What is a Teaching Dossier?
A teaching dossier is a portfolio of documents (6-12 pages as suggested by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, plus appendices that contain sample teaching materials and teaching evaluations – up to an additional 20 pages of supporting documentation) that provides a summary of an individual’s major teaching accomplishments and strengths. Although originally developed as a means of documenting teaching for the purpose of performance review, a dossier can also serve as an effective tool for tracking one’s teaching successes and challenges in order to establish teaching goals and identify areas for improvement. A teaching dossier is therefore both a professional document and a highly personal instrument. A good dossier serves the dual purpose of recording professional activities as an educator and guiding personal refection on teaching experiences. Both for career reasons and for personal development as a teacher, preparing a teaching dosser is an extremely useful exercise.
Why Prepare a Teaching Dossier?
Teaching dossiers are gaining prominence in postsecondary institutions across North America, as they are increasingly used in hiring decisions for academic positions, and can be instrumental in steering promotion and tenure decisions for junior faculty.
At the University of Toronto, junior faculty members are now required to submit a teaching dossier in order to be considered for promotion or tenure. Applicants for academic positions are also required to submit if not an entire teaching dossier, then at least a Statement of Teaching Philosophy or a Statement of Teaching Practice (see below).
Teaching dossiers can also be particularly useful for graduate students to prepare in order to help them develop materials that can later be incorporated into courses or broader curricular components that they must design when they begin their academic careers as junior faculty members. In addition, preparing a teaching dossier can help a graduate student to focus on why and when students learn best in their courses, and this improved understanding of student learning will lead to better course design and better interaction with students once a graduate student embarks on an academic teaching career.
What Should a Teaching Dossier Do?
A teaching dossier explains not just how you teach, but why you teach, and provides materials that demonstrate your effectiveness in the classroom. A good teaching dossier will include material that addresses as many aspects of teaching at the university level as possible. In reviewing your dossier, a reader should be able to see a “snapshot” of what you have done both in and out of the classroom when working with students and developing teaching materials, and also what you hope to do in the future, in the following areas:
- Classroom teaching: What do you do in a typical class or lab? What instructional methods do you use? What is the purpose of a classroom session or a laboratory demonstration for students?
- Student learning: What do you think is most important for beginning learners in your field to know? What should advanced students be able to do in your field? What skills are essential for students to develop in order to master your subject area? Can you identify some common blocks to student learning in your field and do you have strategies for pushing through them?
- Course assessment: What assessment methods are used both generally in your discipline and specifically by you in your own classes (i.e. how do you measure student learning and how do you know that your students have learned something?)? What sort of consultation do you provide students?
- Course content: What material and subjects do you teach or are you willing to teach? Are you aware of new developments in your field and do you make an attempt to bring these into your classes?
- Teaching and learning outside the classroom: What have you done outside the classroom to demonstrate your interest in teaching issues and your interest in developing yourself as an effective teacher? What kind of learning do your students undertake outside of your classroom?
What are the Components of a Teaching Dossier?
The first rule of preparing a teaching dossier is this: there are no rules for preparing a teaching dossier. There is no standardized format or content for a teaching dossier. Dossiers will vary widely in form and content from one individual to another, across disciplines and between institutions. A strong dossier, however, will include a variety of items, arranged in a cohesive and organized manner. All supporting documentation will be contextualized for the reader through brief explanatory notes and will link back to the claims made in the Statement of Teaching Philosophy. For the purposes of the TATP Certificate Program, participants will be expected to present a teaching dossier with the following sections:
- Statement of Teaching Philosophy: a narrative description of a TA’s teaching beliefs and reasons for teaching, as well as an explanation of goals for teaching and learning. Can also include a description of instructional methods used by the TA with specific examples provided from the TA’s own in-class experiences (also called a Statement of Teaching Practice). Usually no more than 500 – 1000 words in length, or 2 pages. The Statement of Teaching Philosophy provides the conceptual framework for all the supporting documentation that follows. The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation has an excellent tip sheet on Writing Your Statement of Teaching Philosophy (PDF). It was written with faculty in mind but graduate students will benefit from its insight, as well.
- Highlights of Teaching Experience: a description of courses taught or TA’d that highlights the courses or labs for which the TA had the greatest level of responsibility—this may include an outline of teaching duties and responsibilities, the number of students in each class/lab/section, the frequency with which the class or section met, the TA’s availability to students outside of class, a brief list of instructional materials prepared by the TA for each class or section, supervision of other TAs in a multi-section course, etc.
- Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness and Development: student, supervisor and peer evaluations of teaching, participation in teaching and learning activities outside of class, etc.
- Course and Curriculum Development: syllabi for courses taught or TA’d, sample syllabi for proposed courses the TA would ideally like to teach in the future, sample tests or quizzes that the TA has designed, sample assignments prepared by the TA.
Even though the TATP Certificate Program is not an academic program, the TATP is still an office of the University of Toronto and as such is governed by the same policies and overarching codes of conduct that apply to all institutional programs. Should any TATP staff member, through the course of interaction with students registered in the TATP Certificate Program or through individual consultations, notice or suspect plagiarism in a document or a presentation or any teaching handouts or materials that are prepared for the TATP Certificate Program and submitted or used by a student in completing either of the two TATP certificates, the TATP staff member must bring this to the attention of the Assistant Director, OTA/TATP. A decision will then be made to bar the student from the TATP Certificate Program and all future TATP programming and if necessary inform the student’s home department of the misconduct.
In particular, a word of caution about Statements of Teaching Philosophy written for teaching dossiers: there are many teaching philosophy statements available online and it is both very easy and very tempting to cut and paste text from an online source into one’s own statement. Do not do this. TATP staff members who suspect plagiarism in a teaching dossier will search for sentence fragments in an Internet search engine and if any portion of the text appears on a website, the teaching dossier will be rejected and the steps mentioned above will be followed (contacting the home department, removal from the TATP Certificate Program). Please note that copying someone else’s work—regardless of whether or not the document or presentation being prepared is for academic credit—constitutes misrepresentation of one’s own accomplishments, and therefore contravenes the University’s code of conduct.
Please note that the links and resources below provide information on the use and preparation of teaching dossiers that targets faculty members and university administrators. Not all of the items that are recommended for inclusion in the dossier will be possible for a graduate student entering the academic job market to include. Also, a graduate student will not necessarily have the breadth of teaching experience required in order to draft a dense and powerful Statement of Teaching Philosophy. However, it is still possible for a graduate student TA to develop a meaningful dossier and a strong teaching philosophy statement, or to at least begin collecting materials that will contribute to a more complete teaching dossier later on.
*Before consulting any of these resources, please read our notice on academic integrity regarding the plagiarizing of teaching dossiers and teaching philosophy statements.*
1. REFERENCE MATERIALS – available from the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation resource centre
Preparing a Teaching Dossier by Christopher Knapper and Susan Wilcox,
Instructional Development Centre, Queen’s University, 1998
Recording Teaching Accomplishment: A Dalhousie Guide to the Teaching Dossier by Carol O’Neil and Alan Wright, Office of Instructional Development and Technology, Dalhousie University, 5th Edition, 1999
The above publications include samples of real teaching dossiers from faculty members at various stages of their careers. They are available for on-site consultation from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, 4th floor, Robarts Library, 130 St. George St.
2. ONLINE RESOURCES
This document from the Office of the Vice-President and Provost provides information on how teaching is assessed at U of T.
Teaching dossier guide available from the University of Victoria’s Learning and Teaching Centre:
Guide to Preparing Teaching Statements and Dossiers
Dr. Daniel Pratt developed this online survey tool to help postsecondary instructors identify and articulate their own approach to teaching. It can be useful when trying to draft a Statement of Teaching Philosophy. The survey takes approximately 20 minutes to complete and is free. Teaching Perspectives Inventory.
Very practical and clear list of the components of a good teaching dossier, from the Teaching Support Services office at the University of Guelph.
3. SECONDARY SOURCES
Pratt, Daniel D. (and associates), Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education. Florida: Kreiger Publishing, 1998. OISE/UT 374 P913F – offers a description of 5 main approaches to teaching
Schönwetter, Dieter J.; Laura Sokal; Marcia Friesen; K. Lynn Taylor, “Teaching philosophies reconsidered: a conceptual model for the development and evaluation of teaching philosophy statements” in International Journal for Academic Development, Volume 7, Issue 1 2002 , pages 83 – 97. – offers strategies for structuring and evaluating teaching philosophy statements; online link to article is included above under Online Resources
Seldin, Peter, The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing, 1991. OISE/UT 378.1224 S464T – by far the most referenced source for help preparing teaching dossiers
Seldin, Peter; Elizabeth Miller. The Academic Portfolio: a Practical Guide to Documenting Teaching, Research and Service. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008. OSIE/UT 378.1224 S464A – a newer resource by the same author of The Teaching Portfolio