FREEBIE! Writer's Toolbox

My students LOVE to take ownership in their work and they LOVE hands on craftivities. So, I decided to morph these two things into making something my students desperately need and will benefit from:
a Writer's Toolbox

As a special education resource teacher, I pull my kids at various times throughout the day for small group instruction in core content areas. Writing is a constant struggle for my kiddos. Some of my little friends just can't seem to remember all of the habits "good writers do". Capitalization. Punctuation. Sounding out words. Rereading for accuracy. Making edits. It's easy to get overloaded with the demands of writing, even more so when you already experience academic challenges that impede on your ability as a writer. I figured what my students needed was a good visual to refer to throughout the year. Something constant, easy to understand, and easy to use. Even better that they make it themselves. I've found that when students take ownership in something, they are more excited and motivated to want to use it. 

We constructed this craftivity step-by-step as a small group, which challenged a few of my kiddos "following directions" goals on their IEP (hey, the more practice the better, right?). The ENTIRE time we constructed their toolboxes, my kids kept saying, "This is a fun day, this is so cool!" (As if our writing time isn't fun EVERY day?!) They were so EXCITED about this simple little writing tool that they got to make and keep for the rest of the year! 

To make the "toolbox" itself, all you'll need is a brown paper bag, a pipe cleaner, and the labels (which you can find FREE in my TpT store!). Your FREE download includes directions for assembly, as well as two versions of the cover label and two versions of the "Writer's Checklist" inside. I laminated the "Writer's Checklist" before affixing on the inside, so that my students can use a dry erase marker when editing their writing using the checklist. 

Since making these nifty little toolboxes, my students come in every day and retrieve them from their cubby (on their own), excited to edit their work (for the first time ever!). Before, I felt like I was always harping "go back, make sure you've done this, this, and this like we've talked about"... for which I'd be met with blank stares and a simple "I did". Now, with a visual to break down expectations into manageable tasks to check for, thus drawing their attention to the mechanical and structural mistakes they so commonly rushed and overlooked, those harping reminders aren't even needed... which means I've got more self-sufficient learners on my hands and they have a (slightly) less nagging teacher on theirs (bonus score!). 

A Teacher's Guide to a Rockin' Portfolio

As a recent college grad, I can attest to the stress felt upon graduation. When all of the excitement settles, once you finally bask in your moment of glory and walk the line, degree in hand, after 4 (or 5, maybe 6, but who's counting) years of hard work, you begin to realize that you have been unapologetically thrust into the real world. It's time to put your big girl panties on and go get that job you've worked so hard for. 

But how do you set yourself apart from all of those other recent teacher grads who want the same job you are going for? You create a "rockin" teaching portfolio, of course! 

***Update: If your reading this and you are NOT a first-year teacher, no worries! This portfolio is excellent for the veteran teacher as well. It includes several opportunities to show off what you've done so far in your career. Regardless of where you are in your career, you can dress up your portfolio and set yourself apart with this rockin' template!

Front Cover/Welcome Page:

The purpose of this portfolio is to sell yourself as a teacher. The goal is for the interview team to "buy" into you and hire you for their school. The main components of your front cover need to tell the reader who you are. So, if you're selling yourself, the front cover and welcome page will tell the interview team what exactly they are "buying" into.

On the front cover, you will want to include your name; big, bold, and eye-catching. You will also want to include your credentials, i.e. the degree and/or certifications you hold that are relatable to the job. Also include your contact information, because after all, you want them to call or email you after you rock your interview!

The welcome page is a continuation of you selling yourself as an educator. Look at it like a letter to the reader. You are briefly going to introduce yourself, as if the reader is going to read it without having met you or without you being present. You may very well end up leaving this portfolio with a potential employer. You want the reader to gain a sense of who you are, as both an individual and an education professional.

I decided to make my portfolio even more personal by including a visual of my teaching abroad experience, since this is something that is really important to me and shapes me as an educator. Pictures say a thousand words, so I decided to include pictures from each of my experiences. I used these handy photo flips to present the photos in a compact and unique way. If you have something that is unique and personal to you that is related to education and can set yourself apart from other potential candidates, feature it!

Professional Resources:

In this section, you will want to include your resume, cover letter, and proof of any certifications you hold. As the title suggests, this is the part of your portfolio that showcases your authenticity as an educator, so be sure not to leave it absent. Newly updated to include coordinated pages for: Experiences & Responsibilities, Certifications, Professional Development, and Professional Goals.

No pictures required, who hasn't seen a resume and cover letter before? So instead I'll show you my adorable cover for this section :)

Classroom Setup: 

In this section, I included four different topics of focus: the classroom experience, classroom library, classroom layout, and welcome letter example. As a first year teacher, I have very little previous classroom experiences to draw on, other than what I completed during student teaching. Without having a classroom of my own, I cannot use tried and true examples from my classroom, only ideas that I wish to carry out in my future classroom. That's what this, and much of the rest of the portfolio, is; picture examples, along with a rationale, of what I envision my future classroom to be. At this stage of the game that is the best I can provide, I think my fellow first year teachers can agree. If you are a veteran teacher, this is the perfect opportunity to include some evidence of what you've done in your own classrooms. Use pictures, descriptions, whatever gets the point across.

When describing the classroom experience, I included my vision for classroom design. I didn't just include pictures of how I want to decorate my classroom, I gave rationales for why I chose the different examples I did and, more than anything, I described the overall feeling I want my classroom to have. This idea is continued when describing the classroom library and layout. Ask yourself, how do you want your students to feel in your classroom? What's your goal? How will your classroom be organized and why will your system work? Lastly, I included a sample welcome letter I would send home to my students' families. Family involvement is important in any classroom, so I wanted to be sure to showcase my attention to this detail. As I created each section, it really got me thinking about all of the systems I will need to establish before school starts, which was definitely an added benefit as a first year teacher. 

