“Teaching is a political process. It must be a democratic process to avoid teaching authority dependence. The teacher must learn about (and from) the student so that knowledge can be constructed in ways that are meaningful to the student. The teachers must become learners and the learners must become teachers. Teachers must have humility, coupled with love and respect for their students”.– Paulo Freire, one of the world’s greatest educators and philosophers
Syed Afiat Shah
What does continuous professional development (CPD) mean in the field of teaching? Does it only mean to attend short and long-term courses from training institutes? Is it only the responsibility of the employer organizations to provide teachers with professional development opportunities? These are some of the worth reflecting questions for teachers to understand the real spirit and concept of professional development.
While continuous professional development is possible through self-initiated and self-directed learning strategies, teachers often tend to rely on short and long-term training courses and wait for their employer organizations to provide them with opportunities for their professional development. I have often heard many government teachers saying that private sector teachers enjoy more training opportunities than those in the public sector. Even surprisingly, private sector teachers often lament that the training courses provided by their employer, are too limited for their professional growth. Of course, it is fact that formal training opportunities are key elements of professional development but their absence should not be a procrastination for teachers to stop their self-development.
Now the question arises, how is it possible for teachers to grow themselves professionally without waiting for formal training programmes and opportunities? What are those self-initiated strategies which can lead to professional growth? Among many other self-directed professional development models, teacher portfolio is currently emerging as a prominent cost-effective tool which leads teachers towards self-assessment, self-reflection, systematic record keeping of their own efforts.
The portfolio is a systematic collection of one’s efforts, progress and achievements. It is a systematic record of someone’s learning compiled by him/herself throughout the learning process. Furthermore, it is a “means of collecting someone’s efforts, progress and achievements in one or more areas (Paulson, & Meyer, as cited in Carroll, et al., 1996, p.253)”. To me, it is a systematic documentation of the teacher’s professional responsibilities such as students’ result analysis, remedial plans, reflections, teacher development plans and personal teaching philosophy. It is a structured and purposeful documentary history of teacher’s work that tells the story of teacher’s accomplishments, skills, efforts, achievements, contributions and progress. The portfolio serves certain vital functions which help teachers in their professional development.
Firstly, as an assessment tool, it helps the teachers explore their own strengths, progress and diagnose need improvement areas. It works as a mirror in reflecting on the gaps between what they are doing and what they are supposed to do to improve their classroom practices. For example, a teacher can identify and diagnose the underlying difficulties of students in a particular subject only if a systematic teaching portfolio is available containing the record of the result analysis and performance of the students. Theoretical studies also support the idea that teacher portfolio is a method of self-assessment which helps teachers to revisit their capabilities, skills, efforts undertaken for improving their practices. Thus, it can provide them with a realistic picture of what to improve in future practices (Crooks, 2003). In short, it helps them to unlearn the non-productive practices, relearn the productive ones and seek for certain innovative ways to improve their practices.
“Teacher portfolio is a method of self-assessment which helps teachers to revisit their capabilities, skills, efforts undertaken for improving their practices… It helps them to unlearn the non-productive practices, relearn the productive ones and seek for certain innovative ways to improve their practices.
Secondly, it opens doors for self-directed learning for teachers. It enables teachers to develop remedial plans comprising innovative strategies to address the identified issues. In this way, teachers become able to improve their classroom practices which result in better student learning and self-growth of teachers. Self-directed learning strategies can be developed and implemented only if a systematic assessment is made on the basis of the available record and evidence. Once the self-assessment is done as a result of the evidence in the portfolio then it becomes easier to work on the gaps.
Thirdly, the portfolio also aims at helping teachers in challenging themselves academically. A dynamic teacher does not follow what he/she had done last time but he/he challenges it and tries to bring reforms and innovations in his /her practices to perform better than last year. The existence of portfolio serves this purpose by providing a record of the past.
Fourthly, portfolio not only provides a true picture of teachers’ capabilities and efforts but also it provides a defence for them at the time of annual appraisals which exists in most private schools. While the fear of subjectivity is likely to occur in the appraisal of teachers in the absence of teacher portfolio, the existence of this tool may lead to objectivity (Crookes, 2003).
How to develop teacher portfolio
Firstly, it is recommended that teacher portfolio should be introduced in both public and private-sector schools to enable teachers to reflect on their practices and learn from them. Because it is not possible for all institutions to arrange a long-term formal course for the development of teachers due to various limitations including budget constraints, self-made and cost-effective teaching portfolio can be institutionalised to lead teachers towards self-growth by enabling them to take self-directed initiatives to improve themselves and their students.
Secondly, it should be taken as a tool for assessment for learning. It should be initiated at the beginning of the academic year. All efforts, progress, contributions and accomplishments are to be recorded in an ongoing way so as to be able to reflect on the past progress and build on it for better future practices.
Thirdly, it should be well-organised in a way that the records and evidence are arranged in a logical sequence showing a connection between the efforts, contributions and achievements. For instance, result analysis should be followed by remedial plans to tell that the teacher has meaningfully analysed students’ progress and planned accordingly.
Last but not the least, teaching portfolio should be an authentic and original tool. It should be a unique creation of a teacher’s own efforts, experience and learning with a variety of evidence of a teacher’s professional practices, contributions, efforts and achievements taken from multiple sources.
The writer is an Academic Coordinator at the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan’s Regional School Development Unit, Gupis, Ghizer District. He can be reached at: [email protected]