Documenting Your Teaching
What is a teaching portfolio? A teaching portfolio (sometimes called a dossier) is a collection of evidence about the effectiveness of your teaching. A good teaching portfolio… “is woven together by narrative commentary from the faculty member that describes the context for the documentation and presents reflections on the teaching self. It presents multiple sources of evidence, chronicles the development of the instructor, and projects a future vision.” (Chism, N. V. N., & Chism, G. W. (2007). Peer review of teaching : a sourcebook (2nd ed.). Anker Pub, p.108)
It is most frequently submitted as part of a job search for an academic position or in the process of seeking promotion or tenure. There is no single, exhaustive list of what should be included in a teaching portfolio at UD. Your own departmental, disciplinary, and personal teaching contexts will guide many of your choices. Designing a teaching portfolio that is effective can take some time, revision, and consultation.
Faculty going up for promotion and tenure are encouraged to begin working on this portion of their dossier well in advance of the deadline. Faculty are welcome to schedule a personal consultation with CTAL to discuss their individual cases.
Graduate students who are pursuing a faculty position are encouraged to use the self-paced resources on this page to guide the creation of a draft of their teaching statements and portfolios. Some of the advice and most of the resources in this document are specific to faculty seeking promotion at the University of Delaware but (a) they should still be informative and (b) similar materials exist at other colleges and universities.
What a well-designed teaching portfolio does:
- Highlight your priorities as an instructor in a wide variety of contexts to give readers a sense of your values and goals for teaching.
- Give concrete, specific examples of your achievements in facilitating student learning.
- Help your reviewers get a sense of what it is like to learn from and with you.
- Support a statement of teaching philosophy that informs all that you do to foster student learning.
- Place your efforts at teaching and learning within the broader context of your research, scholarship and service. A well-designed teaching portfolio is an opportunity to highlight the integration of your scholarly efforts.
Key elements of a teaching portfolio:
Before you begin to compile your teaching portfolio, you’ll want to review the guidelines and handbook from your home department as well as the college. There is also a university-wide statement on teaching evidence in the faculty handbook (Sec 4.4.11 2A) Consider these guidelines as recommendations as interrelated as opposed to mutually exclusive– some elements may be required by all those who review your dossier, while others are dictated only by your department.
The best way to get a sense of what your department values as a demonstration of teaching excellence is to collect sample documents from peers and colleagues who have successfully achieved promotion. You may also want to reach out to colleagues in other departments who have achieved the rank that you are seeking. If your position is unique in your department, it may be helpful to solicit examples from colleagues in similar departments or those who have recently been advanced to the rank to which you are seeking promotion.
While there is variation between departments in terms of specific components of the dossier, nearly all departments will ask for the following teaching-related materials:
Statement of Teaching Philosophy
What is a Statement of Teaching Philosophy?
The statement of teaching philosophy is a 1-2 page document that describes your beliefs, values and goals about teaching and learning. It is often supported with examples from your experience. The statement describes why you teach the way you teach. Being that experience as well as professional development activities will influence how your teaching evolves, your statement of teaching philosophy should also evolve over time to reflect this growth. These statements are written in the first-person and serve as a framework for how your reviewers will read and interpret the documentation submitted in your dossier. A well-organized, compelling statement of teaching philosophy should drive your readers into the more detailed materials within your dossier, and serve as a guide for how they interpret that evidence.
What goes into a Statement of Teaching Philosophy?
There is no standard format for writing a Statement of Teaching Philosophy as each is a highly personal document. While narratives, evidence, and framing will vary widely, there are some guiding principles that can help shape your statement:
- Focus on a central theme, practice, theory, or metaphor that guides your approach to teaching. For example, you may use group work frequently in your courses because of its utility in helping students practice both course-related skills as well as broader skills of collaboration and communication. Reflect on why this approach serves your overall goals for student learning. Explain the “why” and “how” within your statement using specific examples from your recent courses.
- Offer your readers a clear picture of your development over time as an educator. If you’ve made changes to your teaching approach based on feedback from students or colleagues, address it in your statement. If you’ve spent several years refining a technique or approach, describe the impacts of that process. A statement of teaching philosophy is not simply a list of past accomplishments; it is a place to demonstrate a cohesive approach and an ongoing commitment to teaching and learning.
