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Administrative Portfolio Documents, Improves Work

How can administrators effectively document their work responsibilities, performance, accomplishments, strategies, goals and philosophy?

Create an administrative portfolio, advised Dr. Peter Seldin, distinguished professor of management at Pace University NY, and the author of Administrative Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Administrative Performance (2001).

Although thereĂs no fool-proof system for creating an administrative portfolio, Seldin said heĂs learned much from his own research and from working with administrators whoĂve developed them. He led a workshop on the topic at the American Association for Higher Education conference in Chicago in March.

Like a jigsaw puzzle

An administrative portfolio consists of comprehensive and thoughtfully chosen materials conveying the scope and quality of an administratorĂs duties and performance. "The pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. All the parts fit together and the sum is greater than the parts," said Seldin. He noted that while the portfolio content is important, the process of creating it is just as valuable.

Portfolios are useful to serve many purposes:

  • Gather and present hard data on effectiveness for budgeting, retention or promotion
  • Document areas needing improvement
  • Attach to grant applications, both internal and external
  • Get another job inside or outside the school
  • Leave an administrative legacy within a year or two of your retirement¨what you did, why you did it that way, what seemed to work, what pitfalls came up.

    A well-done portfolio offers a coherent administrative profile that integrates material from the administrator and others to support claims, including comments from peers and supervisors. The ideal is a 50-50 balance between material from self and others, but this ratio can shift a bit either way depending on the portfolioĂs purpose.

    Overall, specificity is the key. Avoid bland, vague statements, and be ready to back up specifics with supporting documents. Length can vary, but a document of 8 to 12 typed pages plus appendices housed in a one-inch three-ring binder is usually about right, said Seldin. Bulky materials like videos can be made available upon request.

    WhatĂs in an administrative portfolio?

    Seldin provided a sample table of contents:

  • Introduction. About three paragraphs that set the stage for everything that follows. Includes the purpose of the portfolio, the institutional context (a description of the school, its size, mission, etc.) and information on your administrative unit.

  • Administrative responsibilities. . May include programs, policies, budgeting, off-campus activities, distance learning and supervision of faculty, staff and students. ItĂs best to list your responsibilities specific to your position separately from your university-wide responsibilities.

  • Reflective statement. . The longest and perhaps most important part of the portfolio. Up to three pages long. Describes your administrative philosophy, objectives, strategies and methodologies. "Why you do what you do and how you do it," explained Seldin. Your administrative philosophy should be presented before your administrative strategies, because the strategies need to grow out of and refer back to your philosophy.

  • Multi-source performance evaluation data. . Never use performance evaluation from only one source, like your boss. "ItĂs far better to use evaluation data from everybody you work with¨supervisors, staff, subordinates, faculty, students, alumni, peers and self-evaluation as well," said Seldin. Sample topics: effectiveness in planning, decision-making, ability to deal with people, communication skills, initiative, problem-solving in crisis situations, leadership, adaptability. Provide specific examples of activities you use to obtain feedback.

  • Administrative innovations and an assessment of their effectiveness. . Describe how successful you were and what you learned from the experience. These achievements should relate back to your administrative philosophy statement.

  • Efforts to improve/develop performance. . Include specific examples detailing how your efforts affected your performance and what you do better as a result. "Admit what didnĂt work and why, and what you learned," said Seldin. "Honesty is critically important in portfolios. Readers respond well to it."

  • Evidence of impact on areas of responsibility. . Cross-reference to appendices. Examples include annual reports, participation levels, testimonials, letters of appreciation or recognition.

  • Five most significant accomplishments. I. tĂs valuable to reflect on what you find significant and why, as well as whatĂs most significant to the school. "You may find that what you think is important is not as significant to the school as to you," said Seldin.

  • Administrative awards/recognition. . Should be job related, not from the Girl Scouts.

  • Contributions to conferences/journals/books. . A paper presented at a conference or a book chapter, for example.

  • Administrative goals: short and long term. . Short term: less than one year. Long term: one to four years. ItĂs important to attach time frames to your goals.

  • Appendices. . All statements in the narrative must be supported by hard data in the appendices.

    Not all portfolios will look alike. Content and organization can vary widely depending on its purpose, the administratorĂs position, the school context and the administratorĂs activities and interests. "ItĂs highly personalized, as individual as a fingerprint," said Seldin.

