How I Wrote my Tenure Packet

Here are collected links to my CV/portfolios and this document.

Table of Contents

1 How to Write a T&P Packet, particularly the teaching statement/portfolio

If you're in academia and teaching is an important part of your job, then you'll probably need a teaching portfolio at some point. Unfortunately, despite the fact that you have dozens/hundreds/thousands of students, teaching is often a solitary endeavor, especially compared to research. How, then, do you compellingly document your teaching experiences and innovations to others?

Here's my list of advice, much of it inspired by my participation in the Engineering Teaching Portfolio Program offered by U. Washington's Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education ( (One point that I don't mention explicitly below that the ETPP emphasized was regular peer feedback: as often as possible during this process solicit and incorporate feedback on your documents from others!)

PRELUDE: My CV's format is bizarre and based on the UBC-standard format. My mentor (Paul Carter) recommended one very non-standard element: a place to expand in free text on teaching accomplishments. That will recap points in your promotion portfolio.. but it also makes the CV stronger and forces you to write bits and pieces of your portfolio every time you update the CV (e.g., for reappointment, tenure, or merit). (At my Professor of Teaching promotion, I received strong advice to brutally trim this.)

The portfolio's appendices are bulky but DESIGNED to be skimmed.

And.. it's all written to make me sound like I walk on water. It's all true mind you, but spun to the max.

  • Beforehand
    1. Be a pack rat. Save everything and file it away.
    2. Write, write, write. Write a "post-mortem" after each lecture describing what worked well and poorly, write analyses of your exams (how and why you planned them and how they turned out), write any commentary on your own teaching that you can motivate yourself to put down. Doing it all the time will help you tremendously as a teacher. Doing it at least sometimes and filing it away will be invaluable for your portfolio.
    3. At least once a year (merit review, anyone) write out a one paragraph story of each major teaching-related effort you make, like course design, new pedagogical approaches, student research supervision, etc. My mentor suggested this to me and suggested my CV as the place to keep it.
  • Writing the portfolio itself
    1. Review some other people's portfolios. When I say "review", I mean review like you would a conference or journal submission. Question how and whether they've accomplished their main points and mark the document up with recommendations. If the author is still working on their portfolio, this is peer feedback, but it's worthwhile regardless so that you can discover what makes an effective portfolio.
    2. Write three crappy teaching philosophy statements, with three totally different philosophies. Don't worry; they won't go into your portfolio. Their purpose is to encourage you to think creatively about what you've accomplished as a teacher and why you did it.
    3. Make a list of artifacts you can use as evidence of your successful teaching:
      1. Your favorite stuff that you remember.
      2. Anything that catches your eye as you peruse your pack-rattish hoardings.
      3. Things that click with the crappy philosophies you've written.
      4. At least one example of every type of thing (lecture, assignment, interactive exercise, demonstration, exam, etc.) you've ever put together for a course.
    4. Throw your crappy teaching philosophies away.
    5. Make an "affinity diagram" of your artifacts. Put a brief description of each artifact on a notecard and then sort the notecards into related piles. Look for ideas about your teaching in those piles. Is there a cluster of artifacts that are all about bringing your research ideas into the classroom? A cluster about encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning? A cluster about current cultural references? Whatever.

      One artifact may connect to more than one cluster; just copy that artifact's text onto a new notecard and put it in both piles.

      Record the cluster: give each one a title and note which artifacts it contains.

    6. Do the previous step a couple more times but intentionally make very different clusters. Hopefully those crappy teaching philosophies you wrote have keyed you to be able to view your teaching from very distinct perspectives.
    7. OK, you have your section headers (your favorite cluster titles) and contents (artifacts attached to each cluster). Plop them down in a text editor.
    8. Flesh out, paring back to the artifacts that really make your point. The best artifacts are the ones that look good in themselves and also support multiple clusters effectively, so you don't need quite as many to tell your story.
    9. Now, write a GOOD teaching philosophy to pull it all together into a coherent story.

    When you're done, you'll have a coherent story that describes the most important elements of your teaching with strong evidence (your artifacts) backing up each point in the story. The artifacts themselves can be appendices; your audience needn't read these because your philosophy statement will reference them in context whenever they're needed.

2 Letter-writers

I feel like the choice of letter writers and the arms-length requirement for teaching-oriented faculty is harder to manage than for research faculty, and it's probably at least somewhat dependent on your own departmental context. As examples, if you co-instructed with someone (even on a course where you realistically had little direct communication with the person b/c they were really separate "mini-courses"), I'd strongly recommend getting guidance from your mentors and department. On the other hand, someone who did observations of your teaching or who was on the committee that reviewed you for a teaching award both seem totally appropriate, just as it would be OK and even valuable for a standard line faculty member's letter-writer to have reviewed their papers.

I chose my letter-writers from a list about three times this long, most of whom were eliminated because they were either: (1) not tenured/promoted themselves yet, (2) too well-known to me, or (3) did not have a PhD (which one letter-writer doesn't have, I think, but I decided his prestige nixed both drawbacks).

Despite the arms-length restriction, I also felt it was important to pick people that I knew would have some exposure to my own work. This seems more difficult in teaching than in research (where your most important professional activities are intended to be public). The one exception to that was someone I picked b/c my mentor said to include the head of ugrad affairs at one of the comparable Canadian institutions to UBC.

You can see how I addressed these issues in my descriptions of how and whether each person for my packet was "arms-length". (NOT CURRENTLY POSTED ONLINE b/c it's non-anonymized.)

Date: 2017-04-20T10:38-0700

Author: Steve Wolfman, UBC

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