- Make connections between your goals and teaching approaches and those of your department, your discipline, and the university at large. Try to demonstrate how your teaching and learning work directly contributes to supporting your department’s program educational goals, your discipline’s core values, or the university’s commitments to equity, for example.
- In some fields, and for some faculty, including citations from educational research or theory is an important way of grounding their practice in research. If you are new to this area of research or if you’d like to familiarize yourself with why some teaching practices are more effective than others, here are some good places to start:
- Ambrose, S. A., Ambrose, S. A., Lovett, M., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works : seven research-based principles for smart teaching (The jossey-bass higher and adult education series). Jossey-Bass.
- Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online : applying learning science in online classes. Jossey-Bass.
- Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching : everyday lessons from the science of learning (First). Jossey-Bass.
Common pitfalls to avoid
- Avoid unnecessary or empty cliches. Your statement of teaching philosophy is most compelling when you offer glimpses into your teaching through anecdotes, evidence, or concrete examples of your impact. Avoid using “buzz word” phrases that are devoid of your specific teaching context. For example, “I value student engagement in my teaching” is less specific and impactful than saying “Students regularly ask and answer questions during each class session using polling software, and continue to explore these ideas through attending office hours or participating in group study sessions. They remark on the value of these experiences in their mid-semester and end-of-semester feedback to me.” In your statement, you may be able to include a hyperlink to some sample student comments as evidence to support your claims or explicitly refer readers to a different section of your portfolio.
- Refrain from making critiques of students. Highlighting student success or progress within your courses should not include negative statements about student abilities or prior knowledge. Rather than saying “students come into my class knowing nothing about statistics” take an opportunity to highlight how your teaching supports student development. That might look like: “I provide students with an asynchronous unit on foundational skills in statistics that helps ensure that all students have a solid base of knowledge before we begin our more complex assignments. Students can demonstrate mastery of the unit at any time within the first two weeks, which allows students to review content, practice their skills, and gain confidence.”
- Becoming defensive about negative student feedback on your teaching is understandable but should be avoided. It is not necessary to respond to all negative student comments in your end-of-year surveys but if you choose to address any of these comments, do so in a constructive way that highlights your responsiveness to student feedback. Rather than saying “students frequently complain about the final group project in their final evaluations but rarely speak to me about it prior to the end of the semester,” use that critique to highlight why group work is central to your teaching approach. In some cases (such as this example about group work) you may have evidence that group work is an effective teaching practice even if it is unpopular with students.
- Vague or overuse of adjectives like “critical,” or “authentic.” For example, many faculty talk about critical thinking as an important concept for their teaching but few define it in a way that is meaningful and unique. If you have used these adjectives before to describe aspects of your teaching, take some time to reflect on and write out what they specifically mean and look like for you. The more specific and connected to evidence your description of practices, the more compelling it will be for your readers
Course summaries should give your readers a sense of both how you teach the course, and how the course fits into the broad curriculum of your program. A syllabus is often not sufficient to give a reader a true sense of what happens in a course. There are several ways to present course summaries and you will want to get examples or feedback from colleagues in similar programs who have been successful in promotion or tenure.
Types of course summaries:
- A one-page overview (akin to a cover letter) that details an approach to teaching the course, recent changes made to the design or delivery of that course, and plans to modify the course. This could include details about teaching grants awarded to improve the course, improved student enrollments, significant student outcomes, participation in a major CTAL program like the Foundational Course Initiative, or attendance of a disciplinary workshop or conference focused on teaching practices directly relevant to that course.
- A single document with paragraph summaries of each course highlighting major changes or initiatives.
- Summaries of courses taught at different levels e.g. undergraduate, advanced undergraduate, graduate. These can be treated as separate documents that precede collections of syllabi at each level and highlight unique approaches or pedagogies appropriate to each level.
Your portfolio should include the most recent copies of the syllabi for the courses that you teach. We encourage UD faculty to use the syllabus template, which creates an accessible document with well-organized headers that is easy for a reader to scan through. Many faculty use the UD syllabus template, which creates an accessible document with well-organized headers that is easy for a reader to scan through. If you haven’t used that format, you should make sure that the syllabi you include are complete and current. If you put most of your syllabus information in your Canvas site, you’ll need to export that into a format that can be included in your dossier.
