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Teaching leads HGSE alum and former faculty member to Ireland to support university faculty in creating reflective teaching portfolios

LyonsNona Lyons always knew she wanted to teach. But when she first set foot in a New York City junior high school in the 1960s, she couldn't predict that her education career would some day take her to Ireland. Over the past five years at the University College Cork (UCC), she has been working with arts and sciences faculty to create reflective portfolios as a means of inquiring into and documenting their own teaching practices and their students' learning.

Lyons first became interested in the reflective portfolio process while studying at HGSE in the early 1980s. Similar to how writers and artists had always used portfolios to show development, teachers used them to document elementary and secondary students' learning. The portfolio seemed like an interesting way to document new teachers' professional learning and development, Lyons says.
Portfolios usually contain a range of evidence of teaching, such as a statement of a teaching philosophy, a syllabus, videos of classes and lessons, samples of student work assessments, and an extended reflection on what the portfolio maker has learned by the inquiry.
Lyons began to experiment with portfolios in the Teacher Education Program at HGSE.

In the 1980s, portfolios were gaining national attention in the educational reforms, especially through the efforts of noted scholar Lee Shulman, who had been asked by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to find a more effective way to capture and assess the complexities of teaching. He introduced the portfolio to teacher education and defines it as "a structured documentary history of a carefully selected set of coached or mentored accomplishments accompanied by samples of student work and fully realized only through reflective writing, deliberation, and serious conversation."

Lyons promoted the reflective portfolio process when she took jobs at Brown University and Dartmouth College. Each year she sponsored a conference on the reflective portfolio process in teacher education and founded a special interest group in reflective portfolios in teaching and teacher education for the American Educational Research Association.

In the 1990s, the portfolio concept gained new momentum emerging as an important mode of inquiry and documentation of teaching and student learning, Lyons says. In 1998 she edited the bookWith Portfolio in Hand: Validating the New Teacher Professionalism, bringing together a set of experiences of various teacher education programs in using the portfolio process.

In 1999, Lyons was invited to give a series of lectures at UCC in Ireland, where she later returned as a visiting research scholar to begin a study of reflective practice with education students and faculty. Her study opened many doors at UCC, which included a university award for excellence in teaching and introducing the portfolio process to faculty.

There was initial concern over whether UCC faculty would get involved, but, once seminars began, the portfolio process was met with enthusiasm. Lyons conducted weekly seminars for three years for faculty members eager to share their teaching experiences.

"It seemed as if there was a hunger to talk about teaching. Like the United States, Ireland had not encouraged public discussions of teaching at university level. Many entered teaching without study in teaching or learning," Lyons says. "But UCC faculty, who cared about teaching, were eager to share their experiences and their potential portfolio entries."

The success of the portfolio process evolved into courses for faculty at UCC and an awards program. Lyons' study showed that the portfolio makers felt they had become more aware of their teaching and had greater understanding of their goals and objectives as teachers and for their students.

"I became clearer about what student's needs were and I developed the course to do that," one faculty member expressed to Lyons.

The UCC faculty portfolios were compiled into a book coedited by Lyons called Advancing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning through a Reflective Portfolio Process in 2002

By 2004, the university began a new certificate course on teaching and learning, which includes the portfolio as a center of the program.

"It has been very gratifying and extremely exciting to see people grow in their own learning, and the subject is never ending," Lyons says. "You stand in awe of how much we have learned, and need to learn. Right now I still want to study just exactly what people do change when they say they will change their practice. What really happens? I'd like to know more about that."

Stories are accurate at the time they are published and will not be updated to account for changes such as new jobs.

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