Part One: Teaching Topics and Content for Mentoring Meetings

Please cite this publication in the following format:
Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. (2016). Faculty Mentoring for Teaching Report. Toronto: Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto

FIVE CORE TEACHING AREAS
A) Tenure and Promotion Guidelines for Teaching
Key Considerations

B) Locating Teaching Resources and ‘Accessing Expertise’
Key Considerations

C) Teaching-Related Topics
Key Considerations

D) Informal and Formal Inquiry into Teaching – Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)
Key Considerations

E) Course Evaluations (CE)
Key Considerations

 

A) Tenure and promotion guidelines for teaching.
Tenure and promotion processes are a central concern for new faculty (and mentors) seeking ways to understand what being a competent or excellent instructor entails.

Comments and suggestions came from an Associate Professor, UTM, Social Science who felt strongly that mentors should be able to identify and discuss with mentees how to access opportunities for service and their own professional development. One Assistant Professor, TS (Life Sc, mentee) sought more information from a senior administrator in FAS in order to clarify what is meant by excellence in teaching, and felt that mentors should advise mentees to seek teaching leadership in their own departments and increase their presence in this realm, not just at workshops.

One participant noted that,

The role of the 3rd year review [now termed interim review] committee is to provide the formal… requirements and assessment. The mentor helps the mentee to discuss and be available and to develop their strategy and to reflect on where they are… and how is it done in practice – everyone has access to the regulations but what does this look like in practice and that’s not written anywhere. (Assoc Prof, UTM, Life Sc, mentor)

Participants also recommended that teaching scholarship be subsumed within tenure and promotion discussion
topics. Several participants preferred more formative feedback throughout their early teaching appointment to ensure that they have opportunities to make steady improvements and to optimally prepare them for the stress of the in-class observation and other activities or expectations that may be a part of the tenure and promotion decision.

Key considerations. The following suggestions and considerations can guide mentors and department chairs in their ongoing support roles for faculty and enable them to provide mentees with as much information as possible related to institutional, divisional and departmental expectations and resources related to teaching effectiveness.

Department Chair or Divisional Dean:

    • provide all the necessary resource supports and information on tenure, promotion, and continuing status guidelines for teaching effectiveness early in a faculty member’s appointment (e.g., Provostial Guidelines and Divisional Guidelines for Teaching).
    • ensure an administrative (point person) or a mentor discusses the Provostial Guidelines for Teaching and Divisional Guidelines for Teaching very early in the mentoring relationship (in many cases, at the first meeting). Often faculty appreciate discussions on what constitutes evidence of student learning and strategies for improving teaching.
    • promote discussions early in the new faculty’s appointment on how to document teaching activities for tenure and continuing status, Progress Through the Ranks (PTR) and annual merit processes. Activity reports can include documentation of efforts to enhance teaching; mentors could play a key role in guiding some of this process.
    • encourage new faculty to attend the range of support workshops provided through the Provost’s Office, and CTSI to support them through the various stages of preparing for tenure and promotion.
    • encourage early feedback on statements of teaching philosophy and teaching dossiers, either with mentors, or through staff in teaching centres.

  • allow space and time for new faculty to learn about inquiry into one’s teaching and the current guidelines
    in this area with respect to tenure and promotion requirements.
  • promote mentoring as a learning process. Seek to pursue and support the broader goals of developing strong, resilient faculty who aspire to be continually improving teachers.
  • consider attending workshops held by the Provost’s Office on the assessment of teaching in tenure and continuing status processes
  • avoid making assumptions regarding faculty competence in all aspects of teaching, especially for teaching stream faculty.
  • Offer mentoring support (one-to-one, peer networks, etc.) for all faculty.

 

B) Locating teaching resources and accessing expertise.
A positive example of accessing teaching expertise occurs at one U of T teaching centre in which faculty ambassadors or designates (“point person”) are assigned to assume a mentor role in each department, specific to teaching. In this role they share what the centre offers and inform faculty about resources available to them. One participant commented that teaching stream faculty mainly assume these leadership roles and noted that this initiative has resulted in a positive “cross communication happening.” This expertise is readily available to new faculty (and more experienced faculty), and addresses teaching concerns early in their appointments.

