Developing Your Teaching Dossier

Developing Your Teaching Dossier
Dr. Mary Benbow
Used with permission of author

What is a Teaching Dossier?

A teaching dossier consists of two major components: the first part describes and explains your teaching activities; the second part consists of a collection of teaching materials and evidence to support your written statements. A teaching dossier is, therefore, a comprehensive record of teaching activities including teaching responsibilities, goals, philosophy, and evidence of teaching innovations and effectiveness. A teaching dossier is often required in applications for university positions, for tenure and promotion, and for annual activity reports.

When preparing a teaching dossier it is important to bear in mind the following issues:

  • Every teacher is different, and so every teaching dossier will be different.
  • The most daunting requirement of a teaching dossier is the development of the statement of teaching philosophy. Remember that even if you are not aware of your teaching philosophy, it forms an integral part of your teaching activities. Even if you have not yet verbalized your philosophy, it is already there!
  • Develop a system of filing and record-keeping that eases the collection of teaching materials, evaluations, and evidence.
  • Teaching dossiers require only a representative sampling of evidence. Select pieces of evidence from your records that effectively convey your teaching innovations, students’ work, and course materials.

The Purpose of a Teaching Dossier

There are three main purposes for which a faculty member would develop a teaching dossier (Seldin, 1997):

  • Reflective: To assemble sufficient information to allow each faculty member to reflect on his/her teaching.
  • Formative: To present information which accurately reflects teaching activities and accomplishments as a basis for making decisions about further developing one’s teaching.
  • Administrative: To present information required to apply for academic posts, tenure, promotion, annual reviews, and awards.

Note: Although you may develop your teaching dossier for one specific purpose (for example, tenure), that does not preclude you from using it to reflect upon, and as a consequence, to improve upon your teaching.

The Steps in Producing a Teaching Dossier

The following steps identify the stages in the development of a teaching dossier (O’Neil and Wright, 1993). Each step requires that faculty are aware of their teaching priorities and practices. However, during the development of a teaching dossier, additional or alternate priorities and practices can reveal themselves. Therefore, the development of a teaching dossier is often a tentative process as you return to prior stages in order to include additional ideas. The following stages are common in this dynamic process:

  • Clarify teaching responsibilities
  • Describe your approach to teaching
  • Select items to include and prepare statements on each
  • Decide on order of items
  • Update regularly

Guidelines for Teaching Dossiers

The dominant purpose of your teaching dossier (reflective, formative, or administrative) will give you some direction in the nature of its content. Make sure that you understand what materials your teaching dossier needs to include, and what aspects of your teaching need to be described. This is especially important for dossiers developed for tenure and promotion. Make sure you have copies of Departmental, Faculty, and University Guidelines for annual reviews, tenure, and promotion, as well as the relevant parts of the Collective Agreement.

Teaching Responsibilities

You need to identify your teaching responsibilities in order to explain what, and how much, you teach. The reader of your teaching dossier may be unfamiliar with your area of expertise, faculty, or institution, and in addition, you may have experienced changes in your career or teaching load.  Therefore, you need to identify, for example, additional administrative responsibilities, maternity or paternity leave, course remissions, and additional teaching responsibilities.  It is also useful to show how your responsibilities compare to those of your colleagues. This information can reveal a great deal about your teaching priorities and how they change.  Keep this data on a year-by-year basis and consider what it means.

Writing Your Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Your teaching philosophy encompasses the principles that direct your teaching style and activities. It explains why you teach the way you do, and so acts as a foundation for evidence of your teaching activities and accomplishments. The statement of teaching philosophy is usually one to three pages in length and describes, in general terms, why you teach the way you do. It is also a useful way to introduce a teaching dossier, because it establishes the context of the information and materials that follow. Although the principles and ideas that it contains are familiar to you and guide your everyday activities, the development of a statement of teaching philosophy can be a daunting prospect and is often viewed as a difficult task. The approach outlined in this handbook (see “Developing a Statement of Teaching Philosophy”) will provide you with a number of ideas on which to draw, as you build your statement of teaching philosophy.

