Teaching Portfolios: How to Create One that Works!

Hey, y’all! This is Danielle from Nouvelle ELA, taking over the Coffee Shop this week to get real about Teaching Portfolios. Whether it’s to prepare for an annual review, to look for a new job, or just to feel great about what an amazing teacher you are, you need a Teaching Portfolio.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

I’m a military spouse and we are early in our career, meaning that we move around a LOT. I’ve already had to interview for several teaching positions, and I can tell you that a stellar Teaching Portfolio has won me more than one job. It has also helped me move up a level on a couple of components in my annual review – I had the proof that I was accomplished in the target area! All of the examples in this post are from my teaching portfolio, and be sure to check out the free planning sheet.

So, let’s break it down.

A great Teaching Portfolio:

*showcases you and your teaching philosophy
*includes artifacts (photos, student samples, lesson plans) that support those philosophies
*is organized and useful in a job interview or annual review.

1.       A Teaching Portfolio should showcase your philosophy.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

The whole point of a Teaching Portfolio is so that the person sitting across from you can get a glimpse into your wonderful expert teacher brain and imagine a day in the life of your classroom. Is your classroom quiet or loud? Do you favor lectures or group work? Do you give a lot of direct feedback, or do you favor peer editing? What is your main strategy for developing strong readers?

Your whole Teaching Portfolio is really centered around this philosophy, so be sure to check out this Teaching Philosophy Questionnaire and Teaching Portfolio Checklist to get started.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

2.       A Teaching Portfolio should include a lot of proof.

This is the most fun aspect of a portfolio, in my opinion: collecting artifacts. For the next month, snap a picture at least once a day of life in your classroom. This can be students working on activities, bulletin boards and displays, and student work. Keep student samples if you can, but be sure to take pictures of three-dimensional projects, too.

In addition to proof of your life with students, snag proof of other parts of your school life, too. Print a few emails to parents to show your communication style. HUGE CAVEAT here that this shouldn’t be anything personal about a student and you should black out all names and email addresses. Just print an example of a “first contact” email that tells how amazing a student is – this is simply proof that you keep in touch! As part of my portfolio, I have the email that I send to parents before we start “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, explaining about the value of No Fear, Shakespeare and other support available.

Have you done other things at school? Show proof of that, too. For me, this includes programs for the plays and functions I’ve directed. For you, it may be a team schedule for Varsity Basketball or a photograph of your winning Robotics team.

3.       A Teaching Portfolio should be organized and usable.

As you design your portfolio, keep the other party in mind. Is it an administrator in your school or a job committee? Does the person have five minutes or thirty to spend looking at your artifacts? Here are some hints to keep in mind:

Use section dividers to your advantage. Mine include personal info, lesson plans, student artifacts, communication, and evaluations

Give every page a title and every artifact a caption. Make sure that the viewer always knows the worth of each artifact. For example, I have tags that say “Collaboration example” and “STEM project”.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Choose your artifacts carefully. Don’t overwhelm your viewer. Make sure that you’ve already selected the best of the best, and that someone could find something interesting on every page.

Use tabs (labeled from your point-of-view) to help you guide the viewer. These will face you as you sit across the table from your interview or assessor and guide the conversation. For example, I know that I want to mention my Student-Selected Reading program, so I have that tab reminds me of that.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Parting Thoughts:

Practice with your Teaching Portfolio. Recruit a friend or loved one to sit across from you (like an interviewer) and walk them through your philosophy and portfolio. Let them ask you questions about various student samples and talk to them about what they see in the pictures.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Remember, this is the best you have to offer, and you deserve to be proud of it. You are an expert, and you have the right to guide an interview to highlight your strengths. It’s never amiss to gently add “I would love to talk to you about my experience leading Debate Club”, and then guide them to a page. Be kind, but assertive, and use your teaching portfolio to show off that very best side of you.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

What is an activity or lesson that you're most proud of? How will you showcase it in your teaching portfolio? Let us know in comments! We love hearing from our readers, and be sure to follow us on Instagram @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop for more great conversations.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.
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Let's Talk Parent-Teacher Conferences

I am not sure how you feel about parent-teacher conferences, but when chatting to colleagues, I have encountered everything from frustration and dislike, to enjoyment and gratification. Personally, I love them: I find that meeting the parents or guardians of the teens I work with every day can be the most insightful, valuable and constructive experience. Below are just a few of the top tips I have garnered from my many meetings with parents (often learned the hard way).

