Case #1: The Teaching Scholars Program


DISCIPLINE: Education, Educational Leadership
RESEARCH AREAS: Academic development, teaching development, student learning


The University of Calgary Teaching Scholars Program (the Program) is designed to strengthen educational leadership across departments and faculties. Whether they hold formal or informal roles, educational leaders have substantial impact on teaching and learning cultures and practices. They make a difference by sharing knowledge and research, creating social support networks, mentoring others and influencing change (Fields et al., 2019; Hannah & Lester, 2009; Mårtensson & Roxå, 2016). The Teaching Scholars program provides academic staff (especially those who do not hold formal leadership roles) with the opportunity to build their educational leadership by implementing strategic teaching and learning initiatives. The program also allows its members to engage other academic staff in professional learning opportunities to strengthen their own teaching and learning practices.


Over $360,000 CND were committed to 14 Teaching Scholars from across nine faculties at the University of Calgary from 2016 to 2019. The distribution of the Scholars across the University of Calgary is representative of the tangible way in which we are striving to build integrated networks of educational leadership. Scholars:

  • Completed meaningful and relevant initiatives of shared disciplinary and/or interdisciplinary interests.
  • Developed and implemented initiatives that enable and engage other instructors to help strengthen their teaching and learning practices, and to build networks of practice across the broader academic community.
  • Participated in an interdisciplinary community of practice with fellow Teaching Scholars.
  • Disseminated the results of their initiatives.
  • Completed mid-term and final reports outlining their projects’ progress and findings.

“The Teaching Scholars program provides academic staff (especially those who do not hold formal leadership roles) with the opportunity to build their educational leadership by implementing strategic teaching and learning initiatives.”


The Teaching Scholars Program was assessed through a research study aimed at understanding how academics conceptualized and defined educational leadership in a post-secondary context. Analysis of the research findings yielded the Five-Pillar Model of Educational Leadership.

The Scholars perceived educational leadership to be characterized by five thematic categories: affective qualities, mentoring and empowering, action-orientation, teaching excellence, and research and scholarship; and these categories represent the “five pillars” of our model. Educational leaders may not necessarily possess all characteristics at once, as these leadership qualities are highly context-dependent (Gibbs et al., 2008; Taylor, 2005; Taylor & Rege Colet, 2010; van Ameijde et al., 2009).


The first three pillars (affective qualities, mentoring and empowering, and action-orientation) are well-supported by the literature about academic leadership in higher education. Several qualities are reported to be essential for academic leaders: a) interpersonal skills including visioning, negotiating, active listening, and building relationships; b) the ability to empower and support colleagues; c) demonstrating creativity, innovation, and risk-taking; and d) strategically taking action to initiate and inspire change.

Leadership behaviours such as being considerate, treating others with integrity, being trustworthy, and having personal integrity were highlighted by Bryman (2007) in a review of literature about leadership effectiveness at the departmental level. Similarly, Taylor (2005) suggested that qualities such as listening, being open to input, understanding local contexts and communities, and enabling others to enact change were perceived as core qualities of university leaders. The affective qualities highlighted by our research participants are well-aligned with a leader’s ability to develop trusting relationships with colleagues and to enable change in teaching and learning cultures and practices. Such trusting relationships are core to the formation of collegial networks that are bounded by significant conversations about teaching and learning, contributing substantially to instructors’ on-going growth and development (Roxå, Mårtensson, & Alveteg, 2011).

Another thematic category was coaching, mentoring, and empowering colleagues towards success in their educational practices. These findings are congruent with those of Taylor (2005), who suggested that academic development leadership was rooted in ‘facilitating the learning of others’ (p. 38). There is alignment between these perceptions of the qualities of educational leadership and the approaches of academic developers, where building collegial relationships, understanding local contexts, enabling the development of others, and effecting change are foundations of practice (Gibbs, 2013; Taylor & Rege Colet, 2010; Timmermans, 2014).


The Scholars perceived teaching excellence as a core component of educational leadership. They suggested that having credibility, acting as a role model, and having a strong commitment to one’s academic activities are important aspects of higher education leadership (Bryman, 2007; Spendlove, 2007). Findings indicated that one’s academic credibility as an educational leader is grounded both in demonstrating teaching excellence, as well as in applying, engaging in, and disseminating research and scholarship related to teaching and learning. The Scholars’ narratives strongly aligned with learning-centered approaches to teaching, where instructors facilitate learning processes and break down barriers to learning, to best enable student success (Paris & Combs, 2006; Weimer, 2013).


Our study also revealed the Scholars’ perceptions that educational leaders actively apply, engage in, and disseminate research and scholarship related to teaching and learning in higher education. Their narratives highlighted the interrelationships between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning (Richlin, 2001), where educational leaders were seen as those who consult and apply literature to strengthen their own teaching practice. Educational leaders were also perceived as those who actively engage in systematic inquiry, and who investigate and disseminate their teaching and learning practices.

(Note: All references in this case are listed in Fields et al., 2019 article)


The Teaching Scholars Program had a direct impact on the Scholars’ personal growth, teaching development, and student learning, through the implementation of their individual initiatives. The Scholars reported on being enabled to self-identify as educational leaders and earning personal “visibility” within academe. They enhanced their teaching skills through knowledge-sharing and collaborative engagement within their community of peers that formed organically in the Program, and that of their students across disciplines at the University of Calgary. The Scholars also reported on students’ increased learning capacity. The following quotes from a recent focus group, exemplify the programs impact:

“I think because we were given this grant, we were able to focus on something [initiative] … That is what has made me feel like an educational leader. I know what I’m talking about now’.

“I think it [the Program] gave me a lot of visibility that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.”


“The seed funding provided by the Teaching Scholars Program helped me to create…a unique program for teaching development for STEM graduate students. I developed a collaborative network of expert educators to introduce graduate students to the principles of the SoTL. I built a dynamic network of faculty mentors and mentees to provide immersive teaching practicum experiences for graduate students. At the end of the program…scholars have written their teaching philosophy, can design lessons by completing lesson plans and selecting appropriate teaching strategies, implement their lessons and assess the effectiveness of the teaching strategies they used.”


Fields, J., Kenny, N., Mueller, R. (2019) Conceptualizing educational leadership in an academic development program. International Journal for Academic Development, 24(3), 218-231, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2019.1570211.

Hannah, S.T., & Lester, P. B. (2009). A multilevel approach to building and leading learning organizations. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 34-48.

Mårtensson, K., & Roxå, T. (2016). Leadership at a local level–Enhancing educational development. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 44(2), 247-262.


Jacqueline Fields is an instructor and PhD candidate at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. Her main interests are collaborative leadership in social service organizations (PhD research focus), educational leadership in higher education, organizational policy development, and social work instruction and administration. Jacqueline led the data generation and analysis for the Teaching Scholars research project.

Natasha Kenny is Senior Director of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. In this role, she leads a team of faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral scholars in strengthening teaching and learning communities, cultures and practices. Her research interests relate to educational leadership, well-being in higher education, the scholarship and practice of educational development, and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).

Robin Mueller is an Educational Development Consultant and faculty member at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. In this role, she supports engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), consults with campus partners to strengthen teaching and learning initiatives, and supports individual teaching development.


Jacqueline Fields:
Natasha Kenny:
Robin Mueller:


International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
Educational Developers Caucus of Canada
POD Network