*If you like the flip-book style welcome letter, for something a little different and unique, grab the one I used here.

Classroom Management:

In this section, I again included four different topics of focus: my management plan, procedures, rules/rewards/consequences, and parent communication. Completing this was one of the most valuable things I could've done in preparing for an interview. This really made me think in detail about systems I am going to put in place in my classroom. I had to look beyond the tons of management systems floating around and, not only choose the one most fitting for my classroom, but give a rationale for why I believed in that system. As you can see, completing a portfolio like this can give you major prep in readying yourself for the interview!

I think these titles are pretty self explanatory, but if you need some ideas to get started, consider asking yourself: What management system will you put in place and why will it work for your students? What procedures will you need to introduce at the start of the year? (Check out this resource for some specific procedures to think about.) Remember, if you don't teach it, you can't expect your students to know what to do. What rules will you have and how will you establish them? What is the reward/consequence system you will use? How will you communicate with parents? 

Best Practices:

During my student teaching experience, I had the opportunity to participate in a mock interview with my school's principal. One of the things she really focused on were best practices in teaching. She said typically when she asks about a potential teacher's belief in best practices, they respond by only paying attention to practices related to behavior and not enough academic. I wanted to make sure I was prepared to discuss both academic and behavior best practices that I believe in.

I decided to not just list the best practices in teaching that I agreed with, but to give a brief explanation for why I felt each was important. To make it more visually appealing, I added the picture examples when it seemed fitting. Completing this section was most beneficial in that it got me to narrow down and really think through roughly eight best practices I feel strongly about that I can discuss in an interview. After completing the brief explanations for each, I felt a lot more prepared to discuss them with an interview team.

Lesson Plans:

This section is just as it suggests, a compilation of personally designed lesson plans that showcase your talent as a teacher! This is your evidence that will show the interview team what you are capable of, so make sure you choose what you feel are your strongest lesson plans to put on showcase.

 I chose a few lesson plans from units I designed during my student teaching experience. I also included the assessments I developed for each lesson, as well as evaluations of each lesson from my supervisors, so the reader is getting a double (really a triple) whammy when they check this section out!

Unit Plans:

Once again, here you are you going to be demonstrating your talents as a teacher through unit plans you have designed and, ideally, taught. This is further evidence to show the interview team what you are capable of. 

I chose to include two different unit plans I designed during my student teaching experience; one pertained specifically to my special education placement and the other to my Gen. Ed. placement. I included a copy of my unit map for the week, using a template I created, which you can get here. Luckily, I documented my unit plan in the Gen. Ed. placement, which integrated an Earth Day theme into my entire week of lessons. I made sure to include the photo documentation, once again using the handy photo flips I mentioned earlier.

***I've updated this resource to include a Student Work Sample title page. If you are a veteran teacher, or have student teaching experience where you kept student work completed from the lessons you taught, this is a great place to show that off.

My Classroom Ideas:

This last section consists of a compilation of all of my ideas that didn't exactly fit in the other parts of the portfolio. I'd say this section would be optional to include; I chose to because I had a few additional ideas that are important to me that I wanted to make sure to convey to the interview team.

I grouped these remaining ideas into a few themes I intend to integrate in my classroom. Again, I included a brief description for each. Since these are ideas that are at the core of my teaching philosophy, I can quickly flip to this section and reference them if needed during an interview. This is another opportunity to make your portfolio unique to you as an educator.

So, there you have it. A complete guide for first year teachers to creating a rockin' portfolio that will help you set yourself apart and land the job you've worked for.
Ready to create your own? You can pick up the same handy presentation book I used here. Grab the template I created for this portfolio at my TPT store here.

Now available, same great concept with a brand new color scheme!

A Teacher's Guide to a Rockin' Portfolio *Modern Edition*

I'd love to know what you think about this resource, so be sure to leave a comment below.

If you purchase this resource for yourself, please make sure to leave some feedback on the TpT product page and earn TpT credit (translation: free TpT $$$!)

Here's what other TpT buyers had to say about their success with the Rockin' Portfolio:

Love it!!! I got the job and my principal was super impressed by this portfolio!! Thank you!
I love this template, and I love my portfolio!!! Everyone that I showed was in love with all the pictures! That is totally me, and I love showing off my students’ work by SHOWING them in action! Thanks for your hard work!
This was amazing! It was so easy to transfer all I have been working on into this fun portfolio. While I was in an interview, an administrator asked if she could take some pictures of my work on some of the pages and she commented about how organized everything was!
I loved this teacher portfolio and used it for my first job interview. I got hired on the spot and I believe this portfolio helped me do that!
This is a wonderful resource for anyone who is a bit lost about what needs to go into a teaching portfolio. The layout is logical, and the design is good for both primary and secondary levels.
Fabulous resource! I have been teaching high school English for over 7 years and recently had an interview at another school for a similar position. I used the tips in your blog post on creating the portfolio - and was hired on the spot! My interviewers loved the portfolio...When I was asked questions by the administrators, I used the different parts of the portfolio to show them how I implemented certain ideas, lessons, practices, etc. They did not request to see it, but I used it as a “teaching aid” - it really helped the interview team visualize who I am as a teacher and a person. The portfolio was organized, creative, and colorful while still being professional. Thank you so very much for this wonderful resource. I hope more teachers take advantage of this wonderful portfolio!
This binder really helped me highlight my strengths as a teacher. I was able to reference student work and my planning/strategies for almost every question they asked. I think it really gave them an idea of who I am as a teacher. I got the job, thank you!

Best of luck to all of you first year teachers out there, may you not only rock your interview, but rock your first year in the classroom as well!