From my experience, unless there is a particular issue to discuss, parents come to teacher conferences just wanting to know that your really know their child: that you are on their side and have their best interests at heart. The best way to communicate this is to be as prepared as possible.

In order to do this, at the beginning of the school year, I have all my students complete a few basic forms themselves, and then I place these in manila folders so that every student I teach has a file. Throughout the year, if I ever have an interaction with a student which is noteworthy, or if there is cause for concern, or even if they produce a particularly important piece of work, I pop it into the file. This means that when I meet with a parent, I pull out the file and have a substantial stack of material to reference.

I can’t advocate for this enough: when dealing with teenagers, it is vital that they are always included in their own learning process - that they take responsibility for their own education and progress. Therefore, I always (strongly) encourage my students to attend any parent-teacher meeting I hold.

This serves two purposes. Firstly, it means that students are accountable for their own education; they are active participants, and they are given a voice. Secondly, it cuts out the middleman; it means that you limit the potential for miscommunication and “he said, she said” messages.

FREEBIE #1: Grab this free worksheet to have students complete at the beginning of the year, so you can check in with them on their progress and get vital information about how they learn best.
This is the real benefit of having students attend (see above): I start any meeting with a student or parent with a series of questions to really get the pulse of the conversation and draw out any specific concerns.

If a student is present I will always ask them questions such as: How are you enjoying our course? Which area of English do you want to grow in? Can you name one activity we have completed so far this year which you really enjoyed? One you struggled with? How would you rate your engagement in class? Where would you like to see improvement?

If a student is not present, I might ask the parent questions such as: How do you find your child is doing this year? Do you have any particular concerns? Does he/she ever talk about what we are studying in class? How much is he/she reading at home?  What area would you like to see improvement in?

The answers to these questions can often be extremely revealing and will often then determine the path our meeting will take. Starting this way shifts the focus off of the teacher, and onto the students and their educational journey: a far more constructive focus.

I always try to end my meetings by identifying one or two actionable goals for going forward. Usually, I have the student self-identify these goals, or we all come up with them together, and agree upon them collaboratively.

This also serves two purposes: it gives a clear actionable focus moving forward, which often gives parents and students a feeling of progress, and a focus for growth; in addition, it really does help indicate the end of the meeting, and bring it to a close - a sometimes much-needed signal! ;-)  

FREEBIE #2: This is a template of the page I prepare and use for parent-teacher conferences; I compile one of each of these for the students with whom I meet. Click to download instructions and template.

Finally, I really do try to keep parents/guardians as informed as possible throughout the year, and not just at parent-teacher conference time. Sending parents short emails, giving them quick phone calls when possible, or sending notes home on a more regular basis: all incredibly rewarding, valuable and satisfying parts of my job, especially when done to signal positive praise and achievement (you can read more about that here).

If you have any specific questions or comments about parent-teacher conference, please do post them in the comments below, as all our Coffee Shop ladies have ample experience and advice on this topic, which they’d love to share.

Looking for more resources for parent-teacher conferences? Check these out: 

Last Minute English Language Arts Lesson Plan Ideas and Resources for Teachers

How many times have you been absent from school and at the last minute, struggled to find something for leave for the substitute? Or how many times have you planned a great lesson only to find that you left your trusted flash drive with all the materials needed at home? Unfortunately, this happens a lot, so it’s always best to have quick and easy backup plans should these situations arrive!

I have compiled a short list of fool-proof lessons that an English Language Arts classroom teacher could utilize with a substitute or when you’re stuck for a lesson. These lessons require no extra materials other than what is found inside the classroom.

