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
Faculty mentoring programs have a lengthy history within institutions of higher education but vary in their models, approaches and topics of focus. This University of Toronto (U of T) study emerged from three situational factors. First, a Dean’s request to the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) regarding mentoring for teaching approaches deemed to be effective within a research-intensive institution such as U of T. Second, in our ongoing work at CTSI we offer consultative support for faculty members’ ongoing efforts to enhance their teaching. Throughout many of our centre’s activities and offerings we regularly observe many ways in which faculty of all career stages seek to create and regularly engage in mentoring relationships ranging from one-to-one consultations to larger network groups.
A third key factor that stimulated this study, and contributes to its significance within the U of T context, was two key survey reports that identified gaps in faculty mentoring and support. The 2012 Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) survey (Harvard, 2012), indicated that while 82 per cent of U of T faculty believed mentoring was fulfilling and 79 per cent reported that mentoring was important in a department, only 48 per cent felt mentoring was effective. A subcategory within the COACHE report found that U of T faculty have received widely varying formal feedback on progress toward: Tenure (77%) and Promotion (22%). The survey identified gaps in U of T mentoring activities as it scored lower in comparison to its peer institutions, especially for mid-career faculty. Of note, over 50 per cent (57%) of tenure stream faculty reported never to occasional conversations with departmental colleagues regarding effective teaching practices.
The second survey, ’Speaking Up’ (University of Toronto, 2014) found that faculty engage in peer teaching-related discussions (61% of teaching respondents reported regular to frequent conversations about student learning). Over one-fifth (21.5%) of combined teaching and tenure stream faculty reported ‘extensive’ stress associated with their teaching responsibilities — almost half (45%) of new teaching stream faculty experienced ‘extensive’ stress levels. Both ‘Speaking Up’ and COACHE surveys provide a quantitative snapshot of faculty mentoring support at U of T; however, there exists a need to capture qualitatively a more nuanced understanding of these survey results focused on mentoring for teaching initiatives, approaches and activities, specific to the U of T context.
PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY
This descriptive and exploratory qualitative study examines faculty mentoring for teaching at U of T, with a view to better understand the results of the COACHE and ‘Speaking Up’ survey data, and to explore themes emerging from CTSI interactions with instructors at U of T. Evidence-based CTSI resources developed from this study will build on broader research, faculty mentoring programs and resources from other higher education institutions, and include promising/ best practices within U of T that can support future mentoring activities.
DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS
TENURE STREAM: This group included tenured/tenure stream professors with continuing appointments.
TEACHING STREAM: This group included faculty lecturers and instructors with continuing appointments in teaching focused roles with little or no research responsibilities.
This qualitative report draws on findings from an extensive Literature Review and Document Review, combined with data from a U of T Divisional Scan (n=15) and interviews (n=44) with tenured/tenure stream and teaching stream faculty. The following questions guided our report:
- What is the evidence-base for effective faculty mentoring (for teaching) programs, approaches and models?
- What is the current state of faculty mentoring programs at U of T? Is mentoring for teaching included in these programs? What processes, if any, are used to match mentors with mentees?
- How do faculty participants describe their formal/informal experiences as teaching mentors and/or mentees?
- What do faculty participants describe as current promising mentoring for teaching practices at U of T?
- What mentoring gaps, challenges and recommendations do faculty participants share?
Faculty Mentoring Literature
While there is a robust and extensive faculty mentoring literature, we identified a gap in “mentoring for teaching” studies and this research report, associated conference presentations, and a forthcoming academic publication will contribute to this void in the academic literature. The literature reviewed identified core threads and emerging topic areas at many higher education institutions.
Faculty mentoring, more broadly, can:
- “Humanize the workplace” as relationship building is more likely to become embedded in the organization’s culture and the “ripple effect” may occur in that mentoring can have a positive effect on others, including those outside of the mentoring relationship (Zachary, 2005).
- Assist faculty in building new relationships and strengthening existing ones (Boyle & Boice, 1998).
- Benefit new faculty who are likely to receive guidance from both formal and informal mentoring whether the model is a traditional dyad or it involves support from peers, in groups and, increasingly, in larger teaching and learning support communities and networks.
- Focus on “what do I need” and “how can I get my needs met”? This model shifts “from one that is centered around your ability to find a relationship with a senior faculty member on your campus to one that focuses on identifying your needs and getting them met” (Rockquemore, 2011, p. 18).
Faculty mentoring for teaching, more specifically, can:
- Support instructors in their journey from the “relatively abrupt transition from graduate student to faculty positions” (Britnell et al., 2010, p. 14).
- Positively impact new faculty members’ teaching effectiveness (Boice, 1998; Carr, Bickel & Inui, 2003). For example, course evaluations improved and instructors enhanced their teaching practices through a peer-assisted teaching mentoring scheme (PATS) (Carbone, 2014).
