Developing and Revising Your Dossier
At a minimum, you should plan to spend between 2-6 months compiling, writing, and revising your dossier (although you won’t be working on it that entire time!). More generally, however, you should always have the dossier at the back of your mind so that you can be proactive about collecting and indeed developing appropriate dossier materials. For example, if an assignment works particularly well, make copies of examples of student work. If a new class activity is a success, jot a note about it or ask a colleague to sit in on another section of the course to provide a brief written assessment of your teaching. Maintain a folder, box or computer file in which you can collect these documents, and once a semester or year, review what you have added to this file and update your dossier.
If possible, it can be very useful to develop a rough draft (or even an outline) of your dossier well before you will be required to submit it for any purpose. Developing a dossier draft and receiving early feedback will help you see what kinds of documents will be most useful to collect or develop. A basic structure for your dossier, and the deeper understanding of your teaching approaches and priorities that often follows the development of a dossier, will help ensure that the dossier you ultimately submit is rich and comprehensive.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
Adapted from The Teaching Dossier, Teaching Support Services, University of Guelph.
- Develop a set of labeled files to build and organize your dossier (e.g., course outlines, student letters, course evaluations, etc.)
- Document your teaching like you document your research. Regularly add to and update your teaching commentary and instructional documentation.
- Maintain a journal to reflect upon your teaching and learning practices and experiences both in and outside of the classroom.
- Work on your dossier a little at a time – don’t wait until the last moment (less daunting). Your philosophy statement is a reflective piece that takes time and effort to prepare.
- Regularly revisit your teaching philosophy statement. It’s a continually evolving document.
- Talk to faculty both in and outside of your department to learn what they do in preparation for their review.
- Present your teaching dossier in a neat, organized manner that is easily accessible by the reader/ reviewer. Place your portfolio in a document holder, duotang, or three-ring binder. Format your dossier using clearly marked sections (headings, numbers, letters, etc.) and labeled appendices. Don’t forget to include a table of contents.
REVIEWING AND GETTING FEEDBACK ON YOUR TEACHING DOSSIER
Once you have completed a draft of your dossier, consider having it reviewed by a colleague in your department – if possible, someone who has themselves evaluated dossiers on a tenure review, continuing status review, or promotion committee. Alternatively, CTSI is pleased to review your statement of teaching philosophy or full dossier or provide consultation and feedback at any step in the dossier development process. Please submit a consultation request form to set up an appointment. Please provide a minimum of 3 weeks’ notice when arranging a dossier consultation. Please note that at this time CTSI does not review teaching dossiers being prepared for a job application process.
PITFALLS AND CRITICISM
As you compile or review your dossier, you may wish to keep in mind some of the common pitfalls and criticisms of teaching dossiers:
- Lack of coherence. This usually manifests as a dossier that asks the reader to do the work of connecting your teaching experiences by presenting a series of seemingly unconnected documents and statements or where, for example, the approach to teaching described in your statement of teaching philosophy is not reflected in the rest of your dossier or appendices.
The most common cause of this pitfall is a philosophy that isn’t sufficiently grounded in your own teaching experiences and evidence of your own teaching successes. If you suspect that this might be a problem with your dossier, review the materials you’ve selected and your description of your teaching experiences and innovations, and see whether the themes that emerge are adequately represented in your teaching philosophy.
Alternatively, this problem sometimes emerges because the appendices were not appropriately selected or contextualized (see Section 12: What to Include in an Appendix?). This in particular is a common symptom of a teaching dossier assembled at the last minute as faculty use evidence that is available rather than that which has been specifically identified for the dossier. Again, this can usually be resolved by adopting a “bottom-up” approach and assessing what the material available says about your teaching, and working that back into the narrative elements of the dossier.
- A dossier that includes too much. Similar to the issues above, make sure that everything included in a dossier or its appendices contributes to the selective, coherent portrait of your teaching developed in the narrative section of your dossier. Include the syllabus from the course that you feel best represents your teaching approaches and priorities rather than syllabi from all courses taught. Include selected samples of student work that best reflect achievement on assignment outcomes or constructive feedback you’ve provided rather than samples from an entire class. The one exception to this is the results of course evaluations; you should compile all quantitative evaluation results available, and if you include qualitative comments you should include, at a minimum, all comments from a particular course or set of courses.
QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS
Adapted from Knapper, C. & Wilcox, S. (2007). Preparing a Teaching Dossier. Queen’s University
Won’t it take too much time?
Documenting teaching properly will certainly take some time, especially if you have not collected relevant evidence over the years. But a good deal of material is probably already in your files (e.g. student evaluations, letters from former students). Once the first dossier has been prepared the process becomes much easier and can also have important benefits in helping you reflect on teaching and make improvements.
How can I document successful student learning?
Evidence might include exam scores (e.g. on independently marked professional exams), exemplary student work (e.g. project reports), student publications based on work done in a course or on a thesis you supervised, or student achievement in further courses. Be sure to get student permission for material you use.
What do I say about course innovations that backfired?
Documenting these efforts shows your concern for improving teaching and can provide useful contextual information for judging future changes. Documenting partial failures as well as successes gives evidence for a dossier that gives an honest depiction of your teaching accomplishments.
Should I include only information that is flattering to my teaching?
Colleagues will quickly spot obvious omissions (e.g. missing teaching evaluations) and a dossier should give a valid overall picture of your teaching while stressing the successes and achievements. (After all, a research vitae does not generally list papers rejected or negative comments of referees.)
Should dossiers stress effort or accomplishment?
Ideally both. To assess accomplishment, it is very helpful to have clear criteria for effective teaching and learning that are endorsed by the institution and the department.
I’m too modest to make a good case
Baseless claims will not impress the chair or colleagues, but if you want your teaching efforts to be recognized, be prepared to put your best foot forward, as you would for research accomplishments.
Presentation will win out over substance
Department heads, deans, and colleagues on review committees are better than you might think at interpreting documentation and assessing quality performance. They will likely spot misinformation and omissions just as they would with spurious research claims. On the other hand, a poorly organized or overly long dossier may undermine your case.
How can use of dossiers be reconciled with need for standardized evaluation procedures and criteria?
If the institution, faculty, or department has adopted teaching goals these can serve as general criteria against which to judge the evidence presented in a dossier. At the same time, individuals can differ in the ways they meet these criteria, just as they will do in the case of scholarly accomplishments.
In the end, it’s all subjective
All evaluation is a matter of judgement, but the better the evidence, the more reliable the decision.