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Using a portfolio effectively on interview

How can a portfolio be used effectively during an interview to help you secure a teaching post?

In two weeks I will be in London interviewing and as always, many candidates will choose to bring a portfolio with them to the interview. But, what should the portfolio look like and how is it best used?

1: How to use the portfolio?
The portfolio is not a gift that you hand over as you leave the interview. It is a prop that you refer to throughout the interview to support your answers to questions. It should contain the materials needed to help you answer questions. Used correctly it can save that uncomfortable pause that happens as you search for the answer. As questions are asked you can be thinking whether your portfolio can help answer and if so your answer might begin “If I can just share with you …”

2: Presentation
When you go to an interview, smart and formal is good advice for your own presentation. Apply the same to your portfolio. Make sure it is clearly organised into sections. Include titles and captions where possible. Try to avoid large fold out pages or an unwieldy A1 folder. Stick to A4 so it can easily be shared during the interview.
Keep to a manageable number of sections, I would suggest five. If there is too much content you risk disrupting the flow of the interview as you flick backwards and forwards trying to locate a specific page.

3: Getting the balance right
Your portfolio is a tool to support you during the interview. Overuse of the portfolio may make you look uncomfortable. The basics of interview technique including smiling and making eye contact are important. The portfolio is reached for at specific points in the interview to illustrate your answer. If the portfolio has been thoughtfully prepared you know which questions you wish to respond to with a ‘portfolio answer’.

4: Make your portfolio honest and personal
Answers that begin with “in my school we” or “what my school does is” are missed opportunities to present yourself at the interview. A poorly prepared portfolio can lead to the same missed opportunities. Don’t include one of your school policies unless you led the development of the policy and intend discussing that at interview. Include items that illustrate you as a teacher and the portfolio will be a  useful tool during your interview. Dependent upon the school and the role you may have a fairly limited time to present yourself and the portfolio should be useful in illustrating what you are like outside of the formal interview room.

5: What to include
I suggest selecting five sections which allow you to showcase your work but focus on illustrating your answers to questions that may well be asked at interview. This may be dependent on the role for which you are applying. A middle management responsibility for example may dictate a slightly different portfolio content to that of class teacher. What you choose to include is personal as the portfolio is a showcase for you as a teacher. Suggestions for content might include five sections taken from the following:
– An example of your planning. For a primary post core curriculum planning is more likely to be relevant.
– Examples of displays that illustrate learning. This may not be the prettiest display you ever did but might include a working wall or any other example where the learning is clear.
– Copies of marked pupil work.
– Evidence of attainment of pupils you have taught. This may be a percentage of pupils achieving a specific level or making a specific progress.
– Photographs illustrating how you work in class. Groupings, pupil targets or even an annotated photograph of you working with a group of pupils.
– Strategies for dealing with behaviour. Be careful to take ownership of this by sharing something you suggested or put into place for a pupil. Avoid “in our school” type statements as these can detract from your own contribution. Make sure this is something you can describe the effectiveness of through evidence.
– Evidence of working with or leading colleagues.
– Evidence of extra-curricular activities that you have led. Remember that the most important aspect is always learning so make sure you focus on the learning that was achieved, even when talking about extra-curricular activities.

If you have other ideas about how a portfolio can be used or questions that you want answered then please do post them in the comments section.

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Filed under Leadership in education

Your interview with an International school

After seven years of recruiting for British schools in Spain I have put together 5 tips for teachers approaching an interview with an international school.

1: Maintain the focus on education
It is easy to get drawn into generalisations about your future host country. Try to avoid these as they hide you as a teacher. When asked why you want to go to a specific country a glib “love the food and love the culture” doesn’t separate you from the crowd. Try to prepare answers that show you are thinking about developing yourself professionally or personally. Use the questions that are asked as vehicles to communicate your teaching philosophy and wherever possible put in relevant examples of your work. A portfolio that provides examples of your planning, professional development and classroom practice can be a useful tool to refer to when answering questions and can help to keep your responses tightly focused on education.

2: Provide positive reasons for your relocation
Many people looking to work in an international school may well do so because they are feeling disenchanted with some aspects of state education in the UK. During your interview focus on the reasons you are attracted to the school or country you are considering to make your new home. If you overly focus on aspects of the education system that you dislike you risk sounding like a ‘moaner’. Nobody wants negativity in the staff room so whilst sharing some opinions helps to present you in an open way, stay positive.

3: Research
Find out what you can about the school and the area. If you have been sent a welcome pack then do read it and don’t waste interview time asking questions that have already been covered. Check out the school website. Come to the interview ready to show you have done this homework. It creates a great impression if you can respond positively to an event already covered on the school website. (“It looks as though everybody in the school had a great time when they celebrated …”)
It helps to know a little about the area too. Have a look on Google maps. Start thinking about where teachers may live and be asking questions about the area from the standpoint of having already done a little homework.
You may find in moving to an International school that you are moving into a curriculum that is unfamiliar to you. Again, whilst it shows a professional attitude to ask what support may be on offer to help you adapt to the curriculum, it is important to have done your research so you are able to answer curriculum questions on interview.

4: Be open and be interesting
Most international schools, especially if this is your first relocation or your first time in the host country, will be looking at you personally and considering whether you have the character needed to be happy and to make your move successful. Be prepared to discuss your hobbies and even to have some idea of how you may be able to continue those hobbies when you move. It may feel at times as though the interview is prying slightly more into your personal life than if you were interviewing for a school in your home country.

5: Approach the interview as a two way process
Most international schools will send out a detailed welcome pack in advance of the interview. Many will also give a presentation about their school and the area in which they work as a part of the interview. The interview is a two way process and you should approach the interview with a confidence and determination to get straight answers to any of your own questions. This may be the only time you have before relocating to find out what the school offers. Be clear with your questions and make sure that all details about your contract and the support offered by the school are clear before you leave the interview.
It is a two way process and you are picking the school and team of people that you would like to work with as much as them choosing you. Remember, wherever you eventually choose to work will have your professional commitment so you need to be comfortable that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

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Filed under Teaching in Spain