Evidence-based portfolios: a cross-sectoral approach to professional development among teachers

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Published: 
2020

Source: Professional Development in Education, 46:1, 160-174

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper argues that evidence-based teaching portfolios are an effective form of authentic, contextualised, continuous professional development.
However, the way in which the portfolio is developed, mentored and scaffolded mediates its effectiveness and authenticity.
This paper specifically highlights that evidence-based teaching portfolios are effective tools in the dual context of collaborative and independent reflection and action on practice.

Methodology
The research design involves a case group of cross-sectoral teachers engaging in evidence-based teaching portfolio writing. It investigates the professional learning of teachers from varied sectors working together and alone, while reflecting on and writing about their teaching philosophy and practice. Case study was a suitable research approach for the researcher as it enabled implementation of a self-study component for the individual teachers, combined with collaborative dialogue and mentoring between members of a small cross-sectoral case group.
The research aims focused on evaluating how this project might facilitate authentic and contextualised professional development, for participants.
Four teachers commenced the research, which was a small cohort.
The study is important in that it strongly evinces positive learning opportunities among a contextually and sectorally diverse teacher sample.
Pseudonyms were assigned to each participant and a basic profile of each participant was obtained, mainly to gather data on their context of teaching, in keeping with case study design (Bassey 1999). The teachers all worked in different educational contexts.
The data collected included four group interviews and two sets of one-to-one interviews with each of the four participants.
This amounted to 12 interviews in total, averaging 75 min each.
Each participant completed an evidence-based teaching portfolio, exploring teaching philosophy, evaluating teaching effectiveness and performance, outlining planning and preparation, detailing assessment and learning and categorising past, present and future professional development.
This paper focuses on the learning and collaborative process as experienced by the teachers and discussed in the interviews, rather than analysis of the summative written portfolios. However in keeping with case study design (Bassey 1999), a multi-method approach to the study was used with triangulation of data from group interviews, one to one interviews, reflexive journaling by participants and by the researcher.
The final data analysis mirrored the Huberman and Miles (1994) general inductive analysis framework, suitable for case study.
All transcribed data was systematically indexed, coded and a topic flow established the interactions and sub-categories in the data (Charmaz 2006).
This inductive analysis approach generated three key themes for discussion, entitled, cross-sectoral collaboration, working together and alone and personal/professional learning.

Findings and Conclusion
There is a clear complexity within teacher professional development, evidenced in this study of four cross-sectoral teachers and delineated widely in the research discourse around teacher professional development.
The cumulative findings of this study add to a growing body of knowledge about the intersection of ‘self’ and ‘profession’ as a teacher, but importantly offer nuanced and original insights into the value of collaboration with non-collegial teachers, coming from different educational sectors and contexts.
The cross-sectoral nature of this case study enabled the participants to share insights from their experiences, at second level, in teacher education, at higher level and in teacher support-service work.
Through group dialogue, individual reflection and the gathering of evidence from students and peers, it became possible for each teacher to review their practice, in light of self-reflection and feedback from those beyond their teaching sector.
This provided a safe outsider view for the participants, which led to an unexpected broadening of perspectives, among the sample.
Through dialogue and reflection together and alone, the cross-sectoral teachers in this study positioned the learner as central to practice and demonstrated enhanced awareness and recognition of the importance of transitions and intersections for learners, along the continuum of education.
While this study provides a new cross-sectoral lens on the benefits and challenges of evidence-based portfolio development, it highlights nuanced evidence of teachers making strong connections between thinking/reflecting but also making this concrete, through writing and rewriting.
These connections, albeit from a small case group, are not well documented in the literature.
The duality of collaboration merged with independent learning, alongside mentored scaffolding, enhanced the professional development of the teachers by enabling a teacher-led approach, which contextualised and personalised the learning for each participant.
This was affirmed by each of the teachers as being instrument to the acquisition of new learning across a myriad of areas and domains.
This study has implications for policy makers and the implementation of Teaching Council of Ireland's, Cosán framework (2016), as it suggests scope for using group and individual reflection with writing/rewriting as learning opportunities for teachers.
While the teachers did not enjoy the portfolio writing, they did strongly support its inherent value in adding to the meaningfulness of the learning, as discussed across and within the themes.

References
Bassey, M., 1999. Case study research in educational settings. Buckingham: Open University Press
Charmaz, K., 2006. Constructing grounded theory: a practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage
Huberman, M. and Miles, B., 1994. Data management and analysis methods. In: N. Denzin. and Y. Lincoln., eds. Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 769–802
The Teaching Council, 2016. Cosán, framework for teachers’ learning. Maynooth: The Teaching Council 

Updated: Aug. 05, 2020
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