Another participant supported the idea that “just in time” supports may work best if they come from experienced teaching faculty with expertise in specific pedagogical areas. These “pods of people” could be available, for example, if a faculty member would like to learn more about flipped classrooms or clickers: “one document [on clickers] may not mean much at the time it is presented… an ‘ask when you need it’ model is better” (Assoc Prof, UTM, Life Sc).

Furthermore, these roles might be best served by teaching stream faculty who are seeking leadership experiences and often have such teaching-specific expertise.

Key considerations. The following suggestions can guide various U of T stakeholders in supporting faculty of all career stages to meet their teaching-related goals, namely via connections to people and resources that meet their needs.

Department Chair or Divisional Dean:

    • provide resources such as a department information guide or an orientation led by more experienced and/ or senior faculty to learn about the wide range of teaching-related resources that mentors for teaching
    • might learn about in order to support mentees. In these cases mentors gain valuable information on how to guide mentees in accessing expertise both within and external to their department.
    • consider targeting identified mentors with key information prior to the university-wide New Faculty Orientation, including possibly holding an event geared specifically to new faculty at the start of the academic cycle.
    • consider building a community or network of mentors that could further contribute to the teaching and learning community by leading teaching-focused community-building events/gatherings throughout the year.
    • consider nominating faculty to become teaching mentors and consider those with a strong commitment to this activity. Ensure mentors understand the levels of commitment and what they can participate in – perhaps they can choose from a list of events to ensure they do not overextend themselves throughout the year.
    • provide mentors with a list of teaching-focused resources and initiatives to discuss early in the mentoring relationship. Such resources would include Open Doors, Online CoP, SoTL Network, SoTL LibGuide, subscriptions to relevant listservs, newsletters (e.g., Tomorrow’s Professor, Faculty Focus, listservs, CTSI Newsletter, department listservs, etc.)

  • create departmental spaces (e.g., lounge area or a ‘teaching corner’) to post special departmental or institutional teaching-related events. Such visibility also serves to bring teaching discussions into the mainstream, normalizing and making public these important conversations.
  • suggest that the mentor and mentee review together the upcoming programming being offered at U of T teaching centres (e.g., CTSI, UTM, UTSC, the Centre for Faculty Development) and develop a pathway approach in which a manageable list of teaching-related professional development activities are aligned with the mentee’s teaching goals and aspirations. These activities might also include a range of professional development activities beyond those offered by teaching and learning centres. For example, the mentee may set goals for attending the CTSI 2-day Course Design-Redesign Institute early in their position, and attend with a faculty mentor or teaching partner. The mentor may advise the mentee to consult with colleagues who have attended such programming and who may be able to suggest specific workshop sessions or events.

 

 

C) Teaching-related topics.

Course administration and planning

In-class observations

Additional Teaching Topics

Several participants identified the need to consider the following topics:

  • classroom management, citing inexperience in large class teaching. It was felt that such discussions may occur with mentors from across disciplines.
  • discipline-specific content: problem-based learning, case study examples and how to incorporate these at different stages in the term.
  • time management: to learn helpful strategies and tips to ensure, for example, effective and efficient lecture/class preparation. Such discussions also overlap with broader mentor-mentee meeting topics on time management and achieving balance between teaching, research and service or as described in this study as, “what to say no to” and “the power of the positive no.”
  • use of technology in teaching and how to make decisions for when to consider such usage, and second, to have a mentor who can connect a mentee for more specialized information and/or training. In the case of UTM one mentor ensures that faculty are “kept in the loop with the ed tech group.”
  • teaching teams, many participants are keen to gain more experience and “know-how” with teaching teams (e.g., how to organize and lead such a team)

Key Considerations

Department Chair or Divisional Dean:

  • ensure each new faculty member receives an available department or divisional instructor handbook as part of a hiring package. Such documents may include many of the logistical elements of teaching in order to free up more time for faculty to engage in deeper teaching discussions and preparations.
  • identify or designate a departmental point person for teaching-related questions and concerns. There may be more than one person on this list, especially if it is a large department.
  • consider a specific point person with experience and expertise in the use of educational technology. Departments with close-knit teaching cultures usually know who can provide insights and advice for this topic. New faculty may be encouraged to connect to others in their own department who have such experience, but also to the range of supports available such as the Online Community of Practice (CoP) and associated listservs, divisional media or information technology offices, library resources and teaching centres – including centralized support through CTSI.
  • if strong teaching teams exist in the department (e.g., sessional instructors, TAs, course administrator, etc.) consider hosting a departmental workshop that highlights the importance of developing strong and positive relationships on such large teaching teams in order to successfully coordinate a course, content-wise and administratively speaking.(24)

Mentors and departmental and divisional administrators:

    • CTSI has developed guidelines around in-class observations for formative assessment purposes to share as a mentor-mentee resource. This document is also valuable for administering summative assessments of teaching.