Evidence of Teaching Activities and Accomplishments

The other major component of a teaching dossier is the evidence of your teaching activities and accomplishments. This evidence, which can encompass a broad range of materials, demonstrates how you put your teaching philosophy into practice. This is also the point at which many teachers find they have a huge amount of material, and as a consequence, some teaching dossiers become extremely large. Therefore, it is important to remember that, regardless of the purpose of your teaching dossier, it is not intended to be a complete repository of all your teaching materials. Keep complete copies of your teaching materials in your filing cabinet and select only representative evidence for your teaching dossier.

Selecting Items to Include in Your Teaching Dossier

It is especially important to note that for tenure and promotion, committee members may expect to see certain pieces of evidence. It is important to identify these and ensure that they are well-represented in your teaching dossier.

  • Students’ evaluations
  • List of courses
  • List of materials and how they are used
  • Participation in workshops
  • Observations from colleagues
  • Attempts at innovations (and the results)
  • Letters from students
  • Curriculum development (including new courses you proposed)
  • Supervision of honours, masters, and doctoral students
  • Tests, exercises, etc., and examples of students’ work

Other Materials Included in Teaching Dossiers

There is a broad range of other materials that can also be included in your teaching dossier, and although the list presented here is fairly extensive, there are probably many ideas that it does not cover. It is important to include materials that reflect your teaching, and those materials may include sources that are not covered here.

  • Record of changes made in teaching, and results
  • Statement of teaching plans and goals for the future
  • Evidence to illustrate your teaching methods (such as discussion groups, critical thinking, technologies, fieldwork, and students’ projects)
  • Personal evaluation of teaching
  • Research concerning teaching
  • Awards and recognition of teaching
  • Information about student interaction, advising, and availability
  • Service to committees focused upon teaching
  • Funding for teaching-related projects
  • How non-print materials are used in class (computer software, movies)
  • Tests and exercises, as a reflection of your academic rigor
  • Students’ performance on standardized tests (pre- and post-course)
  • Invitations to present papers on teaching your discipline (or presentations to outside agencies)
  • Role in faculty development, such as mentoring new faculty or facilitating
  • Centre workshops
  • A videotape of your teaching

Deciding on the Order of Your Teaching Dossier Components

The order of the materials in your teaching dossier determines the emphasis. If you want to demonstrate improvements in teaching, show these first; if you want to demonstrate teaching innovations, show these first.

Although it is important to remember that your teaching dossier does not present every piece of evidence that you have to describe your teaching, often they still can be confusing to examine. A table of contents can be useful in developing the order of the dossier, and in guiding the readers through your teaching materials. An overview at the beginning of your dossier can add emphasis, as well as be incorporated in a covering letter for a job application, or as a section of your curriculum vitae. Teaching dossiers can be further clarified by grouping evidence together, to reflect some aspects of your teaching philosophy, responsibilities, or criteria.

Describing Your Teaching Materials

In describing your teaching materials, you are highlighting their relevancy, their importance, and how they demonstrate your teaching priorities and skills. For faculty applying for tenure and promotion, these descriptions can “point the committee in the right direction.” In other words, rather than presenting a mass of disconnected course outlines, evaluations, letters, and lists, you can provide a meaningful structure, first by developing an order in which to present these materials, and second by writing a statement to describe and explain them.

It is important, that in writing these statements, to be clear on which pieces of evidence you are discussing and where a reader can find them in your teaching dossier. You may wish to refer to each section specifically and deal with your evidence in the order in which it is presented.

Presentation of Your Teaching Dossier

Ring binders probably offer the most effective way of storing teaching dossiers and their associated materials. They also ease the problems of regular updates and allow the reader to easily move between different parts of the dossier. Dividers also allow you to organize your supporting material.

Updating a Teaching Dossier

Once you have developed your teaching dossier, it is fairly easy to keep it up-to-date.

When you first develop your teaching dossier, it is important that you decide upon a structure for your dossier that is meaningful and relevant to you. In this way, you need only to consider adding and updating evidence of teaching activities (such as course outlines, new exercises, and teaching evaluations) and revising your written statements to reflect these changes.

However, over the long term, you may find that your teaching has changed considerably. In particular, you may find that your teaching philosophy has altered, and needs to be rewritten.

Further Resources on Teaching Dossiers

Seldin, P. 1997. The teaching portfolio: A practical guide to improved performance and promotion/tenure decisions.

O’Neil, C., & Wright, A. 1993. Recording teaching accomplishment: A Dalhousie guide to the teaching dossier.

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