- Engage instructors in formal, institutionally supported faculty mentoring programs to prepare them to be “more effective as they seek to develop and refine their teaching” (Jones, 2008, p.93).
- Build strong cultural support within departments and institutions by bolstering the number of mentorship partners who engage in teaching and learning-focused discussions (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009).
- Be instrumental in identifying future mentors for teaching, offering support for faculty of all career stages who seek continual enhancement in their students’ learning and their teaching approaches.
Divisional Environmental Scan: University of Toronto
A U of T Divisional Environmental Scan captured the current state of faculty mentoring programs and gathered details and documents on mentoring guidelines across all three campuses. In addition, we captured whether mentoring for teaching was explicitly addressed in any guidelines, and finally, explored any processes to match mentors with mentees. We recruited from a list of 18 divisions. Our findings include:
- n=15 divisions participated in the scan (86% response rate)
- n=9 divisions reported formal mentor matches, for both tenure and teaching stream faculty
- n=4 divisions reported informal mentor matches described by one divisional respondent as “mentoring on an adhoc basis, typically for those faculty [who are] up for tenure review.”
- n=2 divisions assigned a teaching mentor
- n=2 divisions offered mentor skills training
The Divisional Scan offered a snapshot of mentoring activities but does not tell a full picture. For example, divisions that reported formal matches made at the time of hire did not always align with the experience of interview participants (e.g., Dept/Divisions often lacked a process to follow-up with matched pairs).
Such unclear mentoring processes tended to cloud an understanding of the faculty mentoring landscape at U of T. Thus, the Divisional Scan findings are addressed throughout the report, situated within the voices of faculty who experienced a wide range of formal and/or informal mentor matches.
Interviews with tenured, tenure stream and teaching stream faculty (N = 44) revealed the following insights.
Faculty shared mentoring for teaching experiences and the varied types of matches they had experienced. Participants offered varied descriptions of mentoring, including reciprocity, coaching and collegial relationships. They mentioned that this shared learning journey served to further the mentor’s own professional development, hence both mentee and mentor gained professionally from the experience. Faculty engaged in both formal and informal mentor models – some had no mentor match but this did not preclude these participants from describing other valuable informal mentoring matches that they had initiated. Approximately half of interviewees had been formally matched (e.g., via a departmental letter) and most frequently within their stream (e.g., tenured faculty mentored tenure stream). Faculty also described being mentored by someone outside their discipline more often than meeting within one’s discipline. One Teaching Academy faculty member expressed a core theme that emerged from several participants: cross-disciplinary mentoring discussions revealed more similarities than differences when discussing teaching practices and strategies.
Despite lacklustre and/or unrealized formal mentor matches participants described a range of informal mentoring that occurred. Mentors and mentees both spoke of the oft-cited phrase “sink or swim” as new faculty struggled to keep up with the demands of their new tenure or teaching stream appointments and in such cases sought to initiate and champion informal mentoring/guidance that they felt they needed to thrive in their teaching roles. Many mentors described their own experiences from several years ago that aligned with their mentees’ teaching anxieties. Fortunately, those mentors had enthusiastically become informal and/or formal mentors, and stated that they sought to give back (“reciprocate”) after having experienced similar feelings. As one participant noted: “I’d like to make the academy a human place.” Of note, less hesitant faculty described just how important a formal match was to their feelings of isolation, especially if new to the university, and in some cases to the city and country.
Mentoring Scenarios: Enablers and Challenges
The Divisional Scan highlighted the current focus on one-to-one faculty mentoring matches at U of T. During interviews, faculty shared what elements they deemed as effective or positive for the development of new faculty at U of T. Included here were enthusiastic and committed faculty who relished their mentoring roles, provided documentation to mentees, and engaged in more structured mentoring formats. Of note, a few participants shared that mentoring for teaching discussions faltered when research topics and associated pressures were at the fore of mentoring meetings. As well, participants noted that a lack of goal setting hampered their mentoring experience and journey. Finally, when mentees chose to take initiative to form mentoring relationships in the face of limited departmental support they feared being labelled as ‘incompetent’ or requiring remedial services.
The literature notes trends in mentoring that start with identifying faculty needs and meeting these, whether via dyads, with peers and/or from broader institutional networks and teaching and learning communities. In this research study U of T faculty emphasized specific avenues for teaching support/ mentoring, where advice and coaching (described as mentoring), took place. New faculty felt that they gained support and became socialized into learning about – and incorporating – myriad effective teaching practices via: Teaching & Learning Centres, peer groups, New Faculty Orientation, department initiatives, ‘Open Doors’ (an institutional peer observation opportunity with award-winning instructors), and Networks (e.g., Online Community of Practice, Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Network).