Mentors and mentees:

  • work together to develop a teaching activities checklist of questions/concerns that arise early in a new faculty member’s position, ensuring that the mentee takes the lead to both contribute to, and be proactive in addressing, common pitfalls. Consider collaboratively identifying resources and supports to develop effective strategies (e.g., from teaching and learning centres).

D) Informal and formal inquiry into teaching: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).
Increasingly, new teaching stream faculty (and more senior faculty who have not previously engaged in SoTL activities) opt to pursue inquiry into one’s teaching within their teaching-related activities. While a number of the tenure stream faculty interviewed in this study described SoTL activities, the majority of instructors interviewed were from the teaching stream. Participants sought ways they can both formally and informally capture evidence of student learning and ways to improve their teaching. Several participants from both mentor and mentee groups were uncertain of expectations for scholarship and the links to promotion and recommended that divisional guidelines need to address these and be discussed within mentoring meetings. Some mentors may have extensive backgrounds in conducting SoTL while others may serve to direct mentees to sources of support and information (e.g., the CTSI SoTL Network and program activities). A few participants felt that they would welcome recommendations on how to bring scholarship to the classroom and how to incorporate their own research (both SoTL and disciplinary research) into their teaching.

Key Considerations

Departmental and divisional administrators:

  • include University of Toronto SoTL Network activities and other related events within departmental and/or divisional communications to draw attention to the SoTL work of colleagues.
  • communicate availability of U of T educational grants to faculty (e.g., Instructional Technology Innovation Fund (ITIF), Learning and Education Advancement Fund (LEAF), etc.)

Mentors and mentees:

  • early in the mentoring process discuss possibilities to explore inquiry into one’s teaching in the event the mentee is interested in reflective, scholarly and/or more systematic approaches to SoTL.
  • share SoTL and other levels of inquiry into one’s teaching that you have conducted, and the value of these activities to enhancing one’s teaching and student learning.
  • discuss how best to effectively document SoTL activities in teaching dossier documents.
  • seek CTSI SoTL website resources or programs/workshops/activities to share with your mentee.

 

E) Course evaluations (CE).
Participants felt that mentoring meetings should be an opportunity to discuss CE, especially in departmental cultures that “support a sole focus on CE” as the means to assess teaching. As a TAM noted, CE are only one source of data related to teaching effectiveness, but important to address. While a department’s cultural norms regarding course evaluations are important to consider, a couple of mentors felt strongly that these early CE discussions can reduce “the angst surrounding annual reviews, tenure and promotion.” To that end, mentoring meetings might serve as a space to discuss and develop “strategies from the CE results on what works, what doesn’t, in a safe, supportive environment” (Assistant Prof, TS, Life Sc). Mentees who feel incompetent or discouraged if they performed poorly on their CE will benefit from supportive discussions regarding CE. Confidentiality is a key concern, as instructors seek ways to improve and enhance their teaching. They need an experienced, empathetic and supportive mentor to be part of this coaching experience.

Other types of formative feedback can be included in CE discussions. One participant noted that they frequently recommend the use – and value – of sharing mid-course formative feedback.

Key consideration

Department Chair or Divisional Dean:

  • provide information to mentors and other faculty members on available resources to guide the appropriate choice of items from the University of Toronto’s course evaluation item bank that align with teaching goals and the interpretation of CE data.
  • during departmental meetings and/or other activities that involve teaching-related discussions, encourage faculty to highlight the ways in which both formative and summative feedback can offer insights into one’s teaching practices and assist in pedagogical goal-setting.
  • promote a culture/climate in which faculty can discuss in safe spaces their concerns about their teaching, strategies to improve and enhance their teaching, and ways to accurately read and interpret their CE ratings.
  • ensure faculty who have questions and/or concerns regarding CE scores have access to informed departmental colleagues to discuss or share appropriate resources (e.g., CTSI resources and staff, and accessing CE educational materials and documentation via the U of T Portal).

 

FOOTNOTES

(24) This example links to existing CTSI/TATP documents (e.g., Working with TAs)