Professional development portfolios are the focus of this CPD Week – what they are, why it’s a good idea to implement them in your school, and the possible limitations they pose. Elizabeth Holmes also offers ideas for their structureword-6759923

Professionals Development Portfolios Info Sheet.doc

Progress comes from the intelligent use of experience.
Elbert Hubbard

Increasingly important in the world of professional development is the skill of showing (as well as telling) your progress over time. Professional development portfolios are a great way of showing progress, so this week and next we will explore ways of keeping a portfolio that will help to consolidate and facilitate further learning. This week we explore the ‘whys’ and the limitations of portfolios and offer suggestions on the structure of keeping one, then in next week’s issue, we will look the various portfolio formats and how they might be adapted for specific staff roles and stages of career.

Professional development portfolios – practical tips

Professional development portfolios seem to be here to stay. They have endured in various formats over several decades, and it’s hard to imagine a time when they won’t be a necessary part of record keeping and tracking professional learning.

What are portfolios?
The simplest way to describe a portfolio is as a collection of information about an individual’s work, learning and practice. It is not simply a collection of disconnected ‘artefacts’ loosely linked to a person’s career. There is a purpose behind the inclusion of each item and the link to continuing professional learning should be explicit. In other words, almost everything included should show evidence of previous and continuing learning.

Portfolios should ideally be highly valued by staff and they work well when they are of high quality in their presentation. This also helps to reinforce the idea that they are not simply for the eyes of the individual (in other words, formative) but can be for others to explore and comment on too (in other words, summative).

Why keep a portfolio?
As a professional learning leader you may be asked this question, probably by busy colleagues who cannot imagine ever having the time to implement much of what they learn during professional development – let alone create a portfolio out of it! But there are some very sound reasons for organising records of professional learning into a portfolio.

  • Ultimately, we keep professional development portfolios to help us to become outstanding teachers and learners.
  • They help us to focus on strengths and development needs.
  • They provide a space in which we can explore our process of learning.
  • We can seek feedback on our professional learning progress through them.
  • They can help us to detect patterns of personal as well as professional growth.
  • They encourage the discipline of record keeping and reflection.
  • They provide a focus for preparing for interviews, performance management, external accreditation and other career progress such as crossing the threshold.
  • Crucially, they can help in the career training and planning processes.
  • They can help to boost self-esteem and self-worth.

Do portfolios have any limitations?
The answer has to be, inevitably, yes, they do have limitations, but these can be worked around. The use and value of portfolios can be limited by individuals’ perception of happens as a result. For example, if a development need emerges which is not supported through professional learning opportunities, this is bound to lead to demoralisation. There are also issues around how portfolios are used once they have been created. Their value is reduced if they are not shared with others for feedback and input. Portfolios have the potential to be both formative and summative; if they are one without the other, it’s far less likely they will be maintained and valued by the user/creator.

Another potential limitation is the place which professional development portfolios might occupy within the context of your school. Ideally they should be linked to the bigger picture of whole school improvement and the raising of standards of teaching and learning. If they are kept quite apart from that focus, their potential will necessarily be limited.

Find out more
The next issue of CPD Week will focus on getting your staff started on professional development portfolios and the various formats that they can take. This information sheet looks at a suggested structure for professional development portfolios.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.