of teachers' professional growth." (p31).As I think about my own growth needs and the frustrations that I experience in my work, I wonder if a professional portfolio wouldn't facilitate my learning and development as a teacher educator. What would it look like? What kinds of things would I put into it? What would I choose for goals and objectives? What is the primary purpose of a portfolio for me? In the interview with Connie I asked her some of these questions: " Because, when we had to start doing a portfolio, about what our expectations were for the year, I thought, 'This is what I want to cover.' And I put it down, and it was far too much. I tried to travel to maybe three meetings in a month, and it just wasn't possible.... There's so much to me. If I stop and think about all I've got to learn I get a little overwhelmed. So I think that the attitude is that you have to look after things, what you are doing right now, and don't get overwhelmed". (Barr, C. Personal interview, October 22, 1999). I found a suggestion for structure in Winsor (1995) that had five sections: professional development; teaching competencies; knowledge of child development; content knowledge of one or more subject areas; and personal and professional attributes and experiences that contribute to teaching. (p.72) But where would I find the time to put all this together? I went back and looked at some of my case narratives examining my practice and this one stands out as I felt my time was being wasted during a meeting that had degenerated into bickering: "I am learning that sometimes you have to be aggressive and if people are uncomfortable it's unfortunate but time is valuable and I am beginning to be more miserly with my time. I'm also beginning to realize that time is too short to be wasted on people who are non-productive or negative." (Coquard, N. Case Narrative, September 16, 1999). Maybe I will have to chose to make time for a portfolio. The management of a professional portfolio involves management of time, management of resources and management of the process. The time management will have to be a personal goal as part of the portfolio structure. I need to make the commitment if I expect teachers to do the same. Barton and Collins (1993) in their article "Portfolios in Teacher Education", suggest seven characteristics essential to the development of professional portfolios: 1) explicitness of purpose; 2) integration - a correspondence between academic and field experience; 3) portfolios are a multi-sourced variety of evidence for a global determination of learner competency; 4) authentic - direct link between classroom and pieces of evidence; 5) form of dynamic assessment - show growth over time; 6) student ownership - personal reflections to integrate theory and practice; 7) multipurposed nature - meets more than just one objective. (p.203). What other goals would I need to include to make my portfolio meaningful? The years I taught in Halton we were asked to formulate three goals for each school year : one personal; one professional and one pedagogical. Would that be too much for my portfolio? How would I define and select them? Bell & Gilbert (1994) found that social or personal development of teachers was pivotal in that it preceeded professional development. Their data indicated that personal, professional and social development interact and overlap through the change process and that even though teachers were uncomfortable they continued to change as they felt better about themselves. When teachers felt empowered and convinced of the need for change they were able to determine the direction of their growth. (495). I would have to find a social goal for my portfolio and a professional goal. Very evident in the narratives is the element of modeling and living by example. When I do workshops I model the activities and the classroom management that I am teaching so that participants can experience it firsthand. I plan my activities using planners that I show them how to use, I read and use the books I recommend and I work in collaboration with my colleagues when I have special projects to do. My e-mail signature has a quote from Gandhi "Be the change you want to see in the world." Modeling the use of a professional portfolio to show growth and to effect change will be my pedagogical and professional goal. When I read the article by Norma Lyons (1999) about professional portfolios I noted that she recommended that portfolios be made public - that they be communicated to a community of colleagues. (p.64). Although the written part of the portfolio is crucial as Lyons says that it "develops habits of mind for good practice", it also forms the basis for professional dialogue which reveal philosophies through conversation. Keeping a journal or a log helps explore beliefs and expectations and conversations related to the writing provide feedback for growth. Adler (1993) in her paper "Teacher education: Research as reflective practice" talks about writing as showing awareness and responsibility to the professional community as well as being essential to reflective inquiry. She writes:
"writing is crucial to reflective inquiry. It is the writing process itself (van Manen 1990) that mediates reflection and action as well as provides the vehicle for communicating to others. While we write to make our inquiry public, writing also functions to allow us to subjectively confront our experiences and our consciousness of those experiences."(p.162)
Teachers find that written reflection is time consuming and requires having your ideas clearly articulated. Written work was undertaken in isolation with a large investment in time, space and preparation. However Naysmith & Palma also discovered that "thought is scaffolded by spoken interaction" (p.73) and that written work after discussion showed more depth of reflection. There is always the permanence of the written word as opposed to dialogue. Could this have been narrated just as well on tape? Could it then have been part of a professional dialogue? Perhaps some pictures could have told the story just as well.
