Teaching Portfolios: Do we need them?

Ever since I became a teacher in 2009 I’ve been keeping everything I’ve done. For the first two years as a PRT (Provisionally Registered Teacher) it was pretty much part of the process of what was expected to keep track of my progress, my teaching, and my career. After that, it had become somewhat second nature and with the appraisal process becoming much less trustworthy with the introduction of the Education Council (renamed Teacher’s Council), schools and principals were encouraged to tighten their systems of appraisal and were expected to have their staff collect evidence that they were meeting each of the 12 criteria at the time.

On top of this, teachers were also encouraged to carry out what has become known as “Teacher Inquiry” where teachers inquired into their own practise and how they might be better teachers for their classes and students.

Although I’d known no different and all of this was second nature and just part of the job, it is a lot of work on top of what we have to do day in and day out – the core business of teaching. It quickly became one of the number one pieces of paperwork and time consumers for teachers.

Along came Labour, winning the 2017 election and swiftly removing the ‘Education Council’ and returning it to the teachers. With the pay negotiations came the agreement to address the workload. And with that the appraisal process, of which teacher inquiry and portfolios had become synonymous with.

In September 2019, the following paragraph was released from the Teaching Council website in regards to it’s requirements around portfolios and inquiry.

 

The Teaching Council would like to clarify what it expects for the issue or renewal of a practising certificate.
The issue or renewal of a practising certificate will be based on an endorsement made by the professional leader, based on the teacher’s participation in a system that includes:

  • an annual summary report that states whether or not the appraisee meets the Standards or Ngā Paerewa
    • the annual summary report is the only teacher documentation that is required for the purposes of the audit ERO undertakes on behalf of the Teaching Council
  • that appraisees have been observed once annually and involved in two conversations ideally with an appraiser who is familiar with the day to day work of the teacher
    • the Council has listened to the profession and accepts that one observation may suffice for fully certificated teachers.

We do not ask (nor do we require) to see copies of the annual summary report, or any evidence. We rely on the professional judgement of the appraiser and the leader making the endorsement.

While schools and centres are free to design their appraisal processes there is no requirement in law or by any agency that an appraisal system must include:

  1. an inquiry to be undertaken by teachers

  2. reports to be kept of all the professional development teachers do

  3. a portfolio of evidence compiled by teachers

 

So essentially, it is not the Teacher’s Council that requires you to collect evidence, or complete an inquiry, but your school and/or principal. However, schools and principals feel that they have to get teachers to do these in order to have something to sign off on for the annual summary report. They don’t, but they might feel that they have to have some kind of evidence that teachers are meeting the criteria when signing off the annual summary report.

Regardless, I return to my first question: Do we need them?

The short answer is no. Not legally.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them or keep them, as professionals and learners. Portfolios are a good way of collating experiences, celebrating successes, recording failures, and building a collection of your career as a teacher. They provide you with opportunities to reflect, question, and develop your own skills as a learner, and when done well, can be incredibly insightful and important to the practise of teaching.

The long answer is yes. Yes definitely.

But… but…. but they make so much more work! Yes. You’re right. But there are two things I say to that.

Firstly: There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.

Secondly: Make the portfolio work for you, not you work for it.

I have several ways of doing this which I plan on sharing over the course of the next few months. This is because I believe there are ways to make them easier to create and collect. I also believe they are worth maintaining even though they are not required legally. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother writing about this now when there is a chance that schools will start dropping the expectation that teachers maintain them. I believe that even if my school dropped them as a requirement, that I would still continue to collect and reflect on my teaching practise in the form of a portfolio.