Documenting Your Teaching

Whether you are doing so as a part of your individual development as an instructor, or for the tenure and promotion process, or even for an award nomination, documenting your teaching is both an essential and a rigorous part of the profession. Below we have provided some tips for ways of demonstrating evidence of your teaching effectiveness.

For more information about evaluating teaching at Mason as part of hiring, reappointment, or promotion, see the Provost / Faculty Affairs guide on Supporting Efforts to Document and Assess Teaching and Learning.

Peer Observation

Peer observation is one piece of evidence in the development of a faculty member’s teaching expertise. Importantly, peer observation should be used to facilitate a faculty member’s growth and development as an educator, not just as an evaluation at the time of contract renewal or during tenure review.

When peer observation is conducted for evaluative purposes, it should be used in conjunction with other sources of information and evidence. Other information that should be consulted includes student feedback from University course evaluations; examination of the faculty member’s syllabi, course goals, assignments and exams; and a self-assessment, or reflection, on her/his teaching and learning practices.

Peer observation provides the most valuable and reliable information when it is done in a structured manner. Critical aspects of this structure include:

  • Information from the department or academic unit about what they expect of their faculty members in their teaching.
  • Clearly communicated information about how the feedback from the peer observation will be used, who will have access to it (e.g., the faculty member who was being observed, the chair of the academic unit, the faculty evaluation committee, and/or the P&T committee, etc.). For example, peer observations that are used for developmental – or formative – purposes are likely to be less public in nature than those used for evaluative purposes.
  • Pre- and post-observation meetings between the faculty member and the observer.
  • Prior to the observation it is important to discuss the course, its objectives, and the faculty member’s approach to reaching those objectives. This meeting gives the faculty member an opportunity to discuss what will be occurring on the day of observation and how it fits into his/her larger course goals. Finally, s/he can identify any issues to which the observer should pay particular attention.
  • Following the observation the faculty member and observer should meet to review the results of the observation and clarify any questions/issues.
  • NOTE: If the purpose of the observation was developmental – or formative – in nature, then it is useful to plan strategies for any changes that the faculty member and observer together believe will lead to improvement.
  • NOTE: If the purpose of the observation was evaluative – or summative – in nature, then the observer should take this opportunity to make clear the process for how and when the faculty member will receive the final peer observation report.
  • A Peer Observation Form specific to the department or academic unit that prompts the observer to address aspects of teaching that the department deem most important. The form should begin with basic information including the course title and number, the time and location of the class, the course enrollment, the instructor’s name, and the observer’s name. It is also recommended that these forms provide space for the observer to comment on any issues mutually identified at the pre-observation meeting.
  • Information on what types of support for improving and/or enhancing instructional practices are available, both within the academic unit and the institution.

Sample Peer Observation Form (download in MS Word document)

Preparing Your Teaching Vita

A teaching vita is structured like a standard curriculum vitae but contains only information relevant to the faculty member’s educational work.

It should contain the following types of information:

  • Background of teaching positions and appointments.
  • Courses taught, with at least a short description of each course.
  • Courses developed, with information on how the course evolved as it did.
  • Educational workshops and conferences attended; or other evidence of participation in and/or facilitation of faculty/professional development activities.
  • Publications, conference presentations/papers, grants and/or consulting about teaching.
  • Publications, conference presentations/papers, grants and/or consulting by students (undergraduate or graduate) whom you have mentored through the research and dissemination process.
  • Information on advising and mentoring of undergraduate students.
  • Information on advising and mentoring of graduate students, including thesis/Ph.D. committee leadership or participation.
  • Awards/honors related to teaching.
  • Service related to teaching.

NOTE: Other information, if it enhances the reader’s knowledge about the faculty member as an educator, may be included.

Teaching Vita Samples
Getting Started: Exercises for Writing a Teaching Statement

Part I: Brainstorming

Choose one or two of the following questions, and write for 5-10 minutes in detail about the event/experience/idea itself – describe the event fully and don’t worry about analyzing it yet.

  • A recent time when you really felt like a successful teacher, mentor, or adviser
  • A time when you felt like you were in the presence of another successful teacher
  • A time when you felt especially motivated as a teacher, mentor, or adviser
  • One highly-frustrating or challenging teaching experience
  • Memorable praise or complaints you’ve gotten about your teaching
  • Memorable things you’ve read or been told about teaching in general
  • Think back to your years as a student – what characterized your most positive or successful learning experiences? Least successful?

Part II: Reflection

Review what you wrote for Part I. Write in response to one or more of the following questions.

What does this/each experience say about your perspective on…
…the role of the teacher?
…the role of the student?
…what needs to be learned in your class?
…how to teach your subject matter?
…how to teach competencies such as communication/critical thinking/ problem-solving?
…your own or your students’ learning styles?
…college learning, general education class learning, graduate education?

Part III: Initial Progress: Teaching Statement
Write a four-sentence teaching philosophy, concisely blending examples from Part I with theories from Part II. These sentences can become the core of a longer teaching statement.