  1. Vocabulary Drawing: This can be used to review key terms with your current novel or unit. Students are assigned specific vocabulary term(s) and their job is to illustrate the word with creative, colorful images, including the definition, the word used in a sentence and an example. Students can use markers, crayons, construction paper, etc.
  2. Test Creation: Give your students the chance to have some input into their unit tests! Students can take their current novel and create a list of multiple choice, short answer or matching questions based on the vocabulary and main ideas of the novel. They also have to provide an accurate answer key as well. If you're looking for a more in-depth activity, to last several days, I have created a Board Game Project (to use instead of a test). This project allows students to reflect on what they learned, while at the same time, presenting the information in a really fun and creative way. Everything that was covered in a unit is fair game and can be incorporated in one way or another. Even the smallest details of a unit are important to this project. Click HERE to get a more in-depth looking into this non-traditional way of testing.
  3. Creative Writing: Show your creativity! This assignment doesn’t have to be associated with their current unit. The topics can be as silly or serious as you want to make them and as random as you want. Your student’s job is to create a short story or essay based upon the topic you pick. Whatever crazy ideas pop into their head for a story works!
  4. Grammar Lessons: It never hurts for students to review grammar and especially on a day when you're away, is likely a great opportunity (instead of someone else teaching them the various parts surrounding a current unit of study). Click HERE for a FREE Grammar Worksheet that can be used on a day when there is just no time to plan for a substitute or when you need a break! Depending on the level of your students and the technology available, this worksheet can even be graded at the end of a class, so you can start fresh on new lesson without wasting any more time.

  5. “Around The World” Spelling Bee: Similar to the rules of the fun basketball game, this can be used with a bucket, basket, or something similar. The rules are:
    1. Divide students into two teams. Before students are allowed to take a shot, they must spell one of their assigned words correctly. If they miss, they must stay in the same spot until they spell the word correctly.
    2. After misspelling a word three times in a row, the student is out.
    3. Continue until the winner is the only person left standing.
It is always best to be ready with emergency lesson plans for those unexpected absences or those days when you are unprepared (gasp!) It happens!. My little list of ELA lessons for a substitute are both easy to implement and require nothing more than what’s already found inside your classroom. Enjoy!

Looking for more reading strategy ideas? Check out these ideas from the other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers!

A Perfect Time for Reflection & Growth

The new year is often equated with resolutions, new chances, and new beginnings. However, when you teach in a semestered high school with finals the end of January, your new beginning is a few weeks away --  and those few weeks are a little frenzied, to say the least. We need to get kids back on track after the break, finish delivering our courses, prepare final assessments, grade those assessments, do report card, and get ready for a new semester that starts within days of finals. Yes, it's exhausting!

My original intent was to write a post about how to deal with ending one semester while preparing for another, but then I realized that I don't really have much advice, other than what I tell my students: the next few weeks are going to be busy. You aren't going to have a lot of me time. However, if you want to do your best, you just have to suck it up and get 'er done. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Most of all, you need to work on preparing for the end of the semester.

While reflecting on this, I decided that one of the most important things I need to do as a teacher (other than survive this crazy time), is to practice what I have been preaching to my students all year:
reflect on what I've learned in the last five months and use my learning to improve my skills. I don't have to write finals, but I should look back at what I've learned from my first semester classes and use that learning to improve my practice. So here are four things I'm going to do to before I meet my new students in a few weeks. Maybe you might try a few yourself.

This can be both affirming and scary. Of course we'd love to have our students tell us that everything we did was an amazingly fun and engaging learning experience, but let's face it: we are human. We all have room for improvement.  Maybe we designed an activity that was an absolute blast but, in the end, it didn't really do much to advance student learning. Or, we delivered a lesson that stuck -- they finally learned how to cite their sources, but the lesson left them snoozing. Maybe they have suggestions to help you find a way to make both better. You'll never know unless you ask. You don't have to wait until the end of the semester to do this, either. You can ask for feedback at the end of each unit, and that way, it's fresh on everyone's mind.

I like to take the time to look back at what worked and what didn't over the last few months before I start planning for the next ones. This year, for example, I added several new things to my back of tricks. I've always done a lot of work on the revision process when my students write essays, but this time I chose to take more time with the pre-writing stage.  My students went through a series of stations that required that they spend time really thinking through and or gazing their ideas. It worked so well! The were very ready to begin their first draft and that was clear in their final essays.

My "worst" lesson was not actually one that flopped. Instead it was my own failure to make more use of something that I know works. Last year I started using more mentor texts for both Readers' and Writers' Workshop. They work. I love them. But, when you're an old dog like me, it's so easy to roll back into your old habits and keep doing what you've always done. It takes more planning on my part to switch my lessons around to include mentor texts, and I failed to do that enough. I will aim to fix that next semester.

After doing my own reflection and reading through my student evaluations, I need to carve out the time to use that all-important feedback. Nothing makes me more frustrated or disappointed when students don't use my feedback to improve, so I'd be pretty hypercritical not to use theirs for my own growth.  The trick is finding the time to do that when you're in the middle of the frenzy that is the change of semesters (or longing to start your summer in May/June). One way to avoid having to do this when you're overwhelmed with the change of semester, is to do the evaluation throughout the term, at the end of each unit.