Common Teaching-Related Concerns
Aside from faculty members’ ongoing teaching preparation and planning activities, this study sought to identify their broader teaching-related concerns and topics to inform future resources to support mentoring relationships. A core theme emerged: the role of teaching cultures and climates within a research-intensive university. On the one hand, participants shared the challenges of working within U of T, sometimes described as “an intimidating place”, and frequently recounted the absence of spaces to engage in teaching-related discussions.
On the other hand, several participants described their experiences of what positive and supportive teaching cultures looked like, more often facilitated by seamless and open spaces for highly effective mentoring to occur (structured and intentional combined with informal opportunities such as coffee/common spaces to congregate). Participants shared insights on the intricacies of how such teaching cultures emerge, and the ways in which they are supported. Further, they described that such strong sites of support for teaching can assist in the shaping of recommendations for other departments faced with less supportive teaching environments.
To that end this report includes key considerations and suggestions directed at various stakeholders at U of T for each of the most highly cited teaching related concerns: Teaching culture/climate; Parsing tenure and promotion guidelines for teaching; summative assessment of teaching; course evaluations;promotion guidelines for teaching; summative assessment of teaching; course evaluations; and, how to locate teaching ‘experts’ or ‘champions’.
MENTORING MODELS AND APPROACHES
The literature and this study shed much light on the range of mentoring approaches and models that exist. Our report offers a range of evidence-based options for faculty, administrators and staff to consider when embarking on a formal program and/or revamping an existing one. Our recommendations for developing and enhancing mentoring for teaching guidelines, activities or more formalized approaches may be used in conjunction with existing faculty mentoring models/guidelines already in place.
Effective mentoring for teaching can stem and thrive from a wide range of relations – dyadic, larger supportive peer groups (co-mentoring, mutual mentoring), and networks of enthusiastic and committed instructors who are intent on building and enhancing their teaching repertoires and confidence. The majority of U of T faculty in our study defined mentoring within dyadic model terms but it may be that this is the most familiar to them and historically the one-to-one model is most often discussed within higher education. However, participants tended to discuss more fluid relationships with their colleagues, sometimes in a dyadic, formal focused relationship with specific activities, while at other times they sought and engaged with instructors through larger network events. Participants described all of these activities and relationships in ways that aligned with the range of mentoring definitions and descriptors in the literature.
Dawson’s (2014) framework for designing and specifying mentoring models provides evidence-based guidance for educators, faculty and administrators responsible for designing and assessing mentoring programs and making important decisions about key components. Dawson’s work is especially valuable in helping define the mentoring model(s) being developed or researched, and his design elements framework is a useful resource for important discussions at the departmental and/or divisional levels that can trigger thinking on key topic areas such as choice of design of a mentoring model (why, for example one-to-one?). By addressing each of the elements, the resultant choices become more transparent, and communications are clarified as models are selected and assessed.
Included below are a few considerations from the full list in the main report that may serve as starting points for interested parties to consider as they examine appropriate mentoring for teaching models best suited to their division/department’s teaching-related goals and objectives.
Dyadic Model (One-to-One)
Department Chair or Divisional Dean:
- conduct an informal assessment/scan of whether there are current dyadic mentoring relationships in one’s department and/or division, and if so how these are formed, the format, frequency, content, resources/tools used, and insights on what has worked well and where gaps remain in existing mentoring relationships. Such information-gathering may lend insights into what mentoring model is supported by the key players in the department.
- if formal and structured mentor models are not the preferred approach, consider avenues for new faculty to be intentionally introduced to peer and larger department and divisional groups and networks (e.g., at a minimum identify a teaching ‘expert’ or point person).
- consider whether mentor selection includes requirements for mentor skills training (or equivalent).
consult widely with faculty when examining how mentoring can be viewed as service/leadership and be recognized for its contribution to the department and division as a whole.
- in making decisions on the voluntary/mandatory aspects of mentoring for teaching, use a best practice that clearly articulates the benefits to be gained for both parties in the match. In this way, the mandatory element is not deemed to be punitive but rather, about enhancing one’s teaching and embarking on steps to fully prepare for one’s academic position (e.g., preparation of strong tenure and promotion documentation for teaching).
- departments may also choose to monitor and evaluate how (or if) these mentoring programs are being implemented and if/how effective they are at achieving desired outcomes. Such intentionality will result in continual improvement of mentoring relationships and in reaching stated objectives and outcomes of the mentoring teaching models, guidelines and approaches.
Teaching & Learning Centres:
- through its campus contacts, and its ongoing network of workshop/program facilitators and insights regarding effective teachers, a Teaching & Learning Centre may provide support in identifying a list of potential mentors to share with departments/divisions.