Those of you who find models helpful might try one of the following:

Write two sentences describing an event, and then two explaining different pedagogical beliefs
exemplified therein, OR
Write a philosophy sentence followed by a “For example” sentence. Repeat.

*Brainstorming exercises adapted from Shelley Reid and David Beach’s adjunct faculty workshop titled, “Creating your teaching portfolio,” Fall 2005.

Teaching Statement:

Collection of resources (including teaching statements):

Questions to Consider: Writing a Teaching Statement

Teaching statements summarize your qualities and strengths as an educator. You want to convey your general philosophy of teaching and identify specific activities, assignments, techniques, and stylistic elements that are part of your teaching. The questions below are designed to help you reflect on your teaching and learning practices and identify directions for your teaching statements and portfolios.

  • Thinking back to your years as a student, what characterized your most positive or successful learning experiences? Least successful?
  • Who do you admire as a teacher, and why?
  • What do you find most rewarding in your role as a teacher and mentor? What motivates you as an instructor?
  • What challenges do you experience or worry about experiencing as an educator? What steps do you take or strategies do you employ to address these?
  • How do you envision your role as an educator? What role do you see yourself playing in students’ lives? For example – expert sharing knowledge, practitioner teaching skills, facilitator helping student discover, motivator, etc.?
  • What learning outcomes do hope your students will gain from your courses? For example, what content knowledge, competencies, attitudes, etc.?
  • What activities, assignments, and strategies do you employ to help students meet the learning outcomes? How do these strategies play out in the day-to-day workings of your classroom?
  • What do you think works well in your teaching? What evidence do you have to show this?
  • What have you tried that didn’t work well? What changes did you make in response to this?
  • What constitutes success for you as an educator and how do you determine if you have been successful?
  • How do you assess student learning? Why do you use these methods?
  • How do you approach course development and curriculum revision? For example, how do you keep up with the changing knowledge base in your field of study or with new approaches to classroom learning?
  • How do you envision your roles as an adviser or director of student projects, theses, and other non-class activities? What “out-of-class” strategies do you employ to enhance your students’ educational experiences?
  • What are your strengths as a teacher? How would your students describe you as an educator? Your peers and colleagues?
  • What’s been your biggest surprise as an educator?
  • What one thing would you want a reader to remember about you as an educator?
Teaching Statement Samples
Tips for Writing a Teaching Statement

A teaching statement should describe your qualities and strengths as an educator. It should convey your general philosophy of teaching and identify specific activities, assignments, techniques, and stylistic elements that are part of your excellent teaching. The following tips are designed to assist you as you consider what to include in your teaching philosophy statement.

  • Describe your strategies and approaches to teaching your courses. As you describe your teaching style, tell your reader why you have chosen these strategies and approaches. How do you believe they support student learning?
  • Articulate the role you play in students’ learning experiences. Ideally, how would you describe your professor/student relationship?
  • Highlight your evolution as an educator. There are many ways to demonstrate this growth in your teaching and learning practices. You might consider sharing the following:
  • Changes in your teaching from year to year
  • Assessing success within a course, as an adviser, etc.
  • Course development and curriculum revision, e.g., updating the course based on the changing knowledge in your discipline or field of study, new awareness of promising teaching practices, etc.
  • A situation that posed a challenge to you as an educator and how you addressed it.
  • Describe major projects, assignments, or other activities you use to support student learning. Tell your reader why you use these activities to enhance learning and/or student motivation.
  • Explain your roles as an adviser or director of student projects, thesis, and other non-class activities. Discuss “out-of-class” strategies you use to enhance your students’ educational experiences.
  • Describe a situation that exemplifies a great success for you as an educator. For example, you might tell a story about a student in whose life you made a difference.

Final Thought:

Be sure to include something that helps the reader come to know you. No matter how you approach your statement, remember that you want it to feel alive, not just a set of facts.

What is a Teaching Portfolio?

We recommend that all faculty develop and maintain a teaching portfolio. Teaching portfolios provide a way for faculty members to document and reflect on their teaching and learning philosophy and practices as related to student learning and development. Effective teaching portfolios will reflect the breadth, depth, and quality of your work as an educator; convey your abilities, strengths, and achievements; and include both work samples (e.g., examples of course materials, student work, evaluation results) and written self-reflections about how your work samples illustrate your teaching and learning experiences as they occur over time.

The practice of creating and maintaining a teaching portfolio will help you to:

  • Record your efforts and achievements as an educator,
  • Foster reflection on and refinement/improvement of your teaching,
  • Provide evidence of your teaching and learning practices for external reviewers.

Please see our guide on Constructing a Teaching Portfolio.