" I'm sitting in my office surrounded by reminders of work I need to complete before I can go to
bed tonight. My folders for the conference are in piles around me and notes are attached to the
African wall hanging in front of my computer. A list of equipment to pack and to remember to bring
is beside my mouse and a CD on the Reform is beside my mouse pad. I need to review it before
tomorrow. On the dining room table is a document on the reform and I need to read the introduction
in order to make notes. My suitcase is on the floor beside my bed along with the case for my cell
phone. A pair of pants are on the bed frame awaiting ironing, several articles are on my pillow as
I want to look at them before I leave tomorrow. I am very anxious and not a little stressed about
next week. A lot hinges on this week and I am responsible for organizing the greater part of it.
Maybe that's why I found some things this week to be beyond my patience. It's a beautiful day but I
have not been able to enjoy it - except briefly. It's 4:30 and I still have a great deal to do. I
will be in bed late tonight I think.
But this day stands out as being the most frustrating........" (Coquard, N. Case Narrative, September 20, 1999)
"Within these stories of practice, the process of inquiry, of change and of the interaction of narratives is seen as if from the inside, and professional learning is shown taking place as individuals 'hold back', 'reach out', listen and respond to others, enter into each others' understandings, become increasingly more responsive to shared purposes and thus re- form themselves, their collaborative relationships and the communities to which they belong." (Beattie,p.65)In the final element of my portfolio, the final goal I will need to state will be for social development. I will need to look for a community of learners with whom I can dialogue, with whom I can share my stories, where I can listen and empathize with like-minded professionals. This group will help me to clarify and articulate my learnings, will help me to scaffold my written work through the support of discussion and dialogue, will help me look for patterns and anomolies, and will support me in my quest for change and growth. As teachers we have many ways of knowing and learning. According to Beattie (1995) we have practical knowledge that is not just content knowledge but knowledge which arises out of our bodily experiences and provides patterns that are meaningful to us and influence our reasoning. These five orientations of practical knowledge are: situational, theoretical, personal, social and experiential. Beattie also says that teachers hold and use this knowledge in distinctive ways: content , orientations (the way it is held), and structure. In a professional portfolio these aspects of teacher knowing are maximized. The situational is using your own practice, the theory is in the goals and beliefs statements, the personal and social is the dialoguing and sharing that go with the journals and the presentations and the experiential is learning and reflecting on actual experiences and practices. The very structure of the portfolio and it's content are dictated by the orientations of the teacher. I have learned a great deal about myself and my practice by doing this research on professional portfolios. I knew that I needed some help, support, guidance and information in order to get started but what is happening is that I am becoming aware that I am able to transform my practice and make it more what I have envisioned. I am now planning for ways to minimize the frustrations I have felt by setting goals and working towards them. I am looking forward to modeling this professional development portfolio with teachers. I think Beattie sums it up beautifully in this quote:
As we gradually came to understand each other and to acknowledge the value and authenticity of each other's personal experience, we co-created an in-service setting within which we helped, cared for and supported each other's growth and development. I found that my ability to contribute to a teacher's learning, and to learn myself within a given situation, was closely related to the sense of connectedness we each felt for the other within the relationship and to the levels of trust and respect present. The closer we felt to each other, the more open and courageous we could be in exposing our real concerns, areas where we felt we needed to learn and grow as professionals and in exploring the issues at the heart of our teaching. Thus the sense of belonging in a relational sense and of accepting and confirming the other was essential in allowing us the freedom to explore, to challenge and to grow and reconstruct our understandings together." (p.64)