May 21, 2021

Starting Your Own Leadership Portfolio – NOW!

The Teachers’ Corner: 

More years ago, more than I care to remember, I sat down in my home office where I am writing this blog and wrote out what I then called a “Career Profile Card”.  It was one of those 3” x 5” coloured index cards on which I outlined a project I had been involved in at my school or in my District.  I wasn’t even sure why I did it but, somewhere in the back of my mind, I decided that there would come a day when I would be applying for a headship in my system or a position at the District Office and I would need to be able to recall something I did in the past.  Little did I know this task would take on a very different form and purpose many years later.

Fast forward about 25 years and the ambitious young teacher, now a superintendent, was given the responsibility for setting up a selection process for principals and vice-principals that included something called a “professional portfolio” which was being widely used in districts across the country and in the United States.  It was then I realized that my little pile of 3” x 5” cards I had made up over the years were now to take on a sophisticated form that was being used as one of the techniques in gathering information on candidates for school leadership positions.

The fascination with a full portfolio has faded somewhat over the years but I still believe that something like those index cards (with more structure and detail) are still of immeasurable use to teachers who may or will aspire to a position of responsibility at any level.  Not only will it make future resumes easier to construct when those competitions seem to come at the worst times, but it will also serve to remind you of the tremendous work you have done over the years and the effect it has had on others.  And remember, if you don’t write it down, you run the risk of forgetting – and you don’t want to do that to yourself.

So, what should these “cards” look like in the new world of technology?  Here are some suggestions for you to consider.  First, consider these three categories:

  1. Leadership Experience
  2. Leadership Training and Development
  3. General Testimonials

Let’s look at each one separately though the first two categories are quite similar in form (not content).

Leadership Experience:  Use a single page for each entry with each page broken down into three parts (all parts totalling one page only):

  • an explanation of what the leadership activity entailed and who was involved in it
  • what role you played in it
  • what you learned in this instance which would help you in the position to which you are applying.

You might also add an attachment in the form of an e-mail or card from someone if you are in receipt of a note of thanks or congratulations from a member of the group you worked with.

Leadership Training and Development:  Entries follow the same form with:

  • an explanation of the training – anything from an M.Ed. course on supervision to a workshop on using technology in the classroom
  • an explanation on how the learning affected your practice and the practice of others
  • how you see yourself using it in your new position.

As above, if you have a testimonial or certificate, attach it to the entry.

General Testimonials:  These may be the most powerful of the three types of entries.  These could be letters or cards from students, parents, colleagues, superordinates or subordinates who attest to the help you have given them or how you affected their learning and careers.  Just remember to add an “identifier” to each of these (i.e. From Jordan, a Grade 5 student I taught or From a Parent Member of the School Council).

If you take the time to continue this formalized scrapbook over the years, you’ll have at your disposal a tool from which you can pick and choose, and which may include something you did in the past that would help you answer one of those “behaviour descriptive” questions you will most assuredly get in an interview.  In fact, this is part of your interview preparation.

I know you’ll be asking by now:  But when would I have the time to do this?”  The answer is:  “Are you going to have any more time in the two-week lead-up to the competition which asks for a detailed resume?”  Maybe a few days in the summer when you review the year past, or when you are sitting in an airport or office waiting your turn, just start to collect your thoughts on a piece of paper or on your phone and go back to it when you have a little more time to add the details.  You’ll be surprised what you can do with “bits of time” with a task like this.

Let me end with an observation.  In those days when we were requiring a portfolio for principals’ and vice-principals’ competition, I went back to some of the successful and unsuccessful candidates to discuss the process.  Their reaction to the requirement for a portfolio was almost universal: “It was a real pain to do on short notice – and a lot of work.  But when it was done, I looked at it and I thought – Wow!  I did all this!”

Perhaps that’s the most important benefit of one of these collections.  In the darker days of November and February when you are tired and wondering what you’ve accomplished, it’s nice to be able to pull out this “scrapbook” and be reminded of what you have done – and what you could bring to that coming competition and future position of responsibility.

Dr. Dan

Want further assistance?  Check out our individualized coaching product:   “Portfolios that Make You Stand Out”