This, I think, is the most important advice to myself and to you: aim to make only one major change. Yes, we should always tweak what didn't work, but if we want to take on something totally new to us, it's ok to make small steps. Have you always been interested in using a workshop approach in high school? Would you like to use more formative assessment? Or would you like to try stations with your teens? All of these would be wonderful additions to your classroom, but you'll drive yourself insane (and set yourself up for failure) if you try to do it all at once. Choose one of those things, or experiment by trying something once or twice. Then, when you're ready, try one more thing.

For me, I am going to add one day a week of Writer's Workshop in my International Baccalaureate class. Because of the nature of the course, I don't have a lot of room to experiment. They spend most of their time reading and writing analytical essays about author purpose and technique. I'd like to spend more time with them practicing their own techniques, in the hopes that it will help them better understand how other writer's use theirs. The hard part for me will be balancing that with getting all of the reading covered -- because we never seem to have enough time. I think it's going to be worth a try, though, because I've seen the power of it in my other classes.

You can grab the feedback and reflection forms that I'm going to use here.  I hope you have an amazing second semester, and that you and your students are able to learn and grow with each other!

Jackie teaches and learns in Room 213. You can follow her blog at Real Learning in Room 213.

5 Teacher Resolutions You’ll WANT to Keep

Yes, I know… you’re already an awesome, reflective, hard-working educator. In fact, your state or district might already make you jump through hoops to prove how effective or fantastic you are. The idea of setting (or failing) more resolutions might seem scary. And, truth be told, maybe maybe your life already involves a lot of SMART goals, growth mindset, or self-discipline, and adding more seems like a lot.

...Or, is the new year the perfect opportunity to discover something great? A new chance to start over? An excuse to do something differently?

Here's my attitude:

In a previous blog post about curing teacher burnout, I explored the different issues that cause teachers to leave or question the profession, and I firmly believe that NOW is a great time for struggling or victorious teachers alike to up the ante. Explore this list below; just see if any of them strike a chord in your heart.

{Be sure to SCROLL DOWN to get a FREE tool that will also help!}

Maybe the thing you need the most is a fresh start. A new year or new semester already does that to a point, so seize it. Is now the time to literally clean up your space, let something go, start over, or reach out for help?
  • Identify the stressors in your teaching (or personal) life, and choose at least ONE to tackle sooner rather than later. 
What do chatty students, a disorganized grading pile, broken technology, or not-enough-pencils all have in common? They’re not only problematic, but they can trigger even more stress in your life that you don’t need.
  • Similar to #1, pick an ongoing problem and expend a little energy to try a solution. You won’t regret it!
Even if your teaching game is on point, maybe your physical or mental health could use some support from a resolution. (Hey, we’re all “there” at one point or another!)
  • If you need to drink more water, sneak in more steps, or snack differently, then own it. January is probably the perfect time to find health-related deals in stores or try something new!
Some teachers need to keep learning, add to their resumes, or feel a sense of accomplishment to feel truly at peace. (Or, even if you’re not a Type-A learner, maybe you just want some new inspiration this year!) If that’s you, then perhaps it’s time to sign up for something worthwhile.
  • Is there a local class that you would actually find fascinating? An online opportunity to cross something off your educational bucket list? 
Is your school/life balance a little off? Desperately need to catch up with some people? Well, put down your grading pen, pick up your calendar, start calling those friends or loved ones. I’m admittedly a workaholic, and balance is one of MY biggest weaknesses, so I totally understand.
  • Consider setting a reasonable social goal to build the connections you need, whether that’s seeing someone at a minimum interval, or getting one social thing in per week. 
Ready for an easy way to get started? Use this one-page tool to hang on a board or fridge and stay motivated all year! Print the Teacher Resolutions Bingo Board and get started checking off your accomplishments (and then rewarding yourself afterward!)

BONUS FREEBIE #2: Whether you entered this profession more for your love of the content area OR for your love you have for your students, there’s little that feels better than knowing you made a difference in someone’s life.

If you can’t currently “see” your impact, or wish to think about more ways to do this, then head on over to my partner blog post about helping students meet THEIR goals and resolutions! (It includes a FREE student version of the resolutions activity, too!)


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