An Article From MLRN's "Mentor" Journal
The Personal Portfolio of Professional Development:
A Case Study in International Mentorship Research & Collaboration

By: John Ingram, in Issue #1 published in winter, 1997.

In Europe, as in the US, mentorship is an intricate part of the new teachers first year of teaching.

However, in the United Kingdom, there has been a developing interest in career mentorship tools that can travel with a teacher as her career unfolds on to, through and beyond her first year of teaching. This interest has developed in the wash of the notion of 'life long learning' and could be called 'Career long mentorship'.

As a senior lecturer in Education at Christ Church College (Canterbury, England), working with initial teaching training students and school based mentorship programs, it struck me that the development of such a career long mentorship tool would be invaluable in supporting a continuous focus for personal professional development.

What might such a mentorship provide?

Consider, if such a mentorship tool existed, a tool that could travel with a teacher through her career, it would provide a constant focus, adaptable to both on-going partnered mentorship and personal mentorship. Such a tool would carry the the excellent work of existing mentorship programs beyond their one year focus, maintaining a continual presence over time and career. From her first year school based mentor program and on into all levels and directions of her personal career development, the teacher would have available a structured, focusing, professional development constant, customized and constructed by her to her own unique experiences and needs.

What might such a mentorship tool be like?

Well, as part of the personal professional development kit, this new mentorship tool would need to be adaptable to very distinct stages of an individual teachers unique career. It would need to have the ability to become an intricate part of a school district mentorship scheme, as well as going beyond this traditional first year teaching mentorship relationship into the following years of professional development. A career constant, maintaining and adapting it focus through promotion to middle and senior management, administration and curriculum development experiences.

Is this Personal Portfolio of Professional Development the holy grail of mentorship?

Maybe. If you think about it, this 'holy grail of mentorship' would provide a constant point of structured reflection as well as a collation point for all the unique experiences, thoughts and reflections that an individual teacher encounters as a career develops, broadens and reaches new peaks.

However the exciting thing is that if such a professional development tool could be developed, it would offer the added bonus of a Janus. Not only could it be an intricate part of existing mentorship programs but also powerfully used as part of a school wide improvement and development focus, with colleagues in a given school constructing personal professional portfolios as part of the 'creating personal and institutional change' focus.

Ever tried herding Cats?

An impossible quest? A bit like trying to herd cats?

I thought so as well until I was invited to come from England to Chicago to work on the Virtual Classroom project.

I was based in downtown Chicago, just around the corner from Harry Carey's restaurant, happily building an internet virtual learning environment. The goal is to create an on-line environment in which students logging in from around the world could develop science, math and language art concepts and skills traditionally taught in grades 3 through 9.

Building the Virtual classroom during the day, I occasionally stared out the window onto State Street and thought about how such a mentorship tool could be constructed. These reflections were often sparked through my links with Richard Lange and the mentoring leadership and resource network.

One afternoon I was exposed to the power and adaptability of multi-media software authoring tools at a Virtual Classroom team meeting. From the moment I saw the first product of these tools one of those 'aha' experiences hit me. Here was the dog to herd the cats, the medium in which the holy grail of mentorship could be built. An interactive, multimedia personal software portfolio that could be customized to meet the mentoring and professional needs of individual teachers, mentorship programs and individual school improvement plans.

Gathering together a group of American and International colleagues closely involved in mentoring programs first draft story boards of such an interactive software portfolio were created. Our thinking focused on certain key ideas: What might the portfolio look like? What might it contain? What design would most support the individual teacher or the mentorship partnership construction and professional development focus? Slowly, the cats began to herd!

Loose Cats?

It became obvious from the beginning of the collaboration, that as a team, we shared a lot of common expectations as to what contents would be required to make the portfolio an excellent mentorship tool. It had to be engaging, well structured, clear and supportive of all the aspects and processes common to outstanding mentorship excellence. However, we also realized very early on that we also had some unique requirements relating to the particular local mentorship programs or professional development process we represented as individuals.

It became an important aspect of the developing design that the portfolio would need to have the ability to be customized to the local requirements of specific mentorship programs, schools or districts, particularly as these may be at any one point of professional development different from those at another point and place in a teachers career.

After nine months of intense team work, discussion, redesigning, and numerous prototypes we had a software based portfolio that met our professional requirements as mentorship and school improvement leaders interested in excellence in professional development: The Personal Portfolio of Professional Development.

The finalized Portfolio Sections were designed as constructible, focus points for mentorship, based on:

The portfolio also contains a section for collating quality lesson plans well as clear guidelines on the construction of such plans

The final portfolio design also incorporates the following requirements:

Release of the Software:

Having competed the software development in February 1996, the Personal Portfolio of Professional Development was launched at the Spring Symposium of the Mentoring Leadership and resource Network in Chicago this May. Reactions from the group attending the launch were interesting especially with comments such as 'This is unique' and 'I've never seen a mentoring tool or software like this'.

The portfolio is creating a lot of interest as a professional development tool that can be integrated into existing mentorship programs. Inquiries are also coming from school improvement initiatives as well as individual teachers at different points in their careers concerned with on-going personal professional development.

Any lose cats yet? Not yet !- We eagerly await feedback!

If you would like to get a copy of the Personal Portfolio of Professional Development Software for PC or Mac at cost price $54.95 plus $5.00 packing and shipping give John a ring on 1-9055-522-1500.

Out of interest you might like to know that the team have also developed a software disk set of 'Higher Order Teaching Strategies' as a companion set for the Portfolio. This companion software gives clear guidelines to new a career teachers on how to develop specific higher order teaching strategies into their practice. The Higher order Teaching Strategies sets are available for 'Elementary Educators' or 'High School, College, University based educators' and are available for Mac or PC at $54.95 plus $5.00 shipping.

The article above was originally published in "Mentor", the Journal of the Mentoring Leadership and Resource Network.

You may copy and distribute this article as long as you do not sell it and as long as you retain the citation as to the author and the following statement.