Peer Supported Mentoring Model
Calderwood and Klaf (2015) reported that peer mentoring constructs a community with a “shared engagement in common practice” (e.g., teaching) who learn from and with each other – a different configuration from the dyadic model. Participants in this study noted that peer mentoring is a collaborative practice that occurs, for example, between new hires meeting with one another to discuss a specific topic (e.g., a particular teaching strategy). Peer supported mentoring can also involve a more senior faculty member meeting with more than one junior faculty member. In other cases, mid-career faculty meet with another instructor of a similar career stage to reciprocally share (for example, to observe their colleague’s classes to strive for continual enhancement of their teaching). This is noteworthy as many formal mentoring programs target new faculty hires and yet faculty at all stages of their careers seek out ways to challenge themselves in their teaching and seek opportunities to do so.
Departmental teaching-focused initiatives are key sites for emerging leaders to be both mentored and to provide mentoring opportunities, both in more formalized dyadic and peer-focused models, and also within broader groups, learning communities and networks. As reported in this study, several participants, particularly in the Teaching Stream, cited the dearth of leadership roles available for them. They have initiated many departmental events or sporadically – and in an ad hoc manner – served as informal teaching mentors to new and more senior faculty. The following list of considerations can guide departments and divisions in achieving and enhancing a strong teaching culture and climate. Interviewees had suggested many of these ideas as positive next steps.
Department Chair or Divisional Dean:
- conduct an informal scan of existing peer-supported mentoring relations that foster support for teaching. Such information can identify existing gaps and opportunities to highlight existing collaborations.
- increase the number and quality of departmental avenues to recognize effective teaching practices taking place and opportunities to discuss teaching-related topics (e.g., more frequent inclusion of teaching topics/updates at faculty meetings, highlighting teaching innovations or successes in departmental or divisional newsletters or communications).
- consider selecting a teaching champion and incorporating opportunities for these leaders to in turn meet, mentor, guide and essentially be available for new faculty or any instructor with teaching-related questions. Such leaders play a key role in building other teaching leaders and in instructional capacity-building.
- intentionally create physical spaces for lunch-hour or other meetings, both formal and informal on a specific teaching topic identified by instructors (e.g., Brown Bag series, coffee/meet-and-greet teaching discussions). invite faculty to share their ongoing involvement in external teaching and learning communities (e.g., Online Community of Practice, Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL Network), CTSI programming, participation in Society for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education (STLHE)).
- regularly communicate teaching and learning events (formal and informal) via department/divisional channels.
Teaching and Learning Centres:
- serve as a space where peer support for teaching can emerge; faculty in this study reported that the advice, coaching and guidance they received from Teaching & Learning Centre staff at U of T and from colleagues in other departments and disciplines participating in centre programming, helped them see the value of peer-supported mentoring for teaching.
- help foster intentional linkages between faculty of all career stages through, for example, introducing faculty to colleagues with similar teaching and learning interests and/or who are experiencing a positive departmental teaching culture. Such connections can help faculty experience rich teaching discussions, a factor that can impact and enhance a faculty member’s view of teaching and lead to a desire to enhance one’s own departmental teaching climate and culture.
- continue to showcase/highlight effective disciplinary or departmental teaching and learning practices to raise awareness for new faculty as they embark on forging new mentoring networks.
- continue to promote innovative teaching and learning activities across all campuses to raise awareness, and share the ‘pulse’ of positive spaces and places where conversations around teaching enhancement and shifts in teaching cultures are happening.
- CTSI to promote and disseminate faculty mentoring for teaching resources to departments and divisions. These resources will offer a range of ideas for supporting peer mentoring models.
Mentoring for teaching at U of T currently takes a variety of forms. While formal approaches (mentor- mentee matches) occur in several divisions, there is a gap in the clarity of the matching process, and few mechanisms in place for ensuring optimal matches are made, sustained and of benefit to both parties. There is almost non-existent ongoing monitoring and/or formative and summative evaluation of existing mentoring programs.
This report offers evidence that faculty of all career stages, but particularly those new to U of T, can benefit from a formal, matched dyadic mentoring for teaching model that enables both skilled mentors and committed mentees to engage in purposeful and intentional activities to meet the identified needs of the junior faculty member. Such matches offer myriad opportunities for reciprocal learning to take place, as noted by even the most experienced and accomplished U of T faculty (e.g., President’s Teaching Award winners). Importantly, these formal matches can serve as a foundation to learning about additional mentoring opportunities at U of T: peer supported, co-mentoring groups and larger networks and learning communities that frequently meet in-person and/or in an online community on a focused topic. Faculty, staff and administrators who work directly or indirectly with faculty of all career stages may draw upon the most appropriate mentoring approach and/or model highlighted from the evidence-base presented in this study. Such options can be made available based on what best suits a faculty member’s unique learning needs.
Finally, four steps are outlined in this report that will guide CTSI in our efforts to support continued enhancement of mentoring for teaching practices and resources at the University of Toronto.