Planning the “Perfect” Professional Portfolio

Prospective Music Teachers: Here’s How to Create an Online Employment Profile/Dossier

“In short, creating a portfolio involves reflection, collection, selection, and connection.”

Read more at:

To quote Cheryl Frazes Hill in “A Portfolio Model for Music Educators” in Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (September 2008), pp. 61-72, “The portfolio used in education is an organized collection of artifacts (examples of works) documenting a person’s skill and growth in an educational program and a career.”

First, you need to do your homework – a comprehensive collection of “all the good stuff!” To support this, number 7 in the blog of “Seven Things Music Education Majors Can Do to Make Themselves More Employable” is “Keep an updated list of your skills, relevant experiences, and training.” (Peruse the whole article at

I have always suggested to my college-bound students that they reserve a spot on their computer’s desktop, a file (appropriately) named “ME,” and place in it a bulleted document with chronological descriptions and dates of special achievements, awards, and appointments. From time to time, more updates of “good news” should be added. In addition, archive (drag into the folder) accompanying scans/pictures of all music programs, congratulatory letters, certificates of achievements, newspaper clippings, etc. In college, this should be expanded to include documentation and anecdotes/stories/reflections about music and music education field experiences, accomplishments, and especially any problems identified and problems solved. All of this is perfect fodder for future interviews… Do you have “what it takes” to be a professional music teacher?” In your opinion, what makes you qualified (“a good fit”) to be hired for a position in our institution?”

According to The EDU Edge at, the following “must-haves” and “should-haves” (paraphrased) should be incorporated into your portfolio:

  1. Educational philosophy
  2. Résumé or Curriculum Vitae
  3. Letters of recommendation
  4. Artifacts of student work
  5. Classroom observation documents/evaluations
  6. Statement about class management theory (discipline) and the steps that you would take inside your classroom to create a safe and orderly environment
  7. Letters from parents commending the work you did with their children
  8. Pictures (A direct quote The EDU Edge: “We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures. Pictures bring it together for committee members and verify the reality that you are meant to work with children. For this reason we recommend photos or newspaper articles of you: teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in adviser roles, with your students at musical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.”)

To this list, I would add a copy of college transcripts, Praxis® exam results, teaching certificate(s), samples of student assessments/rubrics, and excerpts (short videos) of you performing on your major instrument/voice, solo and chamber recitals, piano accompanying, playing in college ensembles, and especially teaching in as many settings as possible: small and large group instrumental (band and strings), choral ensembles, elementary classroom lessons, extracurricular activities like marching band and musical, private lessons, etc.

An excellent overview on this subject is from “our number one professional music teachers’ association” – the National Association for Music Education (NAfME):

Carol Francis offers “Sixty Clean and Simple Examples of Portfolio Design” for WordPress users at

It is worth downloading “ePortfolios in Music Teacher Education” by Vicki Lind from Innovate: Journal of Online Education at

Numerous college and universities across the country have their own requirements and recommendations in the development of online credentials. Take a look at the Penn State University School of Music site “Undergraduate e-Portfolios” at Another excellent outline is provided by the University of Texas at San Antonio at Finally, Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching site offers good models and information on “Teaching Portfolios” at

In conclusion, take some time to examine the sample teaching portfolios (below) for more insights on design, style, and content. I also recommend you read my blogs on other subjects of “marketing professionalism” (click on the category link to the right of this article).

Good luck! PKF

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” – Charles Caleb Colton

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Overview – Strategies for Landing a Music Teacher Job

“Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a challenging job market with limited openings for public/private school music educators in many geographical areas of the country, there is great competition in the screening and evaluation of the applicants. I am happy to offer some tips and techniques towards successful career preparation, employment searches, interviewing, and promotion of your image and record of past performance, experiences, achievements, behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that are job-related.

The concept of marketing oneself for employment is based on several skill sets:

  • Knowing the territory
  • Making connections
  • Branding yourself
  • Storytelling about the challenges and triumphs you faced in life
  • Proving that you have “what it takes” and your skills/experiences would be a “good fit” to the needs, goals, and values of the institution, employer, and position to which you are applying
  • Being persistent and well-organized

Here is my outline of general targets for marketing professionalism and a successful job hunt. Many of these subjects have been/will be shared in current or future blogs on this site.

