Many school leaders don’t have professional development portfolios. David Morley looks at the benefits of creating one for yourself and the pitfalls to avoid

It is often the case that school leaders consider a personal professional development portfolio to be ‘just one more thing’ that they do not have time for or just never quite get round to doing. After all, just how important are they in the first place? What is their impact? Who is ever going to look at them? When will I have time to make one?

Why produce a professional development portfolio?
None of us can be sure of what our professional future holds. Some school leaders may aspire to headship or to managing a larger school, while others just want to be the best they can in the role they perform. Whichever category you fall into, it is vital that you keep a record of your achievements, progress and development.

When a school leader decides to move on, it is not uncommon for a decision to be made quickly. It might simply be due to a great new opportunity presenting itself or perhaps increasingly, or rather worryingly, because an Ofsted inspection had not been as successful as you might have hoped. However, when the decision to move on is made, very little time can be left to produce a professional development portfolio (PDP) of any value. An ill-thought-out PDP can give all the wrong messages to any prospective employer. And herein lies the main reason why all school leaders should keep a high-quality PDP; it shows that you take your career as seriously as you do running your school. It shows the level of professionalism and pride you take in your career and personal achievement. While your SEF extols the virtues of how great your school is, your PDP is all about you.

A well-produced PDP can also act as a very good self-diagnostic tool to identify areas of your professional skills that require further development. This can be particularly useful when it comes to performance management meetings when you are expected to come up with ideas for ‘where you would like to go next’.

Where to start?

  • 1 lever arch file
  • 1 packet of extended subject dividers
  • 1 packet of plastic wallets

Total price – £3.89

Yes, once these have been purchased, you are well on your way to creating a PDP. It really is that simple! With the sections in place you can now begin to add information to each one. When you consider how many documents you, as a school leader, produce in the course of a day, it becomes very apparent that your portfolio will fill up quickly if you print out an extra copy each document you produce.

For the more environmentally conscious, you may want to consider the creation of an e-version of your PDP. This can easily be created by making a separate folder in ‘my documents’ called ‘PDP’ and within this, separate folders with headings of the main sections.

What to include in each section?
The most obvious model to follow would be that of using the National Standards for Headteachers. Caution is needed here – only that which is really needed and of value should be included. Don’t be afraid to annotate documents to highlight your role or the circumstances for the introduction of a new approach. Your most recent Ofsted report will provide countless references to your skills. Photocopied and highlighted sections can be added to all sections of your PDP.

Shaping the Future
The key document for inclusion here is the school’s vision and/or ethos statement, with particular attention being paid to your role in its formation. You may wish to highlight how you were able to ensure that the values, opinions and beliefs of all stakeholders’ were taken into account. If you have inherited a vision or not played a significant role in its creation, you must include evidence of how you have maintained it: details of meetings, workshops, letters to parents, special events, assemblies.

It would be in this section that you would show your involvement in strategic planning and school improvement. Do not include pages and pages of the school improvement plan (SIP). You will need to be very concise, perhaps just sticking to your evaluation of the SIP, showing how successful you have been in implementing your ideas and the impact that it has had on your pupils.

Leading learning and teaching
Leaders are regularly auditing and evaluating their school. Examples of this monitoring and evaluation need to be included here. However, the pitfall is not including the actions you have taken as a result of your analysis.

Lesson observation and the feedback provided to staff can be added here. By including forms from one teacher over a period of time you can show your role in their progress and how they have incorporated new ideas. Don’t forget to be sensitive – Tippex over names!

Ofsted’s self-evaluation form (SEF) is a must for inclusion in your PDP as it highlights your efforts and achievements. It is definitely worth including the whole document if you have room. If you are not a headteacher, use a highlighter pen to mark the areas where you have played a significant role.

Other worthwhile inclusions in this section could include:

  • a teaching and learning policy
  • examples of personalised learning taking place in your school
  • analysis of behaviour in school – especially if data shows a reduction in exclusions or serious incidents
  • developments in the creative curriculum – showing an old example of planning with a new one side by side, highlighting developments
  • analysis of progress made by children with SEN, G&T, EAL, girls/boys as shown in assessment data. Add to this details on provision given to inclusion groups
  • the role you have played in developing and implementing new technologies – don’t forget details on the impact this has had on teaching and learning.

Developing self and working with others
It is very important to include details of how you have overseen performance management. A carefully Tippexed example of a performance management record of a member of staff, together with details of how they have been supported would be beneficial. Remember to include your own most recent performance management review, showing details of how you have successfully met the objectives.

Keep a record of the training opportunities you have taken yourself – including meetings, briefings and conferences, as you will need to demonstrate your commitment to your professional development.

Managing the organisation
Evidence of your ability to produce a school budget and management of it over the course of the year with summary printouts is needed. If available, comments based on your school’s financial audit may be beneficial. Have you been able to share leadership roles with your SMT? How have you managed to achieve this? A copy of the school’s management structure would show this. Examples of networking will show how you have accepted support and ideas from others – a key indication that you are aiming to foster a collaborative learning culture.

Securing accountability
School leaders and particularly headteachers are accountable to numerous stakeholders including pupils, parents, governors (which includes numerous legal responsibilities), the local authority and in some cases, the church. To some extent, this is one of the easier sections to complete, as a good school leader is continually producing information intend to secure accountability and inform stakeholders. Key documents for inclusion would include copies of your reports to the governing body and information provided to parents on school performance. Minutes from your school council and how you have acted on the children’s suggestions would be fantastic.

Strengthening community
Each of our schools has a responsibility to develop links with the wider community. This has come into focus as extended schools has started to feature on the agenda. You need to demonstrate the links that you have made and how these benefit your pupils and school. Include details on:

  • how you encourage visitors into school. This might be for assemblies, special events or for curriculum advancement
  • how you work together with other schools
  • your links with external agencies, such as attendance at children’s services briefings
  • your efforts to challenge racial prejudice – events, speakers, competitions.

You could also add here evidence of how you listen to stakeholders and the local community in order to improve your school – this might be in the form of collated data from questionnaires.

What is the alternative?
The best alternative to a paper-based PDP is a photographic one. If you are of the school of thought that states: ‘I could spend hours creating a PDP and then run the risk of it never getting much more than a glancing look’ then investing in a good quality digital camera is one answer.

A photo album packed with pictures showing happy children engaged in a range of exciting, imaginative and creative activities can have the effect of catching the eye of any potential employer. There is no reason why you could not combine a paper and photographic PDP document.

Who is going to look at it anyway!
If you are aiming to use your PDP as a device for getting a new job, you will need to choose the right moment for it to be seen by the right audience. For some school leaders this might take place during a visit to your prospective new school. On interview day take your portfolio with you and pass it over early in the day to a friendly looking governor – there is a good chance that it will be passed around to the rest of the panel during the break for lunch. You have worked hard in your role and your PDP reflects this – show it off!