In addition, you may also want to annotate your syllabi to draw attention to key features of your course. Annotation is a good way to explain the “why” and “how” that may not be easily visible to a reader. Here are some examples:
- In the Required Course Materials section, you can explain why and how you select readings and materials for a particular course. If you’ve recently changed or updated readings in response to student interest, note that here. If you’ve made an effort to bring diverse voices into your assigned readings, you can highlight that in this section.
- In the Course Calendar, you can annotate specific days where you did an engaging in-class activity, or explain how you present an introduction to a new unit or concept.
- Do you have innovative strategies for getting students to attend office hours? A unique way of including your Teaching Assistant in your course? Use annotation to make those practices clear to your readers.
You can also consider including one or more pairs of syllabi or excerpts from syllabi to illustrate specific changes that you have made in your courses. This is typically done with “before” and “after” examples that include an explanation about the changes including their rationale/motivation and their impact.
Evidence of Student Achievement
There are many different kinds of evidence you can include in a dossier to show that student learning has successfully occurred in your courses. Here are some ideas from UD faculty who have been successfully promoted or tenured:
- Annotated student work
- Show the comments you gave a student as well as the work the student submitted. This can often be most compelling on a draft where you demonstrate how you provide students with meaningful feedback.
- Rubrics for major assignments and a sample of student work at the A level
- This shows readers how you evaluate student work and how you (and the students) know that they have been successful.
- End-of-course reflections from students
- In courses where students are asked to reflect on their learning, these narratives are highly compelling evidence for student achievement. These can be purpose-written documents that students wrote solely to respond to one or more reflection prompts/questions or they can be responses to one or more individual questions from exams or projects.
- Unsolicited student feedback indicating future study or employment in a field
- If you’ve worked closely with or advised a student who successfully goes on to advanced study, or into a career in their chosen field, you may have written testimonials that express how your course (or courses) contributed to their success. These are most compelling when they are unsolicited and highly specific. If you aren’t sure if a student comment is appropriate, it is always best to run these past a trusted colleague.
- Grade comparisons
- For courses that use frequent quizzes or exams, you can demonstrate overall student improvement from one point in the semester to the end of the semester through comparing final grades on those quizzes/exams. Presented in a graph, this can be a clear and compelling visual to show how students perform on major assessments over the course of a semester.
- For those faculty who use the Canvas Quizzes tool, you can perform an item analysis that will show student achievement on individual exam or test questions. You can use these data to show how students improved in their mastery of difficult concepts over time by presenting them in a graph.
Student Perspectives of Teaching
Student evaluations of teaching (here referred to as student perspectives of teaching) are one piece of feedback about your teaching, but they need to be presented in context. While department, college, or university policy usually requires you to include all numerical data you have, you can display some of that data in compelling ways to support a point or demonstrate how pedagogical changes affected perceptions of your teaching. Here are some innovative ways that faculty have presented student feedback data:
- Separate course evaluation scores based on the type or size of course. For example, compare only survey courses to survey courses or upper-level seminars to each other. This is particularly important when you teach courses of very different sizes. In a 25-person course, a 40% response rate only amounts to 10 students’ perceptions of that course. In a 150-person course, you’ll capture 60 students’ data points with the same response rate.
- Display course evaluation scores for a single course taught over many semesters in a line graph to show improvement over time, even if it is incremental. If there is a dramatic change between two semesters, you can address this in a short statement.
- You can also display response data sorted for pedagogical approach. If you teach several courses using an intensive, highly structured pedagogy (such as Team-Based Learning), you can compare just those courses to each other to demonstrate how this pedagogical approach impacts student perceptions.
- If you use common questions across your courses, select just one or two questions to represent in the aggregate across all courses to highlight those aspects of your teaching that you feel are particularly impactful.
Conducting mid-semester student surveys or otherwise soliciting feedback from your students prior to the end of the semester is another practice you may wish to consider. In addition to offering another data point for each course you teach, this feedback can help improve future teaching of your courses. Simply soliciting feedback from your students is an indicator that their perspectives are valued and is something you should mention in your teaching statement if this is a regular practice of yours.
