The Collaborative’s teaching portfolio can seem daunting at first, but it’s not that bad once you find your groove.
During the Teaching Collaborative’s Field Experience, Partner Teachers submit a portfolio that highlights their growth and understanding of the skills learned throughout field experience, including sample lesson plans and a reflection on supporting diverse learners in the classroom. I found this post buried in my draft posts, and thought I’d polish it up and share it.
At 11:18pm on Wednesday May 11, 2022, I clicked send on an email to my Collaborative Coach, notifying him that my teaching portfolio was ready for his review.
The teaching portfolio is one of the last requirements needed in order for Partner Teachers to successfully complete the field experience component of the program. There are quite a few things involved, but it can be broken down into a some key components:
- A unit plan outline, which identifies the desired results of the unit, evidence and data that I used to assess student learning, and a learning plan that broke down the pacing of the unit.
- Two lessons complete with relevant materials, including: slides, handouts, answer keys, etc.
- A Reaching All Learners narrative, which somewhat synthesized my previous reflection and writing on data collection/analysis and my inter-visitations where I got to observe licensed teachers practicing the tenets of culturally-responsive sustaining education (CR-SE) in their classrooms.
For the unit plan, my coach and I decided to plan it around the ICT earth science class that we were teaching together, as we knew that I’d be teaching in an ICT setting for the upcoming school year. At this point in the year, we had finished the majority of the content, and the Regents for our class (June 15th) wasn’t too far away at that point. After consulting with our general ed co-teacher (who is absolutely brilliant in all things earth science), we decided that my mini unit would focus on the factors that influence climate, heat transfer, and the water cycle.
Every time I plan a lesson or unit, I can’t help but to think about a play. It feels like me and my students are on a stage and I’m orchestrating some grandiose display that will wow them and support them in taking their knowledge of earth science to a new level. Are my hopes a bit lofty? Absolutely, but you gotta find a way to amuse and entertain yourself when possible.
I don’t think there’s a particularly right or wrong way to prepare a lesson plan (LP), and everyone I know does it in a way that works best for them. My general workflow is to have a copy of my lesson plan template open, along with a copy of my Google Slides template and a folder that I can drop other resources into (handouts, articles, etc.). I usually do most of my planning as I look at my Google Slide deck, thinking about what I’m going to say and how I expect my students to respond. I then use the lesson plan to fill in more of the details, like how I want to phrase certain things, key points to highlight, common misconceptions, and anticipating student questions.
The unit plan wasn’t particularly difficult, it just took some time and thought to put everything together in a coherent order. One thing that I appreciate about my Collaborative experience was the
expectation opportunity to create and submit multiple LPs per week for feedback from my coach. Will I use the Collaborative’s standard LP format in my teaching job? Absolutely not, and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to feels the same way. The Collaborative’s template is great for learning what makes a good LP, and I know I’ll consider all of those components in my teaching practice, but there’s just no way that it’s sustainable on a daily basis. It’s similar to the way that some teacher preparation programs require LPs to be formatted or require scholarly sources to justify the choices that we make.
The timing did prove to be a bit tricky. I said that the unit plan wasn’t particularly hard, but man did it take some time to sit down and bang out. I used to be a slacker who couldn’t manage his time well. Now the difficulty laid in having a ton of stuff on my plate at any given moment and trying to make time to work on the portfolio. In many ways, my girlfriend was the unsung hero of my teaching portfolio. She was incredibly supportive every step of the way as I vented, talked about how my day in the classroom was, and acted as an incredibly thoughtful sounding board on numerous occasions. I often joked that she was my rubber duck; rubberducking being a method that software developers use to debug code by explaining the problem in natural language. Rubberducking is a surprisingly effective debugging/brainstorming strategy, and I encourage other educators to try it out with their inanimate object of choice.
Eventually, I got the portfolio done and submitted it at 11:26pm – just shy of the midnight deadline. The portfolio is reviewed by the Partner Teacher’s coach and also their SBS lead instructor. The two scores are averaged together and that becomes the Partner Teachers’ portfolio grade. When all was said and done, I got a solid A and my coach’s blessing that I was prepared to take on my own classroom.
Aside from the amount of time that the teaching portfolio required, it was a net positive and a fitting way to wind down my field experience. I’ve always enjoyed reflection-oriented tasks, which is a reason for why I started this blog. This blog wouldn’t be terribly helpful if all I did was ramble the entire time, so I’ll leave the interested reader with some takeaways from my experience putting my portfolio together.
- The portfolio rewards effort. One reason that the portfolio went pretty well for me was that I was intentional throughout my field experience about preparing high-quality LPs and in completing the intermediate assignments along the way. Earlier in my field experience we completed inter-visitations and observed how licensed teachers employed CR-SE practices in their classroom. Despite being two separate assignments, the work I did during the inter-visitations and CR-SE reflection went a long way towards setting the stage for my Reaching All Learners narrative, especially as I thought about the underlying principles of CR-SE in my own teaching practice.
- Start earlier – earlier than you think. If I could go back in time to the almost month that I recall putting aside to work on my portfolio, I would have printed out a monthly calendar for the month of May and planned out almost day-by-day exactly what I wanted to accomplish. A month sounds like a lot, but in the midst of pre-service training doing a little bit each day goes a long way. When I did this planning, I wish I had gone back and identified several non-negotiable checkpoints along the way.
- Lean into your resources. I was lucky by having a coach that was invested in my professional development. I always felt like I could pull him aside during a prep or send an email to ask about a certain thing, and my coach always offered new ways to think about some component of a lesson or how I might organize something from a planning perspective. Our earth science co-teacher was also tremendous. She had no obligation to help me out, but went out of her way to give me content ideas and to dial in the pacing of my mini unit.
- Use a tool like Google Docs/Sheets to plan the unit and lessons. I can’t begin to count how many times I started planning a lesson one way and then it did a 180 and I ended up doing something else. Maybe I was just terrible at sequencing, but I chalked it up as part of my planning process. Google tools (Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc.) offer a robust set of version management tools, and you can even assign names to certain versions to better keep track of everything.
- Leave a day for to review the portfolio with fresh eyes. This goes for pretty much any major assignment. I don’t think any major projects should be submitted without getting a good night’s sleep and looking over things one last time to make any final adjustments.
The portfolio might seem like a lot at first, but I think most Partner Teachers don’t realize how prepared they are to take it on until they get to it. Staring at a blank page can be daunting, but never be afraid to just start writing. Even if it doesn’t make any sense, get those thoughts on paper and the rest will flow naturally.