What My Portfolio Says about ‘Affectiveness’

A MiddleWeb Blog

kids_cusp2As I look back on the school year, it is important to take time to reflect.

The formal annual review with my principal went well. It is clear to me that he respects me as a teacher and as a person. His observations of my “effectiveness” as an educator gives me pause for thought and a chance to listen to the view from the principal’s office. He has some important information to share with me. He wants to help me be Highly Effective.

According to my principal, and the current New Jersey teacher evaluation process, I land right on the cusp between “Effective and Highly Effective.” I am a 3.43 (This is subject to change if the Federal Government and New Jersey Legislature ever decide what to do about using standardized test scores to determine student success or evaluate teacher effectiveness).

I’m still not sure why some people use the phrases “common core standards” and “standardized testing” as if they were synonymous. They aren’t. But I need to be reminded that it’s not about numbers or verbiage. It’s about people. It’s about kids. It’s about my own, personal annual review. That’s the best measure of how well I do my job.

My view from the cusp

eye_drawing 300The view from here on the cusp is really quite beautiful, when I have my eyes open and I am looking at the vista with a positive attitude (I just wish I didn’t feel a tiny bit happy about getting that stupid rubric score).

What I need to look out from the cusp and see, however, isn’t whether I am highly effective in the eyes of the state, but whether or not my students and I are “highly affected” by what we experience together in our daily round of learning.

I don’t have a portfolio per se. There is no “one official location” in which to find the artifacts that support my achievements throughout the year. My portfolio exists in each of the ever-expanding files housed in my room, the ones that seem to multiply exponentially in my closets, cubbies, and filing cabinets.

My personal portfolio

My portfolio can be found in snapshots, memories, lessons learned, successes, and failures. This personal portfolio is the one I use for the annual review that really matters. It’s my own, true self-assessment.

Accurate self-assessment is an important tool for growth. It is yet another skill that I want my students to develop. It is an important tool for learning and will help prepare them for the future.

James H. McMillan and Jessica Hearn discuss the importance of self-assessment in Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement. In it the co-authors write,

Self-assessment is more accurately defined as a process by which students 1) monitor and evaluate the quality of their thinking and behavior when learning; and 2) identify strategies that improve their understanding and skills.”

transparent portfolio 300These two descriptions define what my part in an annual evaluation is as well. It is my opportunity to share with my principal what discoveries I’ve made in the 2014-2015 school year.

I didn’t take the time to write in the “Portfolio” section of the state’s T-Eval for my annual evaluation. My time is too valuable to waste by typing information into a system that has not been clearly defined. Well, except in the absolutes that are defined in the “4” column of the Marshall Rubric, but those definitions remain unclear. The view is still foggy.

My portfolio of classroom moments

There is a clearer view when looking out at the “portfolio of moments” that began in September 2014, with this particular group of kids. This is a much better way to gain an overview and to determine my success.

Reflecting on This Year’s Personal Portfolio of Moments on the Rug…

  • Out of My Mind by Sharon R. Draper: When our protagonist qualified for the Whiz Kids team, there was standing applause. This novel truly gave my students a new-found understanding of the “special classes” in our school community.
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: The settings that my writers envisioned, and the characters they developed, showed me how Selznick’s pictures, as well as his prose, can enhance student writing. No child riding freedom coverin my class will ever look at the moon in the same way. They have a different view after experiencing Hugo’s life.
  • Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan: The disgust and disbelief that my students showed while learning about the struggles of women, slaves, and orphans in the mid-1800s showed me how far we have come in our ability to sympathize and empathize with others. Like many of the other characters we have met this year, Charlotte taught us to follow our dreams and never give up. She helped us ask ourselves how far we would go to right an injustice.
  • The Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings: We are halfway through this last reading selection for 2014-15. We know each other well, as a classroom community and as people. This is a story about three best friends who make some very bad choices. Their choices have a devastating effect on the people around them. When Ben, the three-year-old innocent victim in the story died, my students gasped simultaneously, and the silence (and sadness) that followed this moment is indescribable.

Rug moments

child discoveryThere are innumerable moments on our classroom rug, with read-alouds after recess each day, moments that I can reflect upon to assess how my teaching and my choices affect my students. These portfolio snapshots, these moments of discovery on faces, of tears, laughter, and moments of pure joy, are all the data that I really need for my annual review.

My students are learning the skills they will need for fifth grade. I have “covered” the curriculum, but they have learned much more. They have learned a bit about compassion, sympathy, empathy, the importance of friendship, and the importance in having a true sense of community. This is the true measure of my “Affectiveness.”

Come to think of it, it’s pretty nice out here on the cusp. The view is quite amazing, as a matter of fact. I think I’ll stay out here and enjoy it for a while longer. There are still a few more weeks left before I send this year’s crew off to fifth grade. There are still a few more snapshots to add to my portfolio.

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and check out her Kids on the Cusp page at Facebook.

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