    Much more than a year-end report

    How does an administrative portfolio differ from the usual year-end report? First, a year-end report is typically written based on questions from the boss. "Not so with administrative portfolios," said Seldin. "You can include what you want too."

    Also, year-end reports rarely result in better performance. With an administrative portfolio, the very process of putting it together forces administrators to look at their strategies and activities, reflecting on how, what, and why¨a key step in improving performance. "Administrative portfolios display the thought behind administrative action, not just the results. That why one of the significant parts is the administratorĂs self-reflection," he said.

    For an administrator who already does a year-end report, putting together an administrative portfolio will take less time because it builds on the report.

    Expect to spend about 15-20 hours over three or four days creating a typed draft if data is scattered, or 12-15 hours if youĂve already gathered some. Make sure the portfolio is current and includes the date of creation to make annual updating easier. Go back three to four years, occasionally five. Beyond that, include only the most significant accomplishments, like being named "Administrator of the Year."

    Can an impressive looking portfolio gloss over weak performance? No, said Seldin. "Supporting materials must be provided for every claim. An elegant portfolio cover and fancy graphics cannot support claims for administrators any more than for students."

    The person who creates the portfolio owns it, decides who sees it and how itĂs used. But when putting one together, donĂt go it alone, he advised. Creating a portfolio is best done with a mentor or coach, using models of other portfolios. "Most administrators have little experience with the process of compiling an administrative portfolio," explained Seldin. A mentor or coach provides resources, suggestions and feedback. "The best coach or mentor is not just someone in your same position," he said.

    "The process of collaboration is not position-specific," he said. In fact, not knowing the details of an adminis-tratorĂs job can help a mentor document how she handles her role overall without too much emphasis on the nitty-gritty.

    Getting started

    The movement to create administrative portfolios is still in its infancy; like teaching portfolios, it may take several years to gain widespread acceptance, said Seldin.

    Someone has to be the first at a school to develop a portfolio. "I have found that those who volunteer to do this are very good and want to document it," he said. The process works best when a small group of administrators get together for mutual support, an approach thatĂs been well received at some schools, he said. His book has a section on how to do this in four days.

    The critical first step in creating a portfolio is addressing these questions, which Seldin wrote to help administrators get started on the narrative section:

    1. Describe your administrative responsibilities.
    2. Describe your administrative methods and explain why you do what you do. Give examples. Seldin advised administrators: "Please give this section the seriousness of purpose it deserves."
    3. What is the impact of your schoolĂs culture on what you do as an administrator?
    4. What would you like your colleagues or supervisor to know about you as an administrator?
    5. How do you stay current on relevant issues?

    WhatĂs Most Effective?

    Administrators rated the effectiveness of selected items in improving their performance:

    Especially effective:

  • Reflective statement on methodology, strategy and objectives.
  • Description of steps taken to evaluate and improve administrative skills and behavior.
  • Self-evaluation of whatĂs gone well, what hasnĂt and why.
  • Multi-source evaluation data suggesting strengths and areas needing improvement.

    Somewhat effective:

  • Documentation of on- or off-campus development activity.
  • Audio or videotape of the administrator chairing a committee, working with faculty or others.
  • Administrative innovations and a candid assessment of their effectiveness.
  • Statement by a supervisor on the administratorĂs contribution to the school.

    Not so effective:

  • Statement of administrative responsibilities.
  • Administrative awards/recognition.
  • Contributions to conferences/journals/books.

    Checklist for Your Administrative Portfolio

  • Does the portfolio include current information?
  • Does it balance information from you and others?
  • Is there coherence among the various components, revealing demonstrated effectiveness in practice tied to an articulated philosophy?
  • Does the portfolio demonstrate administrative strategies/activities consistent with departmental and institutional priorities and missions?
  • Are multiple sources of information included, offering a diverse and
    objective assessment of administrative performance?
  • Does it adequately supplement narrative description with empirical evidence in the appendix?
  • Does it include a core of agreed-upon seminal statements with accompanying evidence?
  • Does it provide evidence of efforts to improve administrative practices? Evaluations? Goals?
  • Does the portfolio profile individual style? Achievements? Is a strong case made in both the narrative and documentation in the appendices for the complexity and individuality of an administratorĂs particular position within a particular institution at a particular time?
  • Is the narrative cross-referenced with the appendices?
  • Does the portfolio meet length expectation? Contact Dr. Peter Seldin at Pace University NY: pseldin@pace.edu or (914) 773-3305
    By: Marla D. Riley

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