  1. Develop and model your skills as a “professional.” (Read my July 1, 2015 blog “The Meaning of Pro.”)
  2. Complete a self-assessment of your content knowledge, teaching skills, musicianship, and personality traits. (Prepare in advance so that you will be able to share your “best” attributes.) One model for evaluation of prospective and current educators is Charlotte Danielson’s “Four Domains” from The Framework for Teaching. (To research these, see
    • Planning and Preparation
    • Classroom Environment
    • Instruction
    • Professional Responsibilities
  3. Seek out avenues (while in college or around your music education peers) to practice and improve your weakest skill areas (less familiar band/string instruments, improvement in piano accompaniment, jazz improvisation, or singing)
  4. Assemble artifacts of your professional activities, the precursor for the development of a comprehensive résumé and portfolio.
    • Bulleted list of specific academic and music accomplishments with dates
    • College assessments and transcripts
    • Scholarships and other awards
    • Education experiences (e.g. lists, photos, and/or audio/video recordings of student teaching, observations, and other field assignments, private teaching, substitute teaching, other employment in the private and public schools, conducting or performing in community ensembles, summer camps, sports, scouts, church programs, marching band sectionals or field assistance, choral accompaniment or vocal/drama/dance coachings, etc.)
    • Sample solo recital and chamber/large group concert programs
    • Sample lesson plans, learning targets, rubrics, and other student assessments
    • Original compositions and arrangements
    • Congratulatory notes and letters of reference
  5. Create a philosophy of music education. Be ready to answer the key essential questions “What is your personal mission?” and “What is the role of music in a child’s education?” (To define a broad-based vision for becoming the ultimate “total music educator,” avoiding any prejudice to, limitations in, and restrictions of a particular music specialty, see my July 4, 2015 blog “Marketing Yourself and Your K-12 Music Certification.”)
  6. Familiarize yourself with current educational jargon, terminology, trends, and acronyms, possible topics administrators may check for understanding at a future interview. If you do not know the meaning of terms like The Common Core, formative/summative assessments, or 21st Century Learning Skills, look them up. (See my July 18, 2015 blog “The Alphabet Soup of Educational Acronyms.”)
  7. Compile a set of detailed professional anecdotes based on your positive attributes (see #2 above), artifacts (#4), and examples of your professionalism (#1) – the most important successes you have had in your education, career and personal life. Metaphors, analogies, and humorous anecdotes are the foundation for excellent storytelling at interviews. (See my August 2, 2015 blog “When It Comes to to Getting a Job, ‘S’ is for Successful Storytelling.”)
  8. Pre-interview preparation
    • Creation or revision of your résumé, interview handouts, electronic portfolio, and employment website
    • Practice and drill on answering common interview questions (including self-assessments of video samples) – see examples of interview questions from the 2013 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association In-Service Conference:
    • Research of the school district, music program, job opening, and unique local curricular innovations
    • Development of appropriate and meaningful questions to ask the interviewer
    • Trial run (know exactly where you are going, time needed, traffic patterns, etc.)
  9. Positive interview techniques (future blog)
  10. Post interview (debriefing yourself) and organization of the job search process (another future blog)

As they say in the theater, “break a leg” at your job interview!

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein


© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Marketing Yourself and Your K-12 Music Certification

Model yourself as a competent, comprehensive “Generalist,” not a single-subject “Expert” or “Specialist” (which may decrease your chances in finding a job).

To get a music teaching job, specialization in Pennsylvania is probably a four-letter word.

Need proof? Examine the wording on the PA Instructional Certificate, accrediting you in “Music, Grades K to 12,” not directing choirs, concert or marching bands, or orchestras, nor teaching jazz, theater, music theory, music appreciation, or general music.

In the state of Pennsylvania, there are no prerequisite specialties nor exclusive focus areas in the music curriculum such as Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, World Drumming, Suzuki, etc. Perhaps an individual school district’s courses-of-study may emphasize a particular discipline (and as far as I know, only a few do), but the Pennsylvania Department of Education is “specialty blind.”

The exhaustive employment search process is all about finding a single job. The only thing that really matters is whether you are the “right fit” for a particular opening. Do you have the skills and training to teach the music classes for that posted position?

When a school district begins looking for a new music candidate in or other web service, the human resource assistant may submit online search parameters such as “majored in voice” or “band” or “elementary” or other criteria. However, be wary of disqualifying yourself or possibly getting your name “thrown off the list!” Don’t be myopic in your descriptions of your music teaching competencies and personal philosophy. Give yourself the chance to prove yourself and at least be granted an interview.

It is paramount that you adopt a unified philosophy of music education (and be ready to relate real-time anecdotes that you are practicing these convictions), where all areas of performing arts instruction (from instrumental music to choral music to classroom general music and all other related arts electives) have equal emphasis and importance.

On your digital portfolio, employment webpage, resume, and interview handouts, document your field experience, summer camps, church or community ensembles, private teaching activities, and/or other employment in as many categories as possible… ideally, showing examples or artifacts from all of them – choral, strings, band, piano, and general music.

In your statement of philosophy, be sure to analyze and be ready to express why do you want to become a music teacher? Can you respond to the key questions renown music education clinician/technologist Jim Frankel (Director of MusicFirst) often demanded at his in-service workshops or conference sessions:

  1. What is your personal mission?
  2. What is the role of music in a child’s education?
  3. Are we creating performers, theorists, teachers… or lifelong music lovers?

Here are some additional tips to avoid being seen as unqualified or “pigeon-holed.”

  1. Embrace the concept and needs of “the whole child” (see
  2. Do not allow yourself to be labeled to a specific subject area or grade level.
  3. Know the current educational buzz-words and acronyms… administrators love checking your understanding of the “alphabet soup” – terms like UBD and EQ, HOTS or DOK, RTI, IEP, and SLO. (This will be the subject of a future blog.)
  4. Still in school? Utilize your college resources now to “broaden your training” and master your insecurities.
  5. Identify your “worse area” and get to work on it. Ask help from your peers or secondary methods instructors!
  6. If you think you are a “miserable” pianist, take a few extra lessons. Or conquer your other “fears” such as learning to sing better, playing a new string instrument, crossing the break once again on the clarinet, practicing the basics of jazz improvisation, etc.
  7. Develop resources – personal contacts, ensembles, and associations – to help you land and keep a job outside your favorite “specialty.”

The job market fluctuates and suitable positions (especially in your “targeted” geographical areas) can be limited, so you may have to accept employment far from your college major, initial goals or interests. It happened to me! Although a viola major who never sung even once in a high school or college choral ensemble, I was asked to direct the 200+ member choirs (five groups) at the Upper St. Clair High School… for 16 years! What inspired us in that famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken?” For my career, “I took the path less traveled by.” But, we had great success, and it eventually led me to directing/producing plays and musicals as well. “And that has made all the difference!”

Remember, excellent teaching comes from excellent musicianship, NOT that irritating other quote: “Those who can, DO. Those who can’t, TEACH….”

Work towards marketing yourself as a “total music educator” while you have the chance – NOT just a proficient music specialist! After you land your first job, then you can be “picky,” and perhaps seek a transfer to your preferred area.


© 2015 Paul K. Fox