Components of Effective Teaching Portfolios
  • Some standardized context data (e.g., list of courses taught, teaching vita, etc.)
  • Your teaching philosophy statement
  • Evidence of ongoing effort to improve teaching
  • Multiple sources of evidence to support your claims (e.g., student course evaluations, peer observations, honors/recognitions for your teaching, unsolicited student feedback, professional presentations, scholarly articles, etc.)
  • Selective use or limited amounts of evidence that illustrate your teaching philosophy
  • Explanations for why you have included all evidence and what it demonstrates about your teaching philosophy and/or practice
Hints for Effective Teaching Portfolios

Effective teaching portfolios provide the supporting materials that reveal how you put your teaching philosophy into practice. Do consider your reader(s) carefully in terms of what they will need to know to understand and be persuaded of your case.

1. Frame your material with a brief narrative – it is important not to assume that a reader will understand the reason that you have included the particular materials you have chosen.

  • Explain your entry: What is it? How did you produce it?
  • Interpret your entry: Why include this material? What does this particular entry/section illustrate about you as an educator?
  • Evaluate your entry: How does this entry showcase your strengths? Describe, in the context of this entry, what you might do to strengthen your teaching.
  • Relate your entry: How does this relate to or strengthen other points you have made in the portfolio or in your teaching statement?

2. Consider using a course or an assignment you have taught at different times as a vehicle for illustrating your growth as an educator.

  • Describe the course early on. What did you do? How well did it work?
  • What changed over time?
  • Why did you make the specific changes you did?
  • How do you know the changes were effective?
  • Include syllabi or assignment guidelines “before” and “after”
Getting Started and Maintaining Your Teaching Portfolio

Devise a system for saving and organizing your materials
Begin thinking with a portfolio mindset – it’s never too early to start!

  • Start both a paper and electronic folder for assorted “stuff” related to teaching
  • Evidence from students (e.g., thank you notes, cards, emails, letters, etc.)
  • Evidence from peers (e.g., letters, observations, feedback, etc.)

Keep a paper and/or electronic folders of materials each time you teach a course – don’t “write over” old versions of syllabi, tests, etc.

  • Draft your teaching philosophy statement (live link to teaching philosophy statement page)
  • Create a teaching vita (live link to ‘Tip’ for teaching vita page)
  • Identify and select items for inclusion
  • Create a system that works for you that will help you maintain your ‘working’ portfolio

Maintaining and Enhancing your Teaching Portfolio

  • At the end of each term, write a page or two on how each course went that semester – include what worked and what didn’t, what you learned, and what you will do differently the next time you teach the class – you want evidence of learning and growth over time.
  • Document how your teaching philosophy plays out in your courses.
  • Ask for peer observation of your classes (from departmental colleagues or from the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence), with written feedback you can include in the portfolio. Include how you used this feedback to refine your teaching and learning practice.
  • Arrange for a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) to be conducted with your course. Share how this feedback informed your teaching and learning practice.
  • Review sample teaching portfolios within your department or from the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence.
  • Keep your audience(s) for your portfolio in mind (e.g., your department, your college, the Provost, the Teaching Awards selection committee, a prospective employer, etc.).
Possible Items for Inclusion in a Teaching Portfolio

Including a diversity of evidence strengthens a teaching portfolio. Remember your intention – the items that you include should illustrate how you put into practice elements of your teaching philosophy. The following ideas show the range of items that might be included as evidence when you create your portfolio.

  • Course syllabi or assignments that demonstrate your growth or teaching innovations you have implemented and revised over time.
  • Student evaluations, such as the university course evaluation.
  • Peer observations of your teaching.
  • Statements from colleagues who have taught with you, reviewed your teaching and learning materials, sought out your advice on a range of teaching issues, and/or consulted with you on advising or mentoring issues.
  • Formal student feedback, such as results of mid-semester feedback or other strategies you have used to respond to student comments and/or concerns.
  • Statements from your department head or academic unit highlighting the significance or impact of your teaching contributions.
  • Invitations to speak to professional colleagues about teaching and learning practices (on campus, locally, regionally, or nationally).
  • Evidence of participation in faculty development activities related to teaching/ teaching in your discipline on campus, regionally, or nationally.
  • Letters of support from alumni or former students about the quality of your instruction.
  • Evidence of impact on their professional careers (e.g., helping them to secure employment or admission to graduate school).
  • Evidence of your students’ success, particularly for faculty who do a lot of advising (graduate or undergraduate).
  • Student publications or evidence of co-authorship.
  • Evidence of effective supervision of Honors, Master’s, or Ph.D. projects.
  • Samples of student work (e.g., essays, creative work, project or field-work reports, lab reports, etc.). These might also be accompanied by your commentary on how you approached their development and evaluation.
  • Informal student feedback you may have received, e.g., thank you letters, emails of appreciation, etc.
  • Awards, honors, or recognition such as a Teaching Excellence Award.

Adapted from: Seldin, P. (1997). The teaching portfolio: A practical guide to improved performance and promotion/tenure decisions (2nd Ed). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P., & Quinlan, K. (1991). The teaching portfolio: Capturing the scholarship in teaching. Washington DC: American Association of Higher Education (AAHE).