Supplemental materials you may wish to include
Reviewing a colleague’s materials (from a proximate discipline) is the best way to get a sense for what is most compelling in a teaching dossier. After consulting with your department chair about what is required and what is recommended, you may want to consider adding some additional materials such as:
- Documentation from a peer observation of your teaching
- Links to videos of your teaching or presenting on a teaching topic at a conference or workshop
- Documentation of grants awarded for teaching or awards for teaching
- Descriptions or summaries of any workshops or teaching-related services you have conducted here at UD (e.g. a session at the Summer Institute on Teaching)
- Descriptions or summaries of workshops, talks, posters, or presentations you have given about your teaching at other institutions or national conferences.
- Documentation of your professional development as an instructor (e.g. attendance at workshops, conferences, or symposia)
For graduate students seeking a teaching position…
Even if you have limited teaching experience, it is possible to put together a compelling teaching dossier that will demonstrate your skills well. In this section, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for generating a statement of teaching philosophy and accompanying dossier of evidence.
Step One: Understand Your Audience
Review the questions below. For most of these questions, you’ll need to conduct some research about the institutions that you are applying to. As you conduct this research, reflect on the most important takeaways and jot down the information that will help guide the collection of necessary evidence.
What kind of institution are you applying to? (e.g. Small liberal arts college? Large research university?)
What does the department, program, or institution say that they value in teaching? Review any relevant documents on their website or in the job application itself.
Example: The Women & Gender Studies department at UD has a clear mission statement:
The mission of the Department of Women & Gender Studies as a multidisciplinary department is to produce and disseminate knowledge about women and gender that utilizes interdisciplinary approaches to learning that engage faculty, students, and staff as well as the community at large. We strive for excellence through teaching, scholarship, cultural events, and public engagement, anchoring our work in core principles of diversity, social justice, and inclusion in a globally connected world.
On their “Why Women & Gender Studies?” page, they also give a detailed description of their capstone course that includes both faculty and student perspectives. Information like this gives applicants a clear sense of the department’s shared values. An applicant highlighting their teaching experience for this department would want to ensure that they have hit all of the key concepts as expressed in the mission statement.
What types of evidence do you think will be most important to these readers? What types of teaching are most valued in your discipline (e.g., hands-on instruction, fostering critical thinking through discussion, mastery of information, etc.)? Highlight these aspects of your teaching without pandering to your audience.
Example: You are applying to a small liberal arts college that highly values community engagement. You were recently a TA in a course where you graded student papers on food insecurity in our region. Highlight the feedback you gave these students to support their consideration of our community’s needs and unique context. If you held post-paper conferences, describe how you coached students to improve their work for the final draft.
Step Two: Collect evidence of teaching effectiveness
The generic list above contains elements that you may not have (for example: student feedback on your teaching) if you have not served as an instructor of record. You can still demonstrate your approach to teaching by including:
- Sample syllabi for courses you would propose to teach
- While it is a good idea to look to peers and even faculty colleagues for examples of syllabi, ensure that you make these sample syllabi your own. This may include modifying student learning outcomes, creating new assignments, or changing the scope of the required readings. Be sure that the syllabi that you include in your dossier are accurate representations of courses that would be prepared to talk about and ultimately teach.
- Sample assignments for those courses.
- Even if you have not taught a course before, you can include complete descriptions of the assignments that students would be submitting, along with the rubric you would use to give feedback and grade those assignments.
- A statement or report about your teaching, as demonstrated in a guest lecture or other opportunity to facilitate a class session.
- You can ask your advisor, a supportive faculty colleague, or even another graduate student with significant teaching experience to observe your course and write a short report about your teaching strengths.
Step Three: Prepare your statement of teaching philosophy
Using the answers to the questions above, and taking into account the documentation and evidence that you have collected, you can put together a compelling teaching philosophy statement (go to the “Teaching Philosophy” section above on this page).
Step Four: Seek Feedback
Peer review of your teaching materials is an important final step in the process of preparing your dossier. Here are some questions for your readers to consider:
- What kind of evidence is present to support claims made in the teaching statement, and are those sources of evidence compelling?
- Could a reviewer easily find specific examples of teaching practices and approaches within the documentation provided? If not, where can clarity be improved?
- Do these materials demonstrate that the author has an understanding of what teaching